Deadlines, headspace and which hat to wear – three things that help me finish.

4 February 2024

When it comes to finishing a project, there are lots of different things that support your progress. What works for me may not work precisely the same way for you.

Like almost everything, it comes back to asking yourself…
What can I control?

And then, if things seem to be veering off course…
How can I steer things in a helpful direction?

Hopefully, these tips might help spark you or get you unstuck.

Three things that helped me finish my PhD:

Making a deadline and planning my time to meet it.

My deadlines changed over time, but I always had them.

I don't think it matters that timeframes shift as long as you keep re-evaluating, keep working, and keep making progress.

I tended to work in cycles of about two to three months at a time. Although I would plan further ahead than this, I often found I was only realistic about what I could achieve in these time cycles.

What didn't change was being very deliberate about when I would work. It was critical to have a plan, to know when I would write every week, and to stick to this plan.

For the last few years, while working and studying, I would take an hour a day (every day of the week except for Saturdays) and work for that one hour on my PhD. I made this hour of work really easy to commit to, as I would work at cafes with excellent coffee, the promise of some dark chocolate on the side, and a great playlist on my headphones. This slow, consistent, and enjoyable way of working was a winning finishing combination.

Knowing the difference between procrastination and headspace.

There is an essential difference between the headspace needed for thinking about the ideas in your PhD and procrastination time when you are thinking about what you shoulda, woulda, and coulda been doing on your PhD.

Headspace allows time to mull over ideas and let your brain sift things through (maybe take yourself off for a walk along the beach and let your mind relax). This type of thinking time is rejuvenating and helps you focus.

Procrastination occurs when you don't want to write or think and don't give yourself permission for headspace. Consequently, that same walk along the beach means now you are thinking about all the things you should be doing that you are not doing – and feeling guilty and yet can't be bothered doing –  but thinking some more about what you should be doing…

This type of thinking time is exhausting and unhelpful.

Procrastination tends to scatter things, takes up time, and doesn't help you progress. Headspace enables you to focus on all the moving parts, make progress, and finish.

Being clear about when to write and when to edit
(or which hat am I wearing?).

Closely associated with my old buddy procrastination, is the art of looking and feeling like you are working, but your energy is going into the wrong task.

For me, this often happened with editing (wrong task) when I needed to be writing (right task). It was very easy to edit a completed chapter when I actually needed to be writing the next chapter. I had moments where one chapter became increasingly refined and beautiful while four more chapters were waiting to start. Don't get me wrong; editing is vital! It just needs to be started at the right time and stopped at the right time.

Don't let your desire for editing and polishing jump in too early and roadblock finishing. Write, write, write. Get the thing finished, and then make it pretty.