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Don't Waste Your Summer

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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When your summer deadline is only in your own mind, it is easy to shift your schedule and end up with a personal "incomplete" in August. Therefore, I tell the faculty and students I work with to "go public" to increase their sense of accountability.


The posting below looks at some key questions to ask as many of us prepare for the coming summer . It is by Mary McKinney, Ph.D. of Successful Academic Coaching and it appeared in the June 27, 2005 issue of The Successful Academic News. Please visit Mary's web site at for additional tenure track tips and dissertation writing strategies. email: Copyright ? 2000-07 Mary McKinney, Ph.D. - All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Don't Waste Your Summer

A friend of mine likes to wear her favorite slogan on a button. It says:

"Take my advice, I'm not using it!"

Hmmm. That's a familiar habit - always giving, but rarely heeding my own advice.

For example, I became an academic coach because many years ago I was a struggling, long-distance dissertator. After moving far from my university, and lacking the support of my peers and committee, I found it very hard to make quick progress on my Ph.D. Instead, I read every book I could find on writing a dissertation and overcoming procrastination.

As they say, "Those That Don't Do, Teach." A few years after I earned my own Ph.D., I started dissertation support groups to spread the techniques I'd struggled to learn. I found that I loved working with bright, talented and introspective academics. And the more I practiced the skills I taught, the easier it was to sit down, focus, and write.

I continued reading books on time management, organizational skills, and the challenges of putting pen to paper. I still read these books avidly, in part, because I'm a disorganized person. (Just ask my clients who get their bills a month after the fact, or my therapy patients who are accustomed to starting sessions 5 minutes late!)

So, based on extensive reading, and years of trying to become more productive, here are a few of my suggestions for making the best use of your summer. Ask yourself the following questions:

1) What is your number one priority for the summer?

The first key to using your time wisely is setting goals. Therefore, stop scattering your efforts without a clear focus and make sure that you accomplish the most important tasks to further your career.

If you are having trouble choosing your number one priority, there are two helpful questions to ask:

What will make you feel the best when you complete it?

What are you most anxious about?

Follow your instincts as well as your intellect. Focusing on your wishes and anxieties to determine your goals will keep you from spending hours preparing the syllabus for your fall class when you should be writing an article for publication.

2) How are you going to carve out time?

To accomplish your top priority, you need to free up hours that may not be available during the rest of the year. Except for those of us who are teaching summer classes, and trying to cram six months worth of material into six weeks, most of us have more flexibility in our schedules during the summer.

To make sure that you avoid over-commitments and unfocused business, ask these questions:

What are you going to let go to make more time for your number one project?

Are there less pressing projects and tasks that you can put on hold to gain hours, and mental space, for your top priority?

3) How can you increase your motivation?

When your summer deadline is only in your own mind, it is easy to shift your schedule and end up with a personal "incomplete" in August. Therefore, I tell the faculty and students I work with to "go public" to increase their sense of accountability. When you announce your goals and timeline to other people, you increase the likelihood that you'll follow through (if only to avoid embarrassment.)

Who are you going to promise that you'll meet your goals?

Tell your partner, your friends, your colleagues, your advisor that you'll have a draft of your project complete before the fall semester begins.

With these tips in mind, I started thinking (as I usually do) about how I could set and achieve my own goals.

What would make me feel best?

I would like to finish an e-book that has languished on the back burner for six months while other writing projects, especially this newsletter, have taken priority. By the way, the working title of my project is: "Why the Dissertation is Hard and What to Do About It." I hope that it will interest many of you.

How am I going to carve out more time to write this summer? Well, my four young children are too young to send to Siberia, and I have an ongoing commitment to my coaching clients, so my best option is to reduce the time I spend on this newsletter (much as I love writing it).

How can I "go public" and increase my own sense of accountability?

That's what this newsletter is really about: I hereby declare that my weekly missives will now be sent bi-weekly. Furthermore, let me announce that my e-book will be finished by the end of August and available on my web site by October 1rst. (Gasp! I'm already feeling motivated to get to work.)

Thanks for letting me use you to increase my motivation and my chances of achieving my top goal for the summer.

Let's go for it!

Mary McKinney, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist

Academic Coach


? 2005 Mary McKinney, All rights reserved.