As we near the end of another year, it’s probably a good time to take stock of where you are in your life, plans, and in terms of finishing the dissertation. I was reminded today about the differences between time management and priority management- with some people saying you can never manage time, that time just is- and so, instead, we have to manage our priorities.

This becomes even more important around the holidays, when we might be juggling multiple additional responsibilities- including decorating, shopping, wrapping presents, baking, visiting friends and family- and wondering how to manage both priorities and time. You might also be feeling a bit of guilt about not working on the dissertation during this time, as well as some anxiety in terms of whether you’ll find time to get back to it.

When I am experiencing a gap between time and priorities, I use a particular method to help me decide what to do next. That method is in noticing where my attention is flowing. To help me determine this, I start to notice what I keep noticing. Do I keep feeling drawn to looking at the sale ads and picking out gifts? Do I feel like I need to cancel out of some obligations? Am I dreading anything? Are there any small problems happening right now which I can fix before they become too big?

While somewhat indirect, this method is very useful for helping you notice where your attention is flowing. The next step in the process is to start taking action in the direction of your attention. So if I notice that I keep wanting to look at sale ads, I do this for a little while. Then, when my mind starts to wander, or I’ve completed the task, I notice where my attention is going next. And so on. The surprising thing about this method is that, very often, I accomplish just as much (if not more) than when I have a standard “to-do” list.

As we move closer to the end of year festivities, you might want to notice where you attention is flowing, and take action in that direction. If the dissertation is on your mind, take a few small actions in that direction, at least until you start thinking of something else. Don’t judge yourself based on how little time you might spend, and don’t second guess what you should be doing. Sometimes, the days spent just following what you want to do can be just as helpful as days spent following what you think you should do.

If you’re feeling pulled in multiple directions, try using this attention flows/action goes method. You might find that it supports both your priorities and your time.