Productivity Tips for Dissertating Parents

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, society at large has finally gained an appreciation for how difficult it is to balance parenthood and work. Dissertation writing is perhaps even more difficult to balance with parenting. It’s almost entirely generative work, which requires intense concentration. Plus, most dissertation writing takes place at home, without any distance from your childcare responsibilities.

There is no solution for how hard it is to combine dissertating and parenting, besides shipping off your children to extended family for a couple of years. But, writing a dissertation while you have kids around is possible, and you’re not the only one facing this struggle.

Start by setting your expectations low. Children don’t have long attention spans and do have lots of needs. Setting your expectations low (as my therapist has reminded me) helps you avoid disappointment. Work up from these low expectations. Slowly train your kids to spend time without you, keeping your expectations low and keeping in mind what’s age-appropriate.

Likewise, train yourself to work in sprints. Thirty minutes is enough time to make progress on your writing, according to Bourgault et al. (2022). Regularly setting aside 30 minutes of writing keeps your work fresh and keeps up your writing momentum.

Build a routine for writing. This routine will depend on many factors: your morning bird/night owl tendencies, your kids’ ages and sleep routines, and your day job, if you have one. You might be able to fit in 30 minutes of writing before your kids wake up; an hour during their quiet time, homework time, or TV time; and a couple of hours after their bedtimes (for example). Experiment with your schedule to determine what time of day is your most productive dissertation writing time. Whatever you decide, hold onto the routine loosely. Keep your expectations low.

With young children, working off-screen may help. Writing while you sit with them may be difficult, but you might be able to read printed versions of sources, outline chapters, or revise on paper.

Remember that you can’t do all the things all the time. Give yourself permission to let laundry pile up or skip a housecleaning day. Take what you can off of your to-do list when you can so that you can free up headspace for writing.

As much as it’s possible for you, find a community of parents whom you can ask for help. Send your kids on playdates when you can. If you’re open about how difficult it is to write a dissertation, your community of friends or family will understand that you need help. If you’re uncomfortable asking for help, offer to trade playdates.

Again, there’s no single solution. It is hard. But, it is doable, and it will be worth it! Your children will be proud of you.

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