Thursday, June 19, 2008

Getting Things Done

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Recently, a lot of people have been asking me whether I think I am on track to finish my PhD by the end of August. And to be quite honest, it’s hard to say. I’ve never finished a PhD before, so I don’t really know what I’m in for. For me, it was quite helpful for other people to know about my deadline, so that I had some impetus to keep working!

Here are some other things that have helped me out.

1. I am a strong believer in Parkinson’s Law, which states that tasks usually expand or contract to the amount of time you have to do them in. So if you allowed yourself a year to write an essay, you’d probably take a year. But if you allowed yourself two weeks to do the same essay, you might well get it done. Maybe. So I give myself pretty ambitious deadlines all the time and see what I get done in that time. However, sometimes Hofstadter's Law kicks in and then I have to start again.

2. Friends often make the comment that ‘you’re so organised’ as if organisation is contagious or should be avoided. I do love to make lists and find that they actually calm me down. If I can break everything down into small tasks, it all seems much more manageable. Putting "1. Write PhD" is entirely unhelpful as it doesn't reference what to start with. Some people are big fans of GTD or David Allen's Getting Things Done book. I think it's a really helpful guide, but that you can get a bit caught up in organising the processes and not spend enough time actually getting through your tasks. You only have to look at the amount of GTD-related site and life hacks where people meticulously document their filing systems or notebooks. Helpful, but get back to work!

3. Work out when you want the project finished by (for me, this was the end of August) and then write a week by week timetable working backwards. So even if I am working on Chapter One instead of Chapter Two this week, I at least know I have designated a week for each chapter.

4. It's only a thesis. I think "PhD" puts a lot of people off, but realistically I'm only writing an essay - it's just a lot longer than I've written before. Keeping things in perspective can be really hard, but at the end of the day I think it's really important. That being said, I told a friend of mine who has since completed her PhD that when I travelled in Europe last, I felt really humbled, and thought "If you could build a cathedral 400 years ago, I can surely write a thesis." She didn't miss a beat, and shot back with, "I would have thought, "Yeah, you built a cathedral...but can you write a PhD?!!"

5. Avoid books, websites and blogs on how to finish a PhD or other project. I think they are scaremongering procrastinators who would be probably better off getting to work than writing ab0ut how to get to work. Egads I'm opinionated this morning!

Ahem, so that's the extent of my wisdom - off to work now...


  1. Noted, and duly ignored (see rule 5).


  2. Touche, my dear Katherine!

  3. Thanks so much for this post. I'm applying for Phd scholarships right now and am finding that all I get are 'why would you' comments from people in the thick of the process. Its nice to hear that it is do-able...

  4. You're welcome - I'm planning a series of a few more in the coming weeks. Best of luck with your scholarship applications!


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