Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Adjustment: The Secret to PhD Completion

Last week I started a new regime, much like PhD students around the world who were coming back to university and sorting out their routines so that they would make their projected milestones for this year.

If you are a student who it trying to balance a full adult life AND have your research work progress at a fast pace, read on because you and I are in similar positions for different reasons.

Adjustment may be just what we need.

My goal is to layer my already overly full entrepreneurial life with two big tasks: 1) writing 3 blogs a week; and 2) keeping up regular work on my qualitative coding.

I have two projects I am using Dedoose to advance, the first is an evaluation of the accelerator programme that ran this summer and the second is an ongoing review of the literature around PhD completion.

In last week's blog, full of zest, I set up my work in a calendar, committed to it and decided to use you, my readers as my outside accountability.  How did this first week go?
Does it seem like the beginning of a project half focuses on overcoming the technology issues? As I stumbled with Dedoose, not remembering how to establish a new code I realized that this confusion was another reason to "keep it up". By doing any task regularly we become adept.
I spent my first 50 minute pomodaro cycle on analysis of two documents while I simultaneously converted pdfs to Word so they could be uploaded for the literature review. By the end, I had 18 docs uploaded in the 50 minutes but my coding had not gone as well.
Fortunately, just at the end of the cycle I found a screen that let me hook the codes to the highlighted sections one right after another, so by just going over 10 minutes I reached the level of satisfaction I was shooting for.
As I was peddling around in Dedoose I found one really cool tool - under training there is a section on which a team can work together to develop inter rater reliability.
This really is a great tool, even if, at this point I don't understand descriptor vs code vs excerpt - nor how to go back to the one cool layout that seemed to give me the answers I was looking for. This just shows me that when starting out any fumbling around can net new options.
Two steps forward may be balanced by one back but progress was made. I came back to Dedoose later in the week, and it almost becomes second nature to read and code - but then I got snagged in forgetting how to set up a new code. The vocabulary of excerpt, code, etc still is not clear and that holds my productivity back.
On the side of stepping forward, I was successful in fitting the task of coding in between waiting for times to call my African colleagues. I found that a little coding fit the space between calls when any other task would have been to lengthy. Coding caused me to focus which had its own excellent side effects.
Getting three blogs written was hard and I did not get them done on the days I had scheduled them in. I found a couple of things help: 1) typing directly into the editor in which they will be published, but also 2) taking brief notes on what I want to say when they occur to me in Evernote.
This became a set up for success - I type away on the blog and then go cut and paste in earlier notes, review, revise and move on.
Lessons Learned and Adjustments for Next Week 
Too many balls in the air or too much on my plate? Undoubtedly, yet these are important goals and I need to keep progressing. Without having set up the calendar and committed publicly to blogging about it once a week I would not have gotten this much done. Planning and outside accountability work but now is the time for adjusting based upon the data.
I learned I cannot keep to a M-W-F schedule for writing. What I have done is gone to rework my calendar one day writing, one day analysis, one day off. This gives that day off to catch up if one of the other days work did not materialize.
It is much harder to set up on Google calendar so I will give it a try for the next two weeks and see if more adjustment becomes necessary.
Other adjustments I am considering include playing with the timing I use on my Pomodairo (yes that is spelled right - it is the app I use on my PC). When days are more hectic or my energy is low then 40 minutes is a good segment - the 50 minutes are great when I am stronger. This plus being willing to fit the analysis in shorter sections of time as they come up should be helpful.
And finally, I will work ahead when I can. With the three day cycles, if and when I can I will write a blog and schedule it for a few days later. It feels stronger to be ahead than behind.
OK - my turn to ask - what works for you?

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