Waiting until after you finish your dissertation to “get a life”? There’s no need to wait! Use or develop the skills needed at work and home to enrich your dissertation experience.In Part III, we will consider three general life skills: Work-Life Balance, Time Management, and Dealing with Stress.As a quick recap — this series of articles has focused on key intrapersonal, interpersonal, and life skills that are vital to the success of your dissertation, but also critical at work and at home. In Part I we explored three intrapersonal skills: Clarifying your Values, Enhancing your Motivation, and Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome. In Part II, we delved into three interpersonal skills: Managing Up, Group Dynamics, and Handling Criticism.Let’s get started!Work-Life BalanceWork-life conflicts often occur when there is no clear line between work responsibilities and outside family, volunteer, or social life. For most ABD students, the pressure of the dissertation is omnipresent, making it difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance.While much of the pressure may come from your advisor, you academic deadlines, or your family, the responsibility for alleviating this pressure comes from you! Here are a few tips to get you started.1. Know yourself.What causes me stress? Too many demands? Poor time management? Unclear expectations? Too many – or too few – projects to focus on?What do I need to reinvigorate myself? A daily walk in the woods? A 15 minute break in the morning to chat with friends? A weekend away, spent in a different location, far away from your books?If you aren’t sure what stresses or reinvigorates you, try reflecting on times you were most stressed and most relaxed. What led you to that feeling? You may also want to keep a journal for a few weeks, jotting some notes on what is occurring and your stress (or motivation) level.2. Know your situation.All my current obligations. Sit down and write out ALL your current obligations. This includes your job(s), spouses, children, parents, or others for whom you provide care. This includes your social obligations (are you part of the PTA?), you academic committees, or your house renovation project. This includes formal obligations (such as a job) and emotional obligations (including anything that is causing you guilt if you overlook it!).Passions that I’ve set aside. Now write down any passions that you’ve tacitly or explicitly set aside to do your dissertation. You may also want to consider passions that you’ve set aside for other life demands.Realistic timeframe. Estimate a realistic date for completion of your dissertation give what you know so far. This is just a ballpark estimate – will you be done in six months, one year, or three years? Caution: there is often a significant difference between when we’d like to be done and when we can realistically expect to be done!3. Create a realistic, purposeful plan. Getting a good work life balance generally requires a proactive approach. In today’s environment, it takes planning, thoughtful consideration, and daily mindfulness. This is NOT the time to compare yourself to your fellow ABD students – what stresses one person invigorates another! This is the time to create a plan that will work for you.Create a plan for the duration of your dissertation work. Start by scheduling in the elements you need to keep yourself motivated and invigorated. Then, prioritize items in your obligation list. What elements of this list can you effectively remove (or postpone) or delegate? Third, look at your plan in light of your reflections on what causes you stress. Fourth, look at the passions you’ve set aside – is the cost too great continuing to set these aside while you complete your dissertation? Are there creative alternatives for reconnecting – at least a bit – with your passions?While a plan may fit into a particular schedule, it may not be a good fit for you! Be ruthless yet realistic in your planning. Your dissertation should be the focal point of your plan, yet your research and health will benefit from balance in your life.Today’s work is less structured, more flexible, and more integrated with our life. Learning the skill of creating a healthy, fulfilling work-life balance that serves you in the short and long run may be one of the best skills you develop in the dissertation process.Time Management SkillsEffective time management skills are critical for most people, but are undoubtedly vital for those working on dissertations. How do you plan your time now? Many of us work in ‘crisis’ mode. While there are many reasons we need to deal with crises immediately (plumbing broke? We need to call the plumber!), it can become easy to get caught up in defining all activities as crises. Sham crises are those requests that appear urgent, but are not urgent.Examples of sham crises:· Responding immediately to every email and text message.· Being available 24 / 7 for day-to-day family requests.By working in crisis mode, we lose the opportunity to put our most effective time toward the activities that are most important to us. Try these skills to enhance your time management:1. Block out dissertation work time on your calendar for the next week (or month).2. Make a list of the tasks that you need to accomplish during this time period. Be as specific as possible. Prioritize the list, identifyingA – critical path itemsB – important, but not time-specific itemsC – other items3. Include some buffer time in your schedule. This will cover the times when you need to cover pressing demands (such as shoveling out after a snow storm), false starts on your research, or days you have writers block. You can adjust your time and buffer estimates as you proceed.4. Review the list on a daily basis. While it may, on occasion, be helpful to start with a B-list item if it’s one you can complete easily, most of your time spent on A-list items.Other Tips and Suggestions:· Some find it helpful to pick a desired end date and work backward. For example, I want to complete my degree in May, 2013. In order to do that, I need to defend by April 15. Therefore, I’ll need to get the draft to the committee by March 1. And so forth.· When prioritizing your list, think carefully about your critical path (A list) items. These are not defined by due date. For example, you might have two goals one day: 1) re-write one page of my literature review and 2) identify an appropriate methodological approach. It is often easy to spend a lot of time on the item that produces a physical result, neglecting your second goal. However, you will need time to develop your research protocol. Neglecting it now is likely to impact your critical path.Rephrasing your goals may help. Try making both goals specific: 1) re-write one page of my literature review, and 2) Read the Andrews et al (2007) article, Conducting Research on the Internet: Online Survey Design, Development and Implementation Guidelines.Applying good time management skills doesn’t mean you have to work longer or harder! In fact, most time managers will recommend you include time for rest and relaxation. Time management skills provide you with the opportunity to achieve your goals more effectively, whether you apply them to the dissertation, to your office job, or to your home life.Dealing with StressAccording to the 2012 edition Robbins and Judge’s book on organizational behavior, stress can be defined as:A dynamic condition in which an individual is confronted with an opportunity, demand or resource related to what the individual desires and for which the outcome is perceived to be both uncertain and important (p 243).For most of us, that is also the definition of the dissertation!At some levels, stress can be a motivator; at other levels, stress can cause physiological, psychological, and behavioral problems. The key is finding the stress level that is most productive for you.Interestingly, two of the strategies for dealing effectively with stress are time management and appropriate work life balance! So focusing on these two skills is critical.Other strategies for dealing with stress include:1. Increasing physical activity. A game of Wii bowling, a thirty minute walk, raking leaves, or playing with the kids – whatever activity gives you aerobic exercise and works some muscles will also be working to alleviate stress.2. Expanded social support. It is easy to get isolated during the dissertation process. Caught up in our research and deadlines or focused exclusively on our subject area, we may not feel we have the time or energy to reach out to others. Make the effort. Take a cup break with a colleague or professor. Plan a sit down dinner with your significant other. Join a dissertation support group. Make an effort to find some folks who can talk the dissertation talk…and some who help you escape the dissertation – if only briefly.3. Practice deep relaxation techniques. Meditation, such as deep breathing while working to clear your mind or while focusing on a single word, for 15 minutes a day can release significant tension. Breathe from your stomach in a slow, steady pattern.4. Set clear, achievable goals for yourself. At some phases of the dissertation, when the scope of the task in not clear, an achievable may be best defined as a time limit: I will work on my literature review for two hours this morning. At other phases, an achievable goal may be best defined as a deliverable: I will complete the final proof on Chapter One today. Clear, specific goals help provide a sense of focus, motivation as well as a sense of accomplishment.5. Find a way to get feedback. One of the most stressful aspects of the dissertation for many is lack of feedback. Many advisors want to see fully developed chapters before they review them. Many researchers want to hone their thoughts before they present their work. However, getting feedback – even on a minor point or a direction of your study – can prove beneficial. Be open to bouncing informal ideas off of your advisor, committee members, or colleagues to relieve stress and stay on course.Both allopathic and naturopathic doctors have told me of the toll that dissertation stress can take on our health. However, it is not the only life-stressor. Learning to manage the stress effectively will be useful long after that ABD becomes a PhD!