Working Harder Is Not The Key To Finish Your PhD
“I have no idea what I need to do to finish my PhD”
“Feeling completely stuck in graduate school! Is it even worth staying?”
“I work all the time, but I make no progress on my Dissertation”
These are phrases I have heard from PhD students from around the world.
Maybe you have silently said them to yourself as the fear of “never finishing” your PhD weighed heavily on your chest.
What is one to do when there is so much mystery surrounding the process of getting a doctorate degree?
If you’re in graduate school, chances are this is your first time getting a PhD.
Therefore, it’s no wonder that you don’t know the steps that will get you approval to graduate from your thesis committee.
But, most likely you have watched running races, or perhaps you have even participated in them.
Here is a question for you. What is the world’s record for completing a marathon? And what is the world’s record for completing a 100 m race?
The Connection Between Running Times and Finishing Your PhD
Currently, the world record for running a marathon is just over 2 hours.
The record for the 100 m race is about 9.6 seconds.
However, the surprising this is that if the world’s fastest marathon runner kept his pace for just 100 meters, he would finish 100 meters in 18 seconds. That’s nearly double the world record!
Clearly, you cannot use the same strategy to win a marathon and a 100 sprint.
Likewise, you cannot use habits that worked during your undergraduate years in a doctoral program.
College and industry jobs are similar to 100 meter sprints. You have small projects with short deadlines.
In graduate school we are running a marathon – we have a big (frequently not well-defined) project with a very long deadline, years in the future. Endurance is the key. Late nights at work can only be sustained for so long before you exhaust yourself, even burn out.
To finish your PhD you need a different strategy.
Most importantly, you need to pace yourself for the long journey, so you can actually finish your PhD.
How to Finish Your PhD Without Burning Out
(or Giving Up Your Social Life)
Habit #1:Treat Leisure Time in Graduate School Like an Appointment
If you tell yourself that you “will see how your Dissertation writing goes and then decide whether to go out” you will never go out.
Writing and research for your PhD are never complete, and if you chain yourself to your desk you will be even less productive.
Time away from your desk will actually help you to be more creative and lead to high quality results.
When you treat leisure time like an appointment and stick to it, it will help you in multiple ways.
First, your health will be better! Therefore, you will have more energy to work, and you will be able to focus better.
Second, you will also sleep better, which will have an impact on every area of your life.
Imagine feeling great and making great progress on your Dissertation!
This leads us to Habit #2…
Habit #2: A Regular Schedule Is Key to Productivity and to Finish Your PhD
This might be a foreign concept to PhD students who go to graduate school straight after college.
In college it is common to have an erratic schedule, with late night parties and sleeping in on the weekends.
Of course, you can stay out late and sleep in late during graduate school too. Therefore, given the unstructured nature of graduate school it is common for students to fall into an unpredictable schedule.
If you don’t have structure, how do you know how many hours to work on your Dissertation?
How do you know whether you are on track to graduate on time?
When you don’t have structure, it can feel like you are in an “abyss”: you are just going through the motions and have no idea if you are making progress on your Dissertation.
One day, you might realize that you are really behind your timeline, and have no idea how to catch up!
A regular schedule will help you to create boundaries between work and your personal life.
In other words, you will have the structure to be more productive during your “work” time and you can relax guilt-free during your personal time.
Habit #3: Plan Your Week in Advance (This Can Be a Game-Changer)
Did you ever come in on a Monday morning confused about what part of your Dissertation you were supposed to work on?
Fridays or Sundays are great days to plan your weeks. In fact, just a few minutes of planning can save you hours on doing research or writing for your Dissertation.
It turns out that after just a few weeks of planning, you will have a much better idea of what’s realistic for you.
However, even if you do not meet your goals, your overall productivity will be better than if you do no planning at all!
The other advantage of planning is that it can actually calm you down when you are worried about not meeting a deadline in graduate school.
The simple act of putting something on your calendar makes it “real.”
Even if you do not meet that specific goal, the habit of regularly planning your time will make you more efficient in graduate school on the long run.
Habit #4: Measure Your Progress Frequently in Graduate School
In college and in most workplaces there is frequent feedback, such as grades from exams and conversations with professors.
Many graduate students see their supervisors once a month or even less. During the lonely times it is up to you to give yourself a pat in the back.
If you always focus on what you have not done, you will feel disappointed in yourself and lose motivation as well as your confidence.
In other words, when are are able to track and measure your progress, you have confidence that you are moving forward.
Why Tracking and Measuring Progress in Graduate School is The Key to Finish Your PhD
If you’re not making enough progress on your PhD, it’s not because you’re not working enough.
By definition, if you have been accepted in into graduate school, you have what it takes to get your PhD.
So, if you are hard-working and smart, why do you feel stuck?
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
This quote from Peter Drucker has completely changed the way many PhD students view progress on their Dissertations.
For some reason we have been trained to believe that the more hours you work, the more productive you will be.
This assumption can lead to serious burnout in graduate school, as you can work on your PhD forever and still feel it’s not complete!
However, when you have a system for measuring your progress you can feel confident that you are on track to finish your PhD.
How can you implement a system to feel confident about your progress?
Step #1: Decide your desired graduation date
Even if you’re not sure you can make this deadline, it is important to have a goal to work towards.
For example, your desired graduation date can be December 2020 (month and year), or Spring 2021 (season and year).
Step #2: Create milestones that are necessary for graduation
Every graduate school has different requirements, so you need to find out what is expected from you by when
Milestones include the Dissertation proposal, passing exams, completing analyses, submitting individual chapters, having committee meetings, and defending your Dissertation.
Recent graduates and students in your department who are finishing their PhD soon are a great resource for finding out about requirements.
Tip #3: Get a support network and accountability
“It takes a village to raise a child” is a common adage.
Have you ever seen how long the acknowledgements section of the Dissertation is?
Besides professors and collaborators, students acknowledge their friends, family, and mentors.
In fact, when you are part of a support group, not only do you get external accountability, but you get ideas about how others make it through those days when you really, really don’t feel like writing.
Just knowing that someone is holding you accountable, and that you are writing alongside other students, can make all the difference to help you finish your Dissertation and get your PhD!
Are you feeling alone or stuck writing your Dissertation? Check out our Dissertation Writing Workshop to get help finishing your PhD