(8) Avoiding Stall Outs and Burnout

Page description: This page will continuously grow as co-authors and commenters add content. This page contains resources, advice, warnings, tips, ideas, uploaded documents, etc. to help you reduce your chances of stalling out and/or getting burned out.

April 16, 2014 Update: Please view this workflow PDF, check recent blog posts, and visit the Tools pages in this blog’s menu to see updates to my approach as I make them.

January 12, 2014 Update: I’ve added two points below. Also, please view this workflow PDF and check more recent blog posts to see my evolving thinking on making continued progress. Best regards!

January 14, 2014 Update: Below I’ve added a “diary-like” video of me dealing with a writing stall.

January 14, 2014 Update: Below I’ve added a “re-orienting” exercise (downloadable form) for those times when you really just need to stop, take a step back, breathe, and think and write on what you’re trying to do and how — before returning to writing for the thesis or dissertation.

A Few Strategies

#1 Stop for a Moment, Release the Pressure Valve, Recollect the WHY of Your Journey, Assess More Slowly What You Can Do to Move Forward

To download a re-orienting, thought-provoking MS Word document fill-form, click the following link or image: “Reorienting: Reconnecting with My Priorities and Reviewing My Mindset. (Here’s a PDF view).

Reorient Form Page 1

#2: Have a methodology to your academic reading, annotating, quote-excerpting, note-taking, and writing. Dr. Single’s is the BEST and MOST EFFECTIVE that many of us have found.

There is so much literature now, that we’ve got to have a methodology for getting in, getting what we need, and getting out of the literature. We also need a writing methodology:

  1. The dissertation is too large a writing project,
  2. the purpose of it is too pointed, and
  3. the contents of it are too interconnected, based on others’ writing, and dependent upon our own research actions and findings

for one to NOT have a methodology for writing the dissertation.

Dr. Single shares her methodology in her book, “Demystifying Dissertation Writing: A Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text.” Please check out the Amazon reviews and preview it.

Dr. Carlis’s method for writing, shared here, resonates highly with Dr. Single’s method. Please don’t let the title deter you from reading it: You don’t have to have that intention in order to benefit greatly from Dr. Carlis’s advice. The content about audience and about identification and forefronting of contribution are PRICELESS, in my opinion.

#3: Make sure not to inadvertently, unwittingly have THIS problem with your advisor.

If you do, then talk it out with your advisor and find a remedy together. This will stall things like nobody’s business. Knowing is half the battle. One solution if you are the drafter in a mismatched relationship is for you to write in a writing group or to find a peer with whom to exchange drafts.

#4: Go physical: Get out of the computer for a spell, and do something by HAND.

It sounds counter-intuitive. Believe me, I know: I fought this tooth and nail. Your brain works DIFFERENTLY when you are writing with a pencil or pen. You may find writing on a digital tablet or writing with something like a Livescribe pen is the best of both worlds (WARNING: Be very, very, VERY careful about which Livescribe pen you invest in if you go that route. I loooooooove mine, but before purchasing, it is virtually a necessity to read through the reviews at Amazon.com about the various pens. Customers have been very, very disappointed from purchasing the wrong pen to meet their needs). Regular old pen or pencil may suffice just fine. Either way, if you are stalled, try hand writing some things (outline, mind map, etc.) for just a SPELL to see if gets things moving again. Here’s a diary-like video of me employing this strategy at a time when I’ve stalled out.

#5: Get your organizational and selectivity skills “on lock” as SOON as possible.

Being a researcher entails proficiency with a set of skills, not the LEAST of which is being organized and being able to be selective. It’s not good enough to be quasi-organized. There’s just too much information to handle.

One needs to be organized from the START, stay organized (i.e get organizational techniques as a matter of course so that you implement them “on lock” [automatically]), and be selective about what one reads or even PRINTS.

It’s like when I was a novice school teacher and overwhelmed myself with tons of papers to grade, not realizing that I was in control because it was ME who was assigning all those paper assignments (some presentations and oral and informal activities would have been JUST fine!)

It’s a similar story regarding research and lit reviewing: Don’t overwhelm yourself by over-assigning yourself with too much literature to wade through because you refused to be selective and minimally sufficiently organized. The art is to be thorough, but be selective still.

Aside: Qiqqa may help with this more than Mendeley, which I mention in the videos below.

Many, many research guides repeat this. We accept this. So why do some of us still fall into this trap?

I myself am pretty organized: On a scale from 1-10, I probably naturally operate at a 7.2. I wasn’t really concerned.


One issue I had was that as a new researcher, I was just so FASCINATED by just about EVERYTHING I encountered that I just had to read it. To some extent this tendency is forgivable, because being new meant I didn’t always KNOW that I didn’t need an article. But after a little bit, the skill of being able to identify what to NOT read . . . it’s expected and necessary.

A SURPRISE PROBLEM/ISSUE: I was also ignorant of the SCOPE of organization needed. As a student scholar (or any scholar) in this age of info glut (see Luker’s book on Salsa Dancing in the Social Sciences), it’s not just your PDF collection that needs to be organized. You need your reading, your thinking, your writing, your knowledge, etc. all organized. There is actually a such thing as personal knowledge management! I really didn’t get ANY of this, starting out.

HOWEVER: MY NOT KNOWING DID NOT MATTER IN THE END ANALYSIS. Stall outs don’t discriminate: They still stall you out whether you were innocent or not in allowing their development.

To start, I had only a QUASI-SYSTEMATIC (7.2 out of 10) way of handling and organizing PDF articles and not being selective enough about what I PRINTED. This led to a serious stall-out. Here are videos showing some of the strategies and tools I used to finally get a handle on management not just of sources, but of my thinking and my knowledge. The exact software used can vary, and your precise strategy will likely differ. But you do have to attend to managing things. It’s unavoidable!

So that’s some of what’s working for me.

While you do NOT have to adopt this same system — because of course every researcher must work in his or her OWN WAY — I hope something above will impress upon you the importance of not letting what feels like just a SLIGHT relaxation of organization be the seeds that grow a major STALL in your journey.

PLEASE SPEAK YOUR MIND: Was I the only one? Can you relate? How have you helped yourself or someone else through this? What tools/resources/ideas/strategies/mindsets would you recommend? Please share comments below about dealing with literature management at this level. Thanks in advance for your time and wisdom. Blessings!

More to come as other co-authors share fixes to their struggles.

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