3 ways to make sure you are constantly making progress in your PhD

general academic writing phd phd chronicles phd overwhelm professional writing Feb 11, 2021


Progress? Progress? Many people want to make progress in various areas of life. But progress is stalled when people put off what they can do today for tomorrow. The truth is that PhD students are not left out in this journey.

We all put things off when we can attend to them immediately. You know those times you say something like - I’d call you back in the evening, and you don’t end up calling back and before you know it, a week has gone by, and it spirals into months, and you’re too ashamed to call back.

I know this because I know how putting things off contributes so much to overwhelm and even the feeling of inadequacy. I’ve concluded that putting off things you can do today for tomorrow stifles progress and is a significant cause of PhD overwhelm because it indirectly adds more to your plate for the next day.

Do you know what happens when you do this? You create a vicious cycle of workload that feels unmanageable. Even the most organized people on earth struggle with procrastination because it is part of human nature.

So, here are three quick tips to help you ditch the habit of procrastinating during your PhD.  I applied it then and I still apply it now. 

1. Start: Many times, PhD students struggle with where to start. My advice to you - start. There is nothing wrong with focusing on one activity and ignoring the rest. This is especially helpful if you are in the writing stage of your PhD. START. If you are writing, put down a word, and before you know it, you will have a myriad of words. Not taking any step at all in any direction can limit your progress in your PhD. Remember, a PhD has many moving parts, and you can pick one of those parts while ignoring the rest. 

2. Prioritize your workload: This may sound easy, but it is not. The reason this is not as easy as it seems is that you must learn to make strategic decisions on what is essential. Should you be writing parts of Chapter 1, or should you be in the lab getting more samples? You must learn to break down your workload into specific and manageable tasks. You cannot ignore the power of focus in prioritizing your workload because maintaining focus is a key component of this phase. 

Here is an example - instead of saying "I will write up my Chapter 1."

Change this to - "I will focus on writing the aims and objectives of Chapter 1." It is essential to narrow your focus because it is impossible to do everything at the same time. 

In breaking down these tasks into more specific tasks or better put, subtasks, you are more productive and can achieve more in the shortest time. Finishing one task at a time is always fuel to embark on the next task. 

3. Avoid perfectionism: Trying to make everything perfect can stifle your progress. You have all the time to make that work perfect before you submit. Focus on getting the work done and leave perfectionism for later.
Leave off things like proofreading to the very last stage. Get your writing done. Even if your work is filled with errors before submission, it still has the potential to deliver value. When you focus on progress instead of perfectionism, you enjoy your PhD journey, and you move the needle in your research faster.

I hope you loved reading this and I'd like to hear from you if you found this helpful and what changes you will be making from now on. 

With all my best wishes
Dr Kachy O'Jumbo

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