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My Dissertation Go Bag

Keeping everything you need to write in one place so you can work anytime anywhere.

September 28, 2018
 
 

Heather VanMouwerik is a PhD candidate in Russian History at UC Riverside. She is also the Managing Editor for GradHacker, a blog for Inside Higher Ed. Follow her on twitter or check out her website.

I am a pretty creative person. However, my creativity reaches superhuman levels when it comes to avoiding my dissertation. I’m too cold; I’m too hot. Neither of my desks in my apartment feel right today, nor does my kitchen table or couch. I need more light; I need less light. Whatever comes up, I know I can justify skipping out on writing because of it.

In order to ensure I actually get writing done on a regular basis, I carefully plan my work schedule in advance, block out time and utilize work timers, set up workspaces in my home that I want to be in—all things that make working on my dissertation easier to do. Sometimes this means leaving my apartment completely and working for a while out in the world, like at the library, a coffee shop, or outside somewhere. Nevertheless, my propensity to avoid writing follows me.

That is why I keep my Dissertation Go Bag by the door. Like its namesake, the emergency go bag, this backpack is ready to go at a moment’s notice and has everything in it (except my computer) I need to survive a writing session at the library or coffee shop. This means that I am always prepared to get to work, which minimizes any excuses I might create to avoid writing.

Here is a list of items that I keep in my Dissertation Go Bag, items that make it easier for me to write:

Scratch Paper: Although I do most of my writing on the computer, sometimes I need to map out an idea, create a checklist, or scratch some sentences out by hand. Keeping an inexpensive spiral notebook in my bag means I am ready for any sort of form my writing will take. Also, I keep a stack of blank 3x5 index cards. Sometimes, when I am stuck, jotting ideas on the cards and physically moving them around the table helps me visualize a difficult section.

Pencil Pouch and All the Pens: In a similar vein, I store a stationary store’s worth of pens, pencils, highlighters, and erasers in my bag.  A few weeks ago, I actually left the library because I didn’t have enough highlighters to, in my mind, properly color code my notes. Having a variety of options easily accessible means I have fewer excuses like this. Plus it justifies having a cute pencil pouch, which definitely helps me be more productive.

Extra Power Cords: Let’s say you’re in the library or have just settled into a coffee shop, you’ve set up your computer, stacked some books up, and gotten your favorite pen out—you’re ready to work! Until, that is, you realize your computer is about to die. There is nothing worse! After forgetting to bring my computer cord a couple of times, I bought a new one specifically to keep in my Go Bag. Also, I added a phone charger, too. This way I’ve always got power when I’m ready to write.

Sticky Notes in Every Size: Do I need to remember to pick up something at the grocery store on my way home from working? I have a sticky note for that. Do I need to mark a passage in a book? I have a sticky note for that, too. Do I need to add something to a cramped page of notes? Yup, I have a sticky note for that. Keeping a load of different style sticky notes in my bag means that I can be 3-dimensional in my writing, making life easier and minimizing work-curbing distractions.

Earplugs/Earphones: Despite your best intentions, writing in public requires, well, a public. From noisy children to weirdly humming lights, there is a whole array of distractions out there that you can use as an excuse to not get any work done. In my Go Bag, I have anticipated this! I have several sets of earplugs, my preferred method for tuning out the word, and a pair of earphones (that I use with my favorite white-noise app). Like the computer cord, these are extras, meaning they always stay in my bag so they are always there when I need them.

Snack, Preferably Something Chocolate: Hunger (or the illusion of hunger) is an easy excuse to end a writing session early. That’s why I make sure to keep a couple of nut-heavy granola bars, preferably ones dipped in chocolate (duh!), in my bag. They give me a hit of protein and sugar to keep my energy up, a dose of chocolate to up my endorphins, and are easy to eat quickly in the library stairwell.

Empty Water Bottle: Like with the snack, you can’t let thirst put you off working. So keeping a water bottle in your bag insures you stay productive and hydrated. Plus refilling my water bottle is one of my favorite study breaks, because it only takes five minutes and reminds me to stretch and move around a bit.

$10 Cash: Coffee doesn’t buy itself, so I keep a little bit of cash tucked into my Go Bag for caffeine-related emergencies.

A Scholarly Sweater and Typing Gloves: Sitting in one place for a few hours, especially one as cold as a library, can be profoundly uncomfortable. To protect myself, I keep a sweater in my Go Bag. But it isn’t just any sweater. Oh, no! It is the perfect writing sweater: cozy and loose fitting with extra-long sleeves. If you are prone to getting cold, I would also recommend keeping a pair of fingerless gloves in your bag. That way you can keep your hands warm and type at the same time.

What do you need to work effectively outside in public? What would your Dissertation Go Bag have in it? Let us know in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user stwn and used under the Creative Commons.]

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