The idea for this post came to me during one of my dissertation coaching sessions earlier this week, when a new client and I were discussing why she had made such good progress this week. She noted that it was, in part, because she had constructed a timeline to finish, and felt inspired by this, rather than overwhelmed or avoidant.

She had constructed timelines in the past, of course, but had always failed to meet them- and so the timelines made her feel worse rather than better. Using one of my recommended strategies, she was able to construct a timeline that not only made her feel good, but, also, spurred her to greater productivity than she had had for the past year.

So why do timelines make you feel worse? I believe there are 3 main cases where this occurs.

First, you set unreasonable goals– ones that feel too big, and really uncomfortable. You might have a nagging voice of doubt while you set these goals- and because you have doubts, you, very often, end up not reaching these goals.

Second, when you have set timelines multiple times, and have failed to reach them. Who wants to keep doing something that seems to lead to failure?

Third, when you spend a lot of time and energy constructing your timelines but don’t, actually, ever get down to doing the work.

The goal of a timeline is to aid you in setting reasonable goals, and having an understanding of where the endpoint of your dissertation process is. It is not a substitute for hard work, nor a place to set impossible standards.

If your timelines have been making you feel worse, check to see if the goals are too big, or if you feel like a failure, or if you’re substituting “planning to finish” for actually working to finish.