Decoration for Inspiration (By Jennifer Travis, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)


Decoration for Inspiration

By Jennifer Travis, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant

Photographs and artwork credits belong to Jennifer Travis


Since my apartment is just a temporary home while I’m writing my dissertation, it seems silly to decorate it. But I do have stuff on four of the walls. Are they decorations? …Or something more?


Background info:

In an advanced POWER writing studio this spring, our own Dr. Dominique Chlup started out with an old tired cliché of a question: “How do you eat an elephant?”  I rolled my eyes. I knew the answer she was looking for (or I thought I did) and I wasn’t going to cooperate. She waited patiently for what seemed a very long time. No one answered. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I gave in. “One bite at a time?”


Sorry, but “one bite at a time” was not very helpful to me, and I said so. I was a graduate student with a dissertation to write, and I was overwhelmed. The writing tasks were scary enough; even more terrifying were the non-writing tasks that needed to be done so I could have something worthy of writing about. I did not know where to start.


Of course, Dr. Chlup was one step ahead of me. “You’re right, Jennifer, no one can bite into a whole elephant…it’s impossible! First, you have to cut off a big HUNK of the elephant. Then you cut the HUNK into CHUNKS. Finally, you cut each CHUNK into manageable BITES.”


And presto, she pulled out a whole bunch of different colored sticky notes. She told us to choose one color for the big HUNKS, a second color for the medium-sized CHUNKS, and a third color for the little BITES. (I think she might have raided her department’s supply cabinet…. sssshhhh… don’t tell.) We then spent 15 minutes or so writing our dissertation-related tasks on the sticky notes. I already felt more motivated.


When I came home to my little apartment that night, I designated one wall of my bedroom as….


The “NOT DONE” wall:



I painstakingly sorted my hunks, chunks, and bites into categories and affixed them to the wall. It was lovely!! (And a little scary.) I gazed in admiration at my sticky note collage until I turned out the light. As I slept, visions of sticky notes danced in my head. I dreamed of an efficient graduate student who tackled every hunk, chunk and bite without fear, and completed them with ease, all thanks to her daily writing habit. 


Then I woke up.


In the morning, thanks to my ceiling fan, all the little pieces of my elephant were scattered across my bedroom like confetti. So much for efficiency. Undeterred, I paid a visit to the local office supply store, purchased a generous supply of super-sticky notes, and started over. I’m sure the manufacturer would be glad to know the super-sticky notes have done their job well, even on a stucco-textured wall. Months later, many of them still haven’t budged.


Fortunately, a few of them have been moved, not by the ceiling fan, but by me. One bite at a time, they moved to….


The “DONE” wall:




At first, the “done” wall was depressingly empty, except for a sad lonely white sticky note that said “already done”. But gradually, bite by bite, other sticky notes joined it. Then the chunks started moving over. I still remember my excitement when I placed the first big green hunk on the “done” wall. Yea!


Unfortunately, my hunks, chunks, and bites almost never move directly from the “not done” wall to the “done” wall. Instead, they must spend time in a purgatory-like in-between place, called…


The “IN PROGRESS” wall:



The “in progress” wall has two sticky notes that serve as labels:  “plan to do today” and “plan to do soon”.  My current tasks go under one of these labels. My bites tend to stay on the “in progress” wall far longer than I expect.


So, since I don’t often get the satisfaction of moving bites to the “done” wall, I lean on the….





During my doctoral journey, several amazing people have taken time to remind me that yes, I can actually finish my dissertation, and finish it well. I’ve taped a selection of these inspiring messages to my kitchen wall, right by the thermostat where I can’t miss them. Whenever I start to doubt myself, I stop and read them. (Photo has been deliberately blurred to protect my investors.)


Thank you, walls -- for your inspiration.