This is a GradHacker post by Amy Rubens, PhD candidate in English at Indiana University, @ambulantscholar
We've all been here: A deadline for a dissertation chapter, conference abstract, or presentation looms ever largely on the horizon. At first, work sessions proceed in a regular fashion. Progress is being made, and stress levels are low. Then, at some point, panic sets in because it seems like the task at hand can't be completed--at least in the desired fashion. If only there was more time!
In some instances, this is an accurate assessment. The project can't be finished (or can't be completed satisfactorily) before the deadline because more time is needed. Perhaps you underestimated how long the task would take. Maybe you had all the time in the world but didn't work diligently enough. Gauging how much time certain activities require and learning how to work efficiently are habits that improve with practice, but also because of error. (Nice silver lining, no?)
But, I don't want to talk about time management. I want to talk about a more psychologically complex phenomena, something I call the myth of more time, or the instances in which "more time" isn't the best solution: would the dissertation chapter, conference abstract, or presentation be measurably improved with more time? Not necessarily. Furthermore, in some cases, more time can't be a solution because some deadlines can't be negotiated. Yet, even in these situations, we often see "more time" as a way to easily and quickly quell the frantic thoughts that emerge when a seemingly impossible deadline is placed before us.
A lack of confidence in one's abilities as a writer, researcher, speaker, etc. is at the root of the myth of more time. When a deadline looms, we become acutely aware of the imminent reception of our work by others. As graduate students, we often submit our work to advisors, etc. who are established scholars and who determine our progress towards a program milestone. Our awareness of this kind of appraisal, then, can be extremely pronounced as we work towards a deadline. As a result, we begin to doubt our abilities and look back on completed work with a now overly critical eye. Work that we had been proud of, or perhaps simply satisfied with, doesn’t seem so polished any more, and we decide that all of the mistakes we recently have perceived can be fixed with more time. More time soon becomes not just a fleeting thought, but an imperative. We believe that the project simply cannot be a success without more time.
The myth of more time has plagued me at various moments during the dissertation process, and recently, I’ve undergone a rather severe but (I think) brief bout of it. You see, I have a substantial deadline looming. I’m preparing to graduate in May, and then in August, I’ll begin a full-time, academic position. If ordering my cap and gown and signing my employment contract didn’t make these events “real” enough, setting a defense date with my chair and committee and then completing some college-mandated paperwork certainly did. For some time, I had been confident that I could meet the defense deadline and be satisfied with my work, and I felt this way even before a defense date had been set. After all, I had completed writing all six chapters of my dissertation, and my chair and committee had read this material as well. Furthermore, many chapters had been revised several times based on their feedback. Of course, I knew that getting to the defense wouldn’t be a walk in the park—I still had a final round of revisions to complete, after all—but the remaining tasks didn’t seem to be insurmountable. A few weeks ago, I felt that familiar panic setting in, and thought to myself: I need more time! I can’t possibly submit a quality dissertation to my committee in preparation for my defense!
Not true. Yes, theoretically, more time could help me—in fact, anyone—to produce a better document. But how much more time would be needed? And would more time have a quantifiable impact? When I explored these questions on my own and with some members of my committee, I realized my cries for “more time” were symptomatic of a crisis in confidence that was brought on by the most significant deadline of my academic career, and actually, professional life. Overall, I have managed my time effectively, balancing time devoted to the dissertation with teaching responsibilities, applying for jobs, staying physically and emotionally healthy, and being a good daughter, girlfriend, and friend. I have worked as diligently on the dissertation as my schedule—and life—has allowed. I wanted “more time,” then, because I was losing confidence in my abilities and the work I've done as a scholar and student that has gotten me to this point. I don't have an easy work-around for the myth of more time, but it is helpful to know what issue I need to negotiate as I move (ever closer) towards the defense.