My dissertation group coaching participants are making me proud. In just one week, they are reporting results like “I’ve written more this past week than I had in the past year.” and “I am feeling better and like I can do this project.”- and that’s just with 1 phone meeting. Imagine where they’ll be just 8 weeks from now?

It just makes me so proud and gratified when my clients show up, listen to my advice, and act on it.

The title from this post came out of our group coaching call today when we were talking about the concept of overdoing. Overdoing is the idea that you do more work, put in more time- and, generally, that you make more effort than a task actually requires. It came out, generally, from one group member who is revising her dissertation, and finds herself writing parts of it over. Remember that I always say revising and writing are separate tasks. The idea also came out from another client, who has only 5000 words to make her point, and finds herself having used about 4000, with several sections left to go.

The problem with overdoing is that you become too attached to the effort, rather than the outcome. And the sad fact is that you can put in thousands of hours of effort (and many of you have- if we count how much energy and time you devote to thinking about the dissertation, planning for it, worrying about it- but not actually working on it)- you can put in thousands of hours of effort and still not have anything useful to show.

The metaphor we talked about in group today was the idea of “stop camping at the grocery store”. When you are out of bread and milk, you go to the grocery store to get bread and milk. You might wander the aisles for a few extra minutes, but you ultimately decide that you got what you needed, and you pay, and go home.

Many dissertation writers, though, camp at the grocery store. They metaphorically stock and store and purchase for what they may need in December- when it’s only July. So, for example, you are ‘camping at the grocery store’ when you need to write a 150 word abstract, but you write a 1000 word one, and then have to spend time and energy cutting it down. You ‘camp at the grocery store’ when you write 25,000 words when you only have need of 5,000.

The problem with this approach is that you become too attached to what you’ve written, and you spend a lot of energy, then, in the future, trying to “fit in” what you wrote to whatever you’re working on next. It’s similar to buying a kitchen gadget that dices prunes, when you don’t like prunes- and then concocting all these recipes that use prunes, just so you can use the gadget you bought.

It’s the idea that we become really tied to the effort we make, and the energy behind this, rather than looking at output and what it takes to get the work done.

If you are ‘camping at the grocery store’- you’re stocking up on words, articles, papers, ideas- but not actually using them well or moving through them efficiently. You keep thinking that the more stuff you have, the better. But the reality is, dissertation articles go moldy and become stale, just like food does.

The goal is to collect or create just what you need, and will use- and to use it fully in the appropriate time and way.

Learn to right-size your effort to your desired outcomes. You’ll need less time to get more done.