Dear Dissertation Diva:
Thanks for a great blog site: reading it has been helping me get back on track with my dissertation after a long holiday/working to pay the bills break. But I do have a question. I am working on wrapping up my prospectus, and when I have set deadlines as you suggest on my prospectus, it has ended up stressing me out so much that I don't get anything done at all. And normally I'm a person who works well to deadlines. My advisors have suggested that the prospectus, as a conceptualization phase of the dissertation, is not necessarily suited to setting hard deadlines, but part of me wants to set firm deadlines to get the thing done, and I feel guilty when I fall short of self-imposed expectations, then begin to worry this is indicative of my ability to finish the whole dissertation. What do you think or suggest about this dilemma?
Did you know that the historical meaning of the word "deadline" is "a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot"? No wonder that thinking of the dissertation process in terms of deadlines makes people break out in a cold sweat. Your question is essentially about the dilemma of deadlines: Not meeting them creates anxiety, guilt, remorse, self-doubt -- all sorts of feelings better suited to a criminal confession than to a creative process! You will set and meet and not meet MANY deadlines during this long process. The best attitude is to not become attached to the outcome of a particular deadline, but to use the date as a motivation to work towards. This Zen attitude of detachment is difficult to cultivate, but worth the effort. Set a date to work towards, put in consisent effort towards your goal, but don't attach to the outcome. There's a balancing act for sure!
What helps is to rethink the whole concept of a deadline. You want to finish your prospectus by a definite date. Think of it as a TARGET DATE instead. You are working towards a target. Point all your arrows in that direction.
Also, break down the larger task into mini-target dates. So, in your case, tomorrow could be your mini-target date for updating the draft of Section One of your prospectus. The next day's mini-target is to assess what need to be done next and starting a list of additional research. The day after's mini-target is to download 3 articles from the list. The day after, you decide you need a new target, which is to start reworking the methodology section of your prospectus. Do you see how in this example, you have daily mini-targets to work towards? The focus is on the process, with daily targets for the outcome. I think this could work in your situation to dispel some of the anxiety about having one big deadline and missing it.
Let me know what happens!
Thanks for your feedback and question.