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Work smarter not longer, eat better for less, enter the 3MT contest, & invest your tax refund | Issue 238

In less than 8 minutes you will. . . 

  • •Learn how to work smarter, not longer, with napuccinos and the Four D's

  • See how a computer science PhD's best-selling kitchen invention lets you eat better for less•

  • Discover winning ways to describe your research and spend your tax refund 

  • Find out how to avoid having your doctorate revoked

Stop pushing yourself through your afternoon slump—it's counterproductive. Your afternoon output is unlikely to match the level of your morning work. If you really want to kickstart your afternoon dissertation writing session, here's what you must do:

Take a break.

That's what best-selling author Daniel Pink advocates. He shares data that proves you are not equally sharp at all hours in his new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. For example, students who take tests in the afternoon do measurably worse than those who take them in the morning—unless they took a midday half-hour break.

What does this mean for dissertators? Instead of slogging through the afternoon, revive your brain with either a nap or recess.

However, not just siesta will do. Pink recommends the "napuccino" (also known as a coffee nap) about seven hours after waking. Enjoy your cup of java, then set your timer for 25 minutes. Get comfy and allow yourself to doze off for a catnap. By time the alarm goes off, the caffeine has hit your blood stream, and you'll wake up alert and raring to go.

For the recess option, Pink offers evidence that even a five-minute break works wonders. Take a five-minute walk every hour. Go outside or socialize. Shift your gears. Take a lunch break away from your desk. The return on investment will more than compensate for the time away from your task. [P.S. When in Barcelona, visit the Nappuccino cafe for great coffee and a sleeping cubby.]

For maximum impact, combine strategies: Meet a friend under a tree for lunch with a coffee drink. Play frisbee with your friends or your pooch outdoors. Then get back to work with renewed vigor and a smile.

Panicked by dissertation crunch? Create more with this simple review


Looming deadline creating panic? While you cannot manufacture more hours or days, you can shorten your to-do list and work more effectively. The simplest and quickest way to find more dissertation time is by applying the four D's to your To Do list. Review your list and try to apply one or more of them to as many items as you can. That's working smarter, not harder or longer.

1) DELETE IT. "Does this really need to be done at all?"

Eliminate anything that won't put you in the doghouse or in danger. Forget social media. Stop reading the news and watching Netflix. Only read priority emails and trash the social and promo emails. (If you use Gmail, your incoming mail automatically gets categorized this way to save you time.) Stop saying "yes" all the time to other people's agendas. Challenge yourself to say "no" to someone else at least once a day.

2) DEFER IT. "Can this be put off for a couple weeks?"

Postpone major socializing and unnecessary trips. Ask for a rain check for some social invitations. Let stuff pile up and dust kitties roam. Close the door to messy rooms. Wear the same clothes until others complain about the stench. You can catch up on delayed tasks and pleasures after you hit "send" on your final manuscript. Put off doing something non-dissertation—and don't be surprised if no one notices or cares.

3) DELEGATE IT. "Who else could do this?"

If you can't delete or defer it, find someone else to do it. Ask your biggest supporters for help. Beg or trade future favors. Pay someone. Outsourcing works especially well for meal preparation, child care, housecleaning, and laundry. Hire an editor to clean up your finished chapter while you dig into the next; have them create tables too. If someone asks you for help, can you refer them to someone else? Don't underestimate what your partner, children, and parents can do and will do for you nor how much pleasure they will get from lending a hand.

4) DIMINISH IT. "What's the bare minimum necessary?"

Cut the time you spend on some tasks. Don't fritter away your best talent on tasks that don't really matter, e.g., cooking, phone calls, emails, etc. Throw enough ingredients for a week's worth of chili into your Instant Pot (see more below). Buy frozen veggie burgers. Respond to phone calls and emails with text messages. Respond to text messages with auto-generated responses as possible. Go for a 20-minute run instead of an hour at the gym. Devote a predetermined number of hours to volunteering and helping others. Aim for "good enough" instead of perfection and wait to polish your manuscript further after you get feedback. Remember, it's only a dissertation—and the best dissertation is the done dissertation.

For tasks that cannot be deleted, deferred, delegated or diminished: Just do it and be done with it. You will save precious time and energy that dilly-dallying.

Experiment with the Four D's to achieve a clearer perspective on how you are investing your 1440 daily quota of minutes. Your personal area of weakness will likely relate most to one of the four D's. Are you a candidate for more deletions because you can't say "no" to others? Or do you too often go for low hanging fruit when you need to defer them in favor of dissertating? Or perhaps you over-function and micromanage instead of delegating? Lastly, perhaps you are a perfectionist who mistakenly assumes that your self-worth depends on doing even trivial things extremely well.

What temporary changes might you make permanent?

Invented by a PhD: Best kitchen time saver since the microwave oven

Eating well on a graduate student budget can be a challenge. The choices generally seem limited to either (a) spending a lot of time or money on wholesome meals or (b) settling for cheap but unhealthy fast food. What if there were an option that allows healthy, delicious, inexpensive, quick meals?

There is. It's the Instant Pot—invented and marketed by Robert Wang, Ph.D., who holds a computer science degree and specialization in artificial intelligence. Based in Ottawa, the entrepreneurial Wang has become as obsessed with customer service as he is with product design. He prides himself in reading personally all the Instant Pot reviews on Amazon, where it's a runaway bestseller. That's no small claim as last time I looked there were 27,345 such reviews, with a stellar average rating of 4.6 out of 5.

Hailed as the new kitchen super hero, the Instant Pot serves as a slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker pressure cooker, and saute pan all wrapped up in a single device. The Instant Pot is to the traditional slow cooker as the smart phone is to the old rotary phone. It's sleek, user friendly, and replete with apps and cultish devotion.

Whether you have a full kitchen or a dorm room, you'll find this small electric appliance indispensable when you feel rushed or simply want to spend less time in the kitchen. That means for about $99 dollars, you can now buy more time on your dissertation—without sacrificing nutrition or economy.

Until my kids gave me one for Christmas, I thought the Instant Pot chatter was all hype. Now that I've experimented with chili, beef stews, barbecued ribs, and more, I've concluded it is worth every penny. Getting the hang of it is simple, especially via dedicated blogs, YouTube channels, and Facebook groups.

Intrigued? Check out some of the recipes from Chowhound, including gooey mac and cheese, savory meatball subs, and a luscious peach cobbler. If already a confirmed Instant Potter, please send me your favorite recipe!


Can you explain your thesis before you reach the top of the Eiffel Tower?

The challenge: Describe your research to someone outside your field in less than 180 seconds.

If your dissertation "elevator speech" requires a trip up the Eiffel Tower or a skyscraper, start editing. Consider participating in the thriving Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, which requires you to pare it to the bare minimum. Started by the University of Queensland, the contest has spread worldwide, daring doctoral students to present their research in a compelling, laser-like speeches to non-specialists.

Winners receive prizes ranging from cash to travel grants, with top talks posted online. Here's a great example from the University of Maryland's 2017 3MT victor, starring entomology student Samuel Ramsey. Ramsey described the mite causing the honeybee die-off as a zombie rather than werewolf—a winning use of metaphors.

Why should this matter to you? Being able to engage a wide audience is an essential skill for a scholar. You will immediately boost your communication success with faculty, job interviewers, and grant providers. Also, conversing clearly and confidently with others outside the ivory tower may also help break down growing barriers.

Check your graduate school office for details. What—your school doesn't participate yet? Light a fire under them to get going. Then google for presentation tips such as these from Danielle Fischer at UC San Diego.

Unexpected benefits: Boiling your work down to a few cogent sentences forces you to identify the core and context of your work, thus sharpening your own understanding. You may not win a prize, but you just might get that sought-after job with your new-found skills. Finally, your family and friends will understand what has absorbed you all these years!

How to spend your tax refund wisely. . . or not


Getting a tax refund this year? What's your first shopping impulse? Now breathe deep and put your credit card away (or close that Amazon link)—at least until you check out these ideas from a recent post at Personal Finance for PhDs.

Blogger and financial coach Emily Roberts, Ph.D. (Duke 2014), offers targeted insights on money issues for academics. Whether your refund is a couple hundred bucks or a couple thousand, Roberts offers strategic advice for graduate students as well as faculty.

Before you spend it, consider stashing it in a savings account for upcoming needs. Or pay down your top priority debt. How about a contribution to your IRA? You could apply it to investments or a home down payment. Have you considered investing in yourself with a financial or productivity coaching or a conference? And yes, she also advocates using some to live a little!

Editor's Tip: How about using it as a reward for finishing your proposal or final manuscript? Put up a photo of your dream destination or activity or item right next to your timeline to graduation. Will it be Paris? A yoga retreat? A new laptop? Allow a wee bit of daydreaming about the future—but then you must focus on necessary steps to get there.


Can they revoke your doctorate?

One newsmaker is about to find out.


Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe's controversial former First Lady, may soon have her sociology doctoral degree revoked by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) if her critics get their way. In the meanwhile, she might hold the world's speed record for finishing a doctorate. Awarded in 2014, just three months after she first enrolled, the thesis has been at the center of controversy for several months. Despite the custom of publishing accepted theses online, UZ refused to upload Mugabe's work despite wide protests until January 2018.


Grace's thesis is the "greatest academic fraud in history," tweeted Zimbabwe political analyst Dr. Pedzisai Ruhanya. He implies that ghost writers "on drugs" must have written it since they included citations from 2016 and 2017—after the degree was granted. Rhodes University sociologist Kirk Heliker deemed it worth at best a half-master's thesis, well below the expectations for a doctoral degree.


The takeaway? Don't hire ghostwriters without checking their work for accuracy. (Just kidding—don't hire them at all.) And slow down—take more than three months to complete the entire doctoral program. Feeling safer now?


Photo credits:


"Delete": This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA 
Instant Pot: ©2018 by Gayle Scroggs 


Tax Refund: This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-ND


If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, fill out this brief application for a free consultation with a dissertation coach.

An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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