Having trouble staying productive? Do you have goals but have trouble sticking to them? Here are some ways to stay accountable during these socially distant times!
[Image Description: Mabel, from Gravity Falls, waves her arms up and down, the sleeves of her pink sweater hanging well past her fingers as she bobs her head back and forth. Above and below her are the words, “I have done nothing productive all day.”]
Pictured: The voice inside your head
Using Social Media
Full disclosure. I am not a huge social media person. Yes, I have a Facebook but 2020 was the first time I got dragged into joining Instagram and enthusiastically joined TikTok. Besides checking out random videos and pics, Instagram in particular has been most helpful for keeping me accountable to the goals I set up for myself.
I found the #100daysofdissertation challenge on Instagram through @academeology. I love challenges and thought: why not try one for my dissertation? It definitely needed a jumpstart and 100 days seemed long enough to make it interesting. I kept my goal pretty simple so that I wouldn’t set myself up for failure: I would give my dissertation a little love everyday for 100 consecutive days, meaning I would work at least 25 mins a day on the dissertation whether that be writing, mind mapping, etc. In order to make sure I did the challenge everyday, I would work for at least 25 mins and then I would take a picture of my computer screen or me working and post it to my story on Instagram. I knew if I HAD to post a picture to Instagram as proof that I was working on my challenge, it would keep me motivated. Posting to Instagram gave my friends an easy way to check out and support my progress. An emoji clap, thumbs up, heart, or encouraging words from friends goes a long way when you’re running low on motivation for your challenge.
I also followed the #100daysofdissertation on Instagram and liked fellow #100day-ers as a way to encourage others in the middle of their challenge and give me hope for mine. It was cool to see different people’s work setup, laptop vs desktop, coffee, books, notebooks, multiple screens, beautiful scenery outside, pets, journals with beautiful handwriting and images – you name it. Besides being aesthetically entertaining and inspiring, seeing someone else reach day 80/100 or 100/100 meant that I too would eventually get there…and I did! Every day I made sure to add my picture to my 100days of dissertation highlight so that I could have a montage from Day 1 – Day 100. At some point, the fact that you’ve gotten three quarters of the way also keeps you motivated for two reasons: 1. because you’ve developed a habit at that point and 2. you’ve come too far to stop now
So here’s my offering to you. Whatever your goal is, commit to it, and decide to document it by taking pictures and posting them.
Ways To Make Taking Pictures Of Your Mork Fun:
- Use filters to mix things up! Take pictures of your readings or some data you’re analyzing. I took boomerangs (GIFs basically – short videos that loop) of some of the dance videos I analyzed and some of my friends commented on the video.
- Take a short video if you’re playing music so you can remember what you were listening to.
- Switch up your workspace: I “devised” multiple workspaces; there was my outside office aka a chair, my bed office, my cloffice (the closet I made into a tiny “office”), and my stand-up area.
[Image Description: Six images of different work spaces including a bed work space, three desk work spaces, and a kaleidoscope image of text.]
Pictured: Variety. It’s the spice of dissertation life.
Tips for Sticking to a Dissertation Challenge
Be kind with what you consider work (but not too kind). Giving the dissertation love to me meant actively writing the dissertation, reading articles/books, figuring out Zotero, watching and analyzing dance videos, mind mapping, outlining, and writing things out in my notebook.
As Graduate Writing Center Coordinator, Christina Trujillo and GradSuccess Director, Hillary Jenks have told us countless time, figure out what time you’re most productive during the day (or night) and stick to working during those hours. Personally, I found waking up first thing in the morning, brushing my teeth and then working for 2 hours (often from bed) was the most helpful. It meant my dissertation got my first burst of energy but also that I got my challenge “out of the way.” If the day became spontaneously busier or other tasks took longer than expected, I wouldn’t be trying to squeeze my dissertation in at the last minute or when I was tired. I’m also very food motivated so I knew that once I finished my 2 hour block of work I could have breakfast!
Helpful hint: You can also join the #5amWritersClub on Twitter if you know you’re productive early in the morning and want to have another group of people to help cheer you on.
[Image Description: a polar bear with its chin and front paws resting on the ice propels itself forward slowly using only its hind legs.]
Pictured: You, on your way to the 5 am Writers Club
I aimed for at least 2 hours of work on the dissertation Monday – Friday and 25 minutes on Saturday and Sunday. Before deadlines to my chairs, I would often work a lot more but my ideal was at least 2 hours during the workweek and 25 mins on the weekends. If I wanted to do more on the weekends I could, but I think if I pushed myself too much to do 2+ hours every single day I would have burned out.
I often used the writing center as another way to make sure I got my challenge (and work on the dissertation) done. I knew I needed to have something ready for my writing center appointment and that the writing would also count towards my working on the dissertation.
Some days, if I was feeling particularly resistant to working on the diss I would do some freewriting about the resistance and frustration to figure out what was actually going on. Or, I’d free write about my argument, where it currently was, where I wanted it to be, research I thought I needed to do to clarify, etc, etc. These activities would help me complete some of the thoughtwork I needed to do on a more macro level and would often give me some additional motivation to work further.
Have a writing group. Throughout my dissertation challenge, I met with a wonderful writing accountability group once-to-three times a week to discuss weekly goals and work together. This was really helpful because I was reaching my daily goal of working on my dissertation but also working with others and talking through issues or breakthroughs. Having people ask me what day I was on in my challenge was also a nice reminder to keep going with it!
[Image Description: Iron Man and The Hulk run forward and knock fists in a punch so powerful it creates shockwaves that shatter car windows. The words, “Good job, Bro” flashes across the screen.
Pictured: The kind of encouragement that keeps you going
Find a buddy (or a few buddies)! I started my dissertation challenge by myself and told people after I had started. Of course, I had a few people reach out saying they would like to try a 100 days challenge too. It would have been a different experience to have a group all going through the same challenge together and, for those of us spurred on by competition, might be another way to create accountability.
Celebrate. I celebrated with champagne the day I submitted a chapter draft to my chairs, which also happened to be day 35/100. Celebrate day 50/100 and celebrate day 100/100! Two amazing friends of mine dropped off homemade brownies and cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory for me (Food motivated, remember?) and it was the best surprise! Another pair of friends hosted a zoom party to celebrate me finishing the challenge. These celebrations helped close out the challenge.
For Personal Goals
After my success using Instagram with my 100day dissertation challenge, I am now using Instagram for some personal challenges. Not to seem like an overachiever, but I’m currently attempting four 30-day challenges at the same time. For 30 days I will practice my drums, practice my ukulele, dance for the length of a song, and do the 30-day shred with Jillian. It’s a lot I know, but these challenges are in some ways easier and harder than the dissertation. Easier because these are fun “breaks” from work for me, and harder because the 30 days shred is no joke – I’m out of shape y’all. The instrument challenges I’m doing solo and the dance and 30-day shred I’m doing with a partner. For 30 days, I will practice my 2 instruments and record short videos to keep track of my progress. Like the dissertation challenge, I post these short clips to my story on Instagram and keep track of them on the highlight. The only difference is that these story updates are for close friends only since I’m feeling shy about sharing it to everyone (I literally just started learning the ukulele). I’m also thinking about using some of these clips to send to my teachers.
As for the dance and the 30-day shred challenge, having a challenge partner is one DEFINITE way to boost your accountability. The dance challenge I’m doing with a friend and we’re both approaching it differently. She takes a picture of her calendar every day where she’s marked a sticker to show that she danced that day. I post a short video clip of me dancing and post that again to the close friend’s story so she can see it when she wants. The 30-day shred challenge is more intense since my cousin and I do the 20-minute work out together over facetime. Seeing her doing those cursed jumping jacks with me keeps me going even when I’m tired of the cardio.
Not a big social media person? Here are other ways to stay productive and accountable to your goals.
- Work on Zoom Together: Ask a friend to work together virtually. My friends and I will just mute ourselves and work in a zoom room together. At the end, we check in about what we accomplished.
- Work on slack/other chat platforms together: If you’re tired of using video, you can work together virtually and have a chat open to check in when you’re feeling like you want to or need to.
- Walk and Talk: One of my good friends, Shelley, came up with this. Call a friend to walk and talk about your work.
- Texting: Ask a friend to be your texting accountability buddy (Thanks to Jay Shelat for this idea). Text a friend that you’re starting to work and then text them again when you’re done. If they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they can text you to check-in and see how you’re doing. Or just text them to tell them that you worked that day at all!
Hope your challenges whether they be work-related or not go well!