The self-sustaining cycle of thesis productivity

How do you stay productive, day after day?

One day you’re on fire, the next you struggle to write 50 words.

It’s frustrating; you know you’re capable of doing it, but that just makes it worse on those days when you can’t get going.

1: The first working hour of the day is the most important

If you start the day achieving something, then you’re more likely to stay productive for the rest of the day.

But if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to work on when you sit down at your desk, then your default routine takes over (email, news websites, etc). Two clicks and you’re stuck in a procrastination loop.

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So wait before turning on the computer. Spend 10 minutes or so just thinking about what you’re going to do. Start with something easy you can finish!

2: Stop while you still have something in reserve

At the end of the day, don’t work till exhaustion just because you are “on a roll”. You need rest to stay consistently productive!

Stop, and set yourself something easy to start with tomorrow.

The self-sustaining cycle of consistency

If you do this, taking care of the beginning and end of the day, you will be able to keep your momentum from one day to the next.

Achieving something early generates momentum. That means you get plenty done and can finish the day happy with what you’ve done.

Then it feels OK to stop, so you can rest properly, and leaving yourself something easy to do means you can achieve something early, which generates momentum…

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6 thoughts on “The self-sustaining cycle of thesis productivity

  1. That’s good advice, thanks. I found when doing creative writing that I was very productive around breakfast time just after I got up because my subconcious would be active during the night solving problems and suggesting the next step. I could really make headway provided I got straight to work, then by mid or late morning I would go do something else and maybe get a second burst later in the day.

    Unfortunately i find it a bit harder to keep the whole doctorate straight in my head but if I can concentrate on one main task (as so much of James’ site recommends) and leave myself a question to answer the next day or one simple thing (such as check graph X, did I really use the right axes?) that seems to make my reboot faster, plus with any luck my subconcisous may chew it over at night and I’ll have somem idea if where to start in the morning. Eeven if it takes me til late morning to really get going, as its a different kind of writing (well reports and halfway dissertation so far, anyway).

    Like Katie I struggle with stopping though- partly because when on a but of a roll it’s tempting to keep going; and partly because if my head is full, everything else including my timesense and body-awareness goes out of the window (a kind of “flow” but one that is a bit detrimental to your marriage- beware!). Luckily my office has installed timed lights that go off at 6pm (you can switch them back on) which is the first big prompt to stop and see if I am hungry and tired. I’ve learnt the hard way to try and stop then or at least finish up to avoid being knackered the next day. I will have to try the alarm method when writing elsewhere- I can’t write at home thanks to neighbours and relatives who think students have nothing to do all day. I’m still trying to identify safely quiet places where I can go to write the thesis…

  2. This really rings true for me. The most important thing relates to no. 2. If I work till I drop then I’m next to useless the next day, and sometimes for longer if I’ve been really stressed or busy.

    I know this is true, yet I still struggle to regulate this part of my work style.

    Here’s to self-development!

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • Try this… set an alarm for some time in the evening when you think you should stop, and place it on the other side of the room.

      You don’t have to stop at that time, but just pause for a minute and think about how you feel, physically. How tired are you? Then decide whether it’s worth carrying on or leaving it till the morning.

      • That’s a good idea!

        By the way, I wonder if you have any record of someone replicated your 3-month-completion method in their own PhD thesis submission?

        Thanks for all your posts, James and good luck.

        Z

        • I know someone who did it in 2… but he didn’t enjoy it!

          Everyone I know who has done it in 3 has finished the research before writing, so they at least know what they have to work with.

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