Looking after you and your PhD

Power of Procrastination (2)

NEW POST | Arbo Desiree

PhDs and the Power of Procrastination

Part 2

‘Procrastination’ is really a wonderful word. It comes from Latin, meaning ‘putting things off for tomorrow’ (pro: forward + cras: tomorrow). It sounds appropriately serious, like a terrible disease. PhDs might indeed want to believe that they cannot help procrastinating, or that they’ve caught it from some friends. Unfortunately, it is a self-created condition which can become chronic and impair research if not controlled.

The first step to prevent procrastination from seriously affecting research is, as I hinted in the first part of this post, to accept that we rather like to procrastinate. We might enjoy the stimulating feeling of working under pressure. We kind of relish being able complain to our friends about the millions of things we have to do for work but instead are procrastinating again. Little note of caution here: chronic procrastinating is taxing, and the complaints might become real. Nobody likes a PhD student who always seems stressed and walking around under a little rain cloud.

It is also important to realise that procrastinating in its milder form is OK. We need to eat, sleep, clean, and cook, aside from a hundred other things which take up part of our day. Then there are activities we like to do but may not be strictly necessary for survival: sports, music, facebook, meet up with friends, go shopping, etc. As in many things in life, it is a question of balance.

In this respect procrastination is related to time-management. One simple way to manage our time is to get a diary. Sounds basic, but a diary helps to visualise days and weeks and thus to estimate the time needed to produce written work. Speaking of deadlines, if you tend to procrastinate and do not have deadlines, ask your supervisor to set some. The pressure will help. If you dread specific deadlines try to set generous ones such as ‘by the weekend’ or ‘the end of the month.’ At the same time, aim to finish a few days before the deadline. Supervisors vary in their strictness over deadlines so it is important to know how flexible they can be. And be ready to negotiate. If you find that days are too short to do research and fun stuff consider getting up earlier. In short, try to find a routine that works for you.

In my previous post I wrote about ‘brain time’, a period of time away from the desk that we need to process readings and make creative connections among ideas. While I stand by this, one can only do so much during ‘brain time.’ I have found that some of my best ideas came when I forced myself to write something. Then I discovered connections and patterns, and refined or completely altered an argument. However, there are more gentle ways of inducing brilliant writing than shutting yourself up in your room for five days. The essential groundwork must be laid beforehand, i.e.: you must have taken notes about your reading. During or after ‘brain time’, write down your ideas, make diagrams or mind maps. Then, as you start writing and find that procrastination threatens to take over, you could ask a friend to make you work for a certain period of time. If he or she is a willing listener, tell them about your piece. If there is no one around, tell yourself. It will make the big picture seem much clearer and help you move forward. And finally, don’t forget to reward yourself at the end with something you love to do (or eat or drink).


Photo Credit: Emily Ogez – Procrastination Meter/ Creative Commons

Looking after you and your PhD

The Power of Procrastination

NEW POST | Arbo Desiree

PhDs and ‘The Power of Procrastination’

Part 1

It’s that time of year. PhDs are applying for grants and fellowships, running around frantically organising events, marking essays, and coming up with conference papers for those abstracts that looked so brilliant some time ago and now seem like rubbish. The usual. And yes, PhDs are also writing their theses. Needless to say there is some stress floating around the postgraduate community and everyone is working incredibly hard. But what do we say that we are doing? ‘Procrastinating!’ Chances are you are reading this because you are procrastinating. Welcome to the club!

We joke about it, we brag about it. Admit it. We’ve all laughed and talked about getting our ‘PhDs in Procrastination’. On facebook I have PhD friends who are pulling their hair out, sharing videos of ‘I dreamed a dream… my PhD!’ ( and praying ‘Forgive us our procrastination, as we forgive those professors who procrastinate against us’ (PhD Comics a Prayer for Grad Students). For more of these, I refer you to Jorge Cham’s ‘Piled Higher and Deeper’ Comics (or PHD Comics). Jorge Cham, who was himself a PhD student at Stanford University, tapped into the main anxieties of PhDs and turned them into a joke. The comics poke fun at the main anxieties of the postgraduate species: free food, keeping supervisors happy, and procrastination – I know because I spent a whole evening reading the comics. I hear there is even a PhD movie. The result: we can laugh at ourselves and our self-dramatised existence.

Not only did Jorge channel our anxieties over procrastination and allow us to be amused by them, but he also delivered lectures on it. In fact, he gave a talk called ‘The Power of Procrastination’ at Warwick in March! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend, but I did some research and found a video on youtube ( Forty minutes later I came to the conclusion that the PhD obsession with procrastination is mainly because we feel guilty that we are often doing things other than our research (like watching the video). Jorge argued that we need to embrace the ‘Power of Procrastination’ and admit that we do other activities because we want to. Nobody forces us to do these things, he said. So go for a run, check your email, cook a meal with friends, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat. As well as do your research.

But the question remains, how does procrastination affect research? Some people seem to work methodically, day by day, gradually creating astounding pieces of work. I sincerely admire such people. Others seem to work more effectively under pressure, with energy peaking just before deadlines. I suspect that these, among which I include myself, are probably the procrastinating type. Moreover, some of us actually enjoy the experience of typing away for hours under the dangling sword of a deadline, oblivious to the world, when ideas seem to turn in circles around you until they collide in a burst of inspiration and you are knocked off your chair by how brilliant you are. I rather like that feeling. Still, it’s not something that happens every day. That said, it doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about my PhD while away from my desk. I have discussed this subject with one of my officemates while we compared our different routines. We concluded that PhDs benefit from what I will call ‘brain time’, a length of time when we (un)consciously process our reading and make creative connections between ideas. If we can do that while swimming or running, why not?

I realise however that my post has gone way over the word limit, so I will have to discuss how to cope with procrastination (which is what you wanted to read about in the first place) in Part 2. In the meantime, please tell me your thoughts. Do you procrastinate? Do you feel guilty about it? How do you prevent it from becoming extreme? We all know that the thesis is the priority of a PhD student, but within reason, we can allow ourselves some fun, no? Call it ‘procrastination’ if you will. Or should we call it ‘having a life’?


Photo Credit: Gavin Owlsen/Creative Commons

Looking after you and your PhD

Living A healthy PhD Life

Personal health and wellbeing can be easily overlooked when you’re a PhD student, especially in your final years. U. Ejiro Omomake talks about living the healthiest life you can during your PhD journey…

Looking after you and your PhD PhD Basics

Part-time PhD & Study Balance

Helen Palmer

Film & TV Studies Department. I’m a part-time PhD Researcher as I’m a Co-Director of a marketing consultancy, Palmer Squared, with my twin brother Andrew. We specialise in the arts, heritage and cultural tourism sectors and most of my spare time (!) is spent going to the theatre, cinema, art galleries, museums, festivals and heritage attractions – a complete busman’s holiday! Working thesis title: Sexual Repression and the Romantic Ideal in the Dream Ballets of Hollywood Film Musicals 1938 – 1957

There are a number of questions that I’m regularly asked about doing a PhD part-time whilst working full-time – how is your PhD going and how do you manage to balance work and study (never mind a social life!)?  Well the answer to those questions is always the same – to the first question – slowly, and to the second – if I ever find the balance I’ll let you know!

Clocking the hours

A colleague of mine who had completed a PhD whilst working full-time advised me to allocate a minimum of 15 hours per week to dedicated study, recognising that this will build over time, particularly in the last year.  In my first term I took advantage of some of the free training sessions available to post grads to help with developing my approach to study and picked up a lot of useful tips, particularly with reference to note-taking, setting out the parameters of my research and planning my approach to study.  I had a four year gap between completing my MA and starting my PhD so felt a little rusty to say the least.  Of course what I discovered was that I needed to allocate dedicated time in the week to study, so at Christmas I took the decision to ringfence a day in my working week to focus exclusively on my PhD.  My business partner (also my brother!) has been great in respecting that day and all was going well until a couple of months ago.

Impacts of success in work

As a marketing consultant working in the arts, no two days are ever the same and work naturally ebbs and flows with no recognisable pattern.  Just to get political for a moment, the arts sector has suffered greatly due to national and local government funding cuts and my business has felt the impact of such measures with a difficult start to the year.  But it’s like buses, you wait for one to come along and then three turn up!  My brother and I are actually directors of two consultancy businesses plus Joint Head of Marketing for a biennial festival taking place this autumn, and in the last couple of months we’ve been successful in winning new clients too – great for our businesses and our bottom line but not so great for my PhD studies.  My precious one day a week has all but disappeared in the last two weeks due to the pressure of work and having to travel around the country to work with clients.

Getting back on track with time management

I always thought that I’d have much more flexibility as a consultant, hence fitting in a PhD in the way that I’d managed to complete a Masters whilst working full-time.  But a PhD is a different beast and requires a different approach and particularly a different writing style.  So to claw back some time I took a week off work at Easter to dedicate to research and writing as well as recharging my batteries.  I anticipate that most bank holidays, like today, will be spent as PhD days, so no enjoying the glorious sunshine for me…

I’d like to think that I could spend one or two evenings a week working on my PhD but I’m either out a work related event, travelling home late or frankly just too tired.  So I try to allocate one day at the weekend for PhD study, as well as the day in the week, as there are no work phone calls and I can ignore work emails too.

I’m the only part-time PhD researcher in my department (film and tv) so I’ve learned not to compare my progress with anyone else.  I’m glad that I chose an area of study that I already know well as it’s related to my Masters dissertation, that certainly makes a difference.  I fear that if I’d chosen a completely new topic I’d have had thoughts of throwing in the towel by now!

It’s good to talk

I’ve had to make a difficult decision in the last two weeks and that is to defer my planned summer archive visits to Los Angeles and New York to January 2014.  I’m thankful to my tutor, department and the Graduate School for being so understanding and supportive.  My professional workload is such that I simply can’t fit in the trip and the pre-trip required research.  I’m lined up for a busy summer and autumn so I’m aiming to keep plugging away at the PhD in the snatched time slots I’ve allocated so as to not slip too far behind.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to flag up concerns early to my tutor so that we can discuss my priorities and arrange appropriate deadlines to fit around my busy work life.  So today I’m finishing rewriting my first chapter and my aim for this academic year is to complete that first chapter to a standard that my tutor and I are happy with, and to have agreed the thesis chapter structure.  The literature review will probably have to wait until autumn when I’ll be in my second year but technically I’ll still be a first year!

Top tips for time management

I wish I had a great list but my main advice is to not sweat the little stuff!  Every PhD is different and everyone has to deal with unexpected turns in their lives.  Whilst we all may have an ideal way that we’d like to complete our PhD, the reality is very different and that’s all part of the experience.  I’m a completer finisher by nature so I’m determined that I will go the distance and submit a thesis even if it takes me the full 5 years – I completed my Masters over 5 years due to work interruptions.  Having to earn a living, run my own home, deal with family commitments and maintain some sort of social life helps me to put things in perspective when I’m feeling stressed about my lack of available time for my PhD.

Looking after you and your PhD

Doing research never goes to plan

Joelin Quigley-Berg | This post was originally published September 5, 2012

helga weber creative commonsIt is a well-known fact that your finished PhD thesis often share little resemblance with your original PhD proposal. Despite this, however, I often seem to suffer a minor freak-out every time my research does not go quite to plan. I am currently digging for data at an archive in the south of England and I thought I would share with you all some of the things I have learned about the unpredictability of the research process.

1. It will take much longer than you thought…

I had a plan. Penned in to my diary there were three and a half weeks dedicated solely to digging through archival material. I had sent in all relevant request forms, filled in and signed various documents and booked visiting dates. Or so I thought. After four days spent at the archives in June I went back home expecting to return the following week. However, it turned out a communication error had occurred and the dates for my return visit were booked up by someone else. I was invited to return at their earliest convenience… So, TWO MONTHS later, here I am.

Looking after you and your PhD

Time Management Strategies

Time-management is one of those skills everyone needs to develop at some point in their life. For the PhD student and their countless responsibilities, this skill is particularly important. Ceren has some quick and easy tips to help you manage your time more efficiently…

Looking after you and your PhD

Procrastination and the PhD


Managing your time as a PhD student can be exhausting. As part of the PhD process students often find themselves swamped with a number of time-consuming tasks. Read Jame’s advice for avoiding that awful PhD procrastination…