Being a business owner takes a high level of discipline. One has to be highly disciplined to run a business, right?! In spite of my own highly disciplined habits, there’s been one area where it’s been no match for what was required: my PhD journey. For the last few years, I’ve been working towards my doctorate, studying success and wellbeing among women entrepreneurs. And despite how deeply passionate I am about this topic, it’s been a long and hard journey. In fact, approximately 50% of PhD students become known as ABDs—those who do “all but dissertation” and never get their degree. It’s an immense level of pressure and discipline, and I quickly discovered I wasn’t making the progress I needed to be. So, I decided to level up on my dissertation accountability and add a clear structure into my routine. 

Now, the journey up to my PhD was much smoother—finishing the coursework for my master’s had enough built-in accountability in the program to make it manageable. But, let me tell you, once I completed my coursework for my PhD and moved onto my dissertation, it was a whole new world. While you are accountable to hitting certain milestones, there’s not enough of them, and the whole process is self directed. And making myself sit down and work on it—while also being a small business owner and single mom and having a million other things calling for my attention all day long—takes a lot more than just discipline! It takes a whole organized structure of accountability.

My dissertation chair is the first person I am accountable to for my dissertation. I meet with him every two weeks and he helps ensure I’m meeting the necessary milestones. However, I quickly knew I needed more accountability than just a bi-weekly meeting with him. That’s when I turned to another student in my course, Tracey, who I had naturally gravitated towards. We partnered up and developed a clear structure that kept us accountable to each other, no matter what. It’s been three years now and as Tracey and I continue to work and move around, we’ve always managed to travel to each other and meet over weekends in a cafe or wherever. This past year, we took our sessions onto Zoom, meeting 3x/week. We tell each other what progress we’ve made and make a verbal commitment of what we’re going to be doing next. But it’s not only about having a partner to answer to. Half the time I’m showing up for her because I don’t want to let her down either. 

While Tracey’s support plays a big part in my dissertation accountability, I also knew that to make greater progress I needed to level up a second time. That’s why I hired a dissertation coach, Eli. So now, in addition to sessions every week that alternate between my dissertation chair and Tracey, I’m also accountable to Eli every other Friday for one hour. And, believe me, Eli is taking notes! She knows what I said I would do and will hold me accountable for it next time we talk. This has truly upped my accountability level and it’s thanks to Tracey and Eli that I’m comfortably making progress with my dissertation on top of everything else I’m doing as a business owner and mother. 

So, I’m all set up with this accountability structure, right? Well, here’s the thing: It’s a constant check in and rebalancing. I’m checking in at how I’m progressing and adjusting what I need accordingly. Recently, that has meant needing more time to work on my dissertation in the mornings. After trying again on my own to add in time and not sticking to it, I’m now looking to level up again. I’m going to be adding an additional accountability partner into this structure, someone who can meet with me in the early morning, because that time is not possible for Tracey. As a result of this rebalancing and regular accountability check in, I’m staying on top of meeting my changing dissertation needs rather than being overwhelmed by them. And it makes all the difference!

Nowadays, thanks to a solid structure in place with recurring meetings and a recurring calendar, I know what progress targets I need to hit by each meeting. I just have to sit down and do the work! This accountability structure has truly been a lifeline in my PhD journey. And you know what else? Leaning into these different levels of accountability has also boosted my confidence and reassures me. And perhaps most importantly, it illustrates to me that I can do this and get it done! And THAT is the best feeling to have, don’t you think? 

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