Setting Yourself up for Doctoral Success: part 3

Gina Holmes
4 min readFeb 4, 2022

Plan, Schedule and Honour Your Goals

A doctorate is not a once-and-done thing. Over the course of years — years — you will go through iterations of your design, your plans, your intentions, your aims. That need for flexibility doesn’t mean, though, that planning is futile. You can establish your routines and structures to help you get your work done and ensure you keep moving forward.

Achieving a doctorate is by no means a foregone conclusion. The drop-out rate is high, and the proportion of candidates who don’t make it can be a frightening statistic if you look at it for too long. You don’t have to be part of that statistic: with a bit of structure and the right support, you can make steady progress towards completion.

Prepare and Plan

Setting yourself up for inevitable success takes planning. The word, ‘inevitable’, is defined as assured or certain to happen. If you want to make sure you are inevitably successful with your goals, you need to prepare and plan. This is not magic or voodoo, although when you do plan, your success rate is magically improved!

Be Specific

Decide what it is you want to achieve and be specific. If you want to write your thesis, that’s great — but what does that mean? Are you at the write up stage, or have you got data still to collect? Ethics clearance to attain? Analysis to do? Proposal (or papers) to write? This is a bit of a brutal step, but honesty with yourself (and probably your supervisors, if you have a decent relationship with them) is the best way.

Make It Measurable

Be specific and make sure your goal is measurable — so you’ll know if you’ve reached that marker or not. First draft of chapter 3 is measurable. ‘A bit more done’ is not. With many of the stages of doctoral study, there doesn’t seem to be an easy end-point, so you may have to get a bit arbitrary and schedule a revisit later. Find some things you can measure and celebrate getting done.

Make It Achievable

When you’re setting up your success plan, be sure that your goal is actually achievable and reachable. If your goal is to write the whole thesis ,that isn’t achievable in a few months. Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting a goal that is impossible. Break it down into smaller chunks and spread it out over time. You’ll find that building in accountability will really help you progress too join the Doctoral CoWorking Sessions to get support, focused work time and like-minded partners here.

What’s Your Why?

Setting a relevant goal will help you be successful because there is a ‘why’ attached to the outcome. An example would be to write your first draft of a chapter before your next supervision meeting. When there is a why and the goal is tied to that result, it helps keep you motivated to succeed. It’ll keep your supervisors happy too!

Target Dates

Always set a time limit to your success goals. Without a time commitment to achieve your goals by a certain date, the goals are merely wishes. Having a realistic deadline for your goals will help ensure you reach them.

Action Plans

Now that you’ve set your SMART goal — it’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely, it’s time for your action plans.

Break It Down and Schedule

What do you need to do to reach this SMART goal? Break it down into small chunks if that’s the best way to reach the goal by your time deadline. Once you know what those action steps are — schedule them into your calendar and honour that commitment to yourself. Treat these appointments on your calendar as if they were scheduled with your doctor or supervisor and make them non-negotiable. Joining a structure such as the Doctoral CoWork Sessions will give you an incentive to stick to your schedule. Find out more here.

Don’t Forget About Pre-Planning

If you need to do pre-planning in order to make the action steps happen, be sure to incorporate that into your schedule, too. An example of this would be the following: you want to finish your discussion chapters by the end of the summer break.

You might need to revisit your data to ensure you have enough and maybe schedule another focus group.
You may need to plan some training on your analysis software, or arrange some help with your stats.
Do you need to book a proof-reading service?
What about help with formatting?

All of these will need to be scheduled and time allowed for them. Break down the steps to make sure you’re scheduling in all the parts in order to be successful.

Setting yourself up for inevitable success is all about the planning. Plan out your SMART goal, create your plan and work your plan. This is actually a simple concept although it does take time. You’ll find resources to support you on my website — go have a look!

Here’s to your inevitable success!

If you feel that you need support or mentoring to really move your thesis forward, contact me to discuss how I can help. Together, we can Get It Done!



Gina Holmes

I support doctoral candidates to get their thesis written. No technical jargon, just lots of good techniques and ass-kicking with love. Let’s Get It Done!