Last term, I somehow made the leap from Second-Year Slump levels of motivation and high levels of procrastination, stress, and anxiety (chiefly centred on writing) to high levels of motivation and writing. Hence, I thought I'd write a bit about the life, working, and writing strategies that helped me out in the hope that perhaps they might help you, too.
This is Part One: Living and Working. Tomorrow: Part Two: Writing the Thesis Like a Novel.
1. Get a good night's sleep. I suffered from some terribly off-kilter sleeping patterns over the Christmas vacation. There were a few mornings I didn't get to sleep until 7 am. This was not good for my productivity.
When I finally forced myself to wake up at 6:45 am, I discovered I was much more productive. The days seemed so full of possibilities and I really got excited about tackling my work. It's much better to find yourself at lunchtime with a few hours' of work under your belt than to have nothing at all. Also, I quite like working on my novel over breakfast and coffee for my first working hour of the day. This allows me to dedicate time to my novel revisions without feeling like I'm stealing time from my thesis. If I put the novel off, I know I probably won't work on it later in the day.
2. Find or create the conditions that will allow you to be productive. I've realised over the past year or so that working at home isn't actually the best for me. There are so many possibilities for distraction. The internet. The dishes. A nap? Last term, I discovered three ways to make my working day much more productive.
a) I solved the internet problem (mostly) by using the Firefox add-on Leechblock, in which you can list the URLs of sites that you know you waste time on and block yourself from accessing them at certain times. At the moment, I'm not allowing myself access to any social media, the Guardian website, YouTube, or my favourite blogs between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm on week days. I've also prevented myself from accessing the settings in a way which I don't (yet) know how to disable. (I could, of course, still go on Twitter on Tim's computer or my phone, but that would require more effort.)
b) I found a great place at school to work. The English Faculty has a newish graduate work space which is perfect - just tables in a light, bright room and an almost non-existent wireless signal. Also, often other graduate students are working in there, which allows for much needed human interaction. And, because it is purely a space in which to do work, my perception of my work day is much different. At home, it can be a struggle to log the hours I'm aiming for, especially with the temptation to take breaks or a nap. At school, however, I can be happy working away for hours with minimal breaks because that's precisely what I'm there to do. I don't even watch the clock that much. I work until 5:30 or 6 and then I go home.
c) I can do this because this is a space I can work in while snacking. I used to work at home more because I wanted access to food and drink (there is no eating in Oxford libraries). I can snack away or eat lunch in this work room, however, and it's changed my working experience hugely. Before, if I sat down to work in a library, I would often almost instantly become hungry, which was incredibly distracting. I've cut many a work day short in order to go home to eat something. Not a problem when I can eat while working.
3. Allow yourself guilt-free time off. When I was struggling (and failing) to meet the hours quota I set myself each day/week, I felt like I was always potentially supposed to be working (unless I was on an actual vacation). This is stressful! You (and I) need breaks that don't involve the thesis perpetually nudging your subconscious. Since Tim has a regular, full-time job now, I also felt it would be really nice if I also had (mostly) work-free evenings and weekend. After a vacation slump (due to the disappearance of the term schedule), I'm back to full productivity levels, which means that I can actually have evenings to myself, guilt-free. (Confession: sometimes I'll have half an hour or hour of work to do, but since that often involves reading Victorian novels, that's fine). It's actually strange not to need to work. I find I don't quite know what to do with myself.
Tomorrow, I will share with you the secret of Writing the Thesis Like a Novel. It involves word counts. And happier thesis writing and revision.
Reader, if you are in a commenting mood, how, when, and where do you best work?