The Write Mindset: Managing Time Mindfully -->

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The Write Mindset: Managing Time Mindfully

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If you’re working on your degree alongside other work or family obligations, you’re probably looking for ways to make the most out of your limited time, right? Read on for a mindful time management strategy that’s working for me as I write my dissertation while working full time and taking care of a toddler. I promise I’ll keep it short!

A fancy latte next to an empty notebook with the text "The Write Mindset" overtop

A lot of academic advice recommends a project management approach in which you break down a large project into as small of tasks as possible and schedule a time to complete each one of these tasks. This seems like a great way to stay on track and motivated, but I found I was constantly failing to stick to my plan: just one night when my kiddo wouldn’t sleep would throw the whole thing off, making me feel guilty and frustrated. I needed to adjust this approach for it to work for my lifestyle.  

First, I make a list of tasks that I plan to complete each week. I then divide that list in half, marking half of my list as “must do” tasks for the week and half of the tasks as “bonus,” tasks that would be great to get done, but that I won’t beat myself up for not finishing. Once I have that list in place, I categorize the tasks in another important way: by energy level. I’ve found that some tasks are “high energy” tasks that require the ability to focus, while other tasks are “low energy” tasks that I can probably manage to finish even if I’m feeling a little tired or distracted that day. 

Here is an example of what my to-do list might look like:

  • Freewrite for 10 minutes at the beginning of each day on a topic related to my current chapter
  • Respond to email from my mentor
  • Transcribe notes from book I read last week, and add it to my literature review matrix
  • Read and take notes on next books in my literature review
  • Email lead about a research question I have
  • Read and take notes on next book in my literature review

In this list, I have bolded my “must do” tasks for the week, and the “bonus” tasks are in regular font style. The “high energy” tasks are highlighted in yellow, and the “low energy” tasks are highlighted in blue.

At the beginning of each writing session, I take stock of my current energy levels and the amount of time I have scheduled for that session. Then I look over my list and select a task or two that is reasonable to accomplish with the time and energy levels that I have that day.

Integrating mindfulness into my project management has helped my writing process tremendously. I’ve become better at prioritizing my time and making sure I’m focusing on what’s important each week. Knowing that I have a list of tasks I can work on even when I’m tired makes me more likely to sit down at my desk and get a little bit done rather than blow off a dissertation session entirely. Finally, because my task list is more manageable, I actually accomplish it, which makes me feel better about the project overall.

If other time management systems aren’t working for you, think about giving this one a try! And please share your favorite strategies in the comments—we’d love to hear from you!

Cheryl Read Author Image

Cheryl Read is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She’s so interested in time management that she sometimes finds herself procrastinating by dreaming up the next “perfect” schedule. When she’s not helping student writers at Walden, Cheryl stays busy playing with her son and working on her dissertation.

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