Am I working hard enough?

Ever worry about how much work you’re putting into your research? About how much progress you’re making? Blogger Ellie King reflects on her experiences with her work-ethic being both her friend and enemy.

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a workaholic. I thrive on succeeding, accomplishing tasks, achieving goals. I always loved school and learning, so my parents were far from surprised when I said I was staying in education, yet again, for a PhD. And like all of you PhDers out there, I’m passionate, enthusiastic, and keen to work hard and make progress. But sometimes, I’m my own worst enemy.

Since I started my PhD in October 2019, the constant thought in the back of my mind (other than ‘when can I next eat?’) is ‘am I working hard enough?’ Am I doing enough? Making enough progress? Putting in enough hours? Should I be spending every waking moment on this research? (The answer to that last question is absolutely, definitely, NO).

I suppose it’s hard because there’s a massive lack of official deadlines and guidance for PhDs (especially for arts and humanities). There’s no weekly reading list to complete, no set contact hours, and no termly essays to hand in. With this lack of structure comes the freedom to explore your research, but that can sometimes feel like you don’t know where to start or know where to go. Hence the question of am I doing enough hours here, making enough progress?

I’m still tackling this question every single week of research. Despite my supervisors giving me great feedback on my work, and ensuring that I’m making more than enough progress, it’s a constant worry. I worry when I’m not busy enough. I worry when I only work for half the day. I worry when I complete my weekly to-do list by Tuesday. I worry that I’m missing something, producing sloppy work that isn’t good enough. I worry when I don’t find parts of my research particularly hard, and I worry when I’m not tearing my hair out at how awful PhD life is.

But, I’ve learnt to deal with it. I ask for regular feedback from my supervisors to make sure my work is of good quality and that they’re pleased with my progress. When things are slow, I try to look for other opportunities, such as browsing job websites for opportunities going on in my sector. This is how I ended up becoming a student blogger at Warwick. When things are busy, I try to stick to 9 to 5 working hours, and refuse as much as possible to work after dinner or at the weekends. Because I’m also aware that whilst I want to work hard, I don’t want to get overwhelmed and have my research seeping into every aspect of my life.

And most importantly, I try to relax, and enjoy the times where I can have a bit more of a lie in, do more reading for pleasure, or spend time going on walks or meeting with friends. I’ve realised that time off and recovery is just as an important part of a PhD as working hard on research, because otherwise a burnout and a breakdown is inevitable. And I’ve realised how lucky I am to really enjoy doing my work, and feel the pleasure in my PhD, rather than just pain.

How do you manage to deal with PhD worries about progress and effort? Share your thoughts and top tips by tweeting us at @ResearchEx, emailing us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

by Ellie

Ellie King is a Second Year PhD student in Warwick Manufacturing Group. She has been at Warwick since 2014 in the History department, and has recently moved faculties to research applying user experience to the museum sector. Ellie is partnered with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here, or follow her on Twitter @ellietheking

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