Get your own motivation fairy! They can come in handy when working on your PhD.

Dr. Joseph Barber

I’ll have to keep this blog short as I’ve got a new baby arriving within the week and all sorts of tasks to complete before she arrives. Trust me, it is a long, long, long, list of things to do and there seems like there is never enough time to get them done (and still be able to sleep, which I realize will be a luxury over the next few weeks).

Even if you don’t have a baby on the way, chances are that as a graduate student you regularly experience the age-old phenomenon of too much to do, and not enough time to do it. Why is that? Well…, the easy answer is the simplest one – there really is too much to do, and someone has made it so that time never stands still long enough to get them done (something to do with photons, neutrinos, dark matter, and other such mysterious things). The more complicated answer is that we sometimes sabotage our own best attempts to get things done. Most likely, this happens subconsciously, but it does happen. In fact, it could be happening right now – you are reading this blog rather than tackling some of those more pressing tasks, after all.

There is much to get done as part of a PhD, and many variables that you have to try to manage as part of this experience: your advisors, your thesis committee, your research topic (e.g., chickens, neutrinos, 18th century romantic poetry), your flat/lab mates, your social life, your family life, your finances, and so on. There are many reasons we might perform self-sabotage behaviours, and many different ways these can occur. Perhaps you do not have an effective way of communicating with your advisor, and so never get the feedback you are looking for to get a paper published. Perhaps you are trying to make the first chapter of your thesis perfect, and so end up deleting whatever you have written at the end of each day because you feel it does not live up to your high standards. Or perhaps you just get so caught up in checking emails and completing easy but unimportant tasks that you never get to the important ones. Take a look at your daily schedule and you might spot some patterns of behaviours that are not actually helping you achieve your goals. Of course, you also need to have some pretty concrete goals in the first place, or you won’t know what you should be doing on a day-to-day basis.

I have gathered together some resources that might help you to get back on track with your to-do list, and get you motivated to get some of those pesky tasks done (like writing your thesis!). Don’t use these as an excuse not to be constructive today, though! As for me, I have now written this article, and so I will consider this task totally and completely done! Here are the links to some interesting resources:

The care and maintenance of your adviser

Turbocharge your writing today

Waiting for the motivation fairy

The balanced researcher

Innovation in PhD completion: the hardy shall succeed (and be happy!)

When a high distinction isn’t good enough: a review of perfectionism and self-handicapping