Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Importance of Finding a Routine During a PhD

It’s been some time since I posted a blog, our semester has just ended, which has meant a couple of weeks of marking essays and exams, with the inevitable admin that comes with all of that. That’s all done now (hooray!) so I can concentrate on the important things, like procrastinating on writing my second chapter by writing a blog post instead!

With my teaching work finished for the year, I’m now pretty much free to work on my thesis full time. This is exciting, but presents a different set of challenges. I find that teaching forces me to efficiently use my time for thesis work, whereas when I just have PhD stuff, it is easy for things to just drift. This is where the importance of establishing a routine comes in.

I’m the kind of person that thrives on a routine. I need to have a strong idea of what I am going to do for the rest of the day/week/month, so that I end up wasting as little time as possible.

I struggled with this for a long time, as I found it difficult to come up with ways that I would adhere to. Being disciplined in my work habits is one of the key difficulties I face in doing my PhD. It’s just so easy to put things off!

One way that I have started to organise my days is through a notebook where I set a task for every minute of the day, including breaks and relaxing time at home. This working at the moment, and I would recommend it to anyone else struggling with maintaining a work routine. I must credit my brilliant (and very successful!) girlfriend Gaby for inspiring me to use this system. (Her blog can be found here)

Despite having success with this new system, there are some tasks that do not really adhere to a routine. For me it’s writing. I have no real problem setting aside a day to read through External Affairs documents or some journal articles on the applications of modernisation theory in the Third World. Writing on the other hand is a creature that cannot be tamed.

There are days when I can sit and write all day. Then there are others where the thought of producing 100 words is so overwhelming that the day is written off. This is where the routine becomes crucial.

Rather than devote an entire day to particular tasks I try to mix things up. I’ll set aside an hour or two for writing, and if nothing happens, that’s fine I’ll move on to the next task. If I get 500 words done, that’s fine. 1000 words or more, great day! Whatever happens, I have set aside the rest of the day to do other work, which means I am able to avoid that overwhelming sense of failure that comes from a wasted day where nothing is added to the PhD.

My routine of breaking down every minute of the day may not work for everyone. Everyone has their own way of doing things. As always, a PhD comes down to what works for you.


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