Pacing yourself during your PhD will help keep you on track with deadlines and goals and help you avoid getting overwhelmed. This article will help you with some top tips on how to keep yourself going at a steady and sensible pace during your studies.
Reflect on your motivation
Research shows that some individuals are motivated by positive rewards whilst others by negative aversion. As a doctoral student, you may be inspired by hearing positive feedback from your supervisor, being acknowledged for your research, or writing an outstanding thesis. Other doctoral students may focus on how not to experience defeat and failure or escape embarrassment in front of peers. Carl Lewis, one of the greatest athletes and nine-time Olympic gold medallist, shared some surprising secrets about his motivation. Before he jumped in his last Olympic event in Atlanta and won, he had not focused on victory. All he had thought about was how not to disappoint his family who was sitting in the audience. Do take a few moments to explore what motivates you.
Prepare in advance
The more you can prepare in advance, the easier you might manage your studies. Take a few minutes and think about who could support you. List a few friends, family members and other contacts who you could count on. What responsibilities, such as childcare, do you need help with? What are some of the challenges you can foresee coming up? How would you tackle them?
Follow your own pace
You might know other doctoral students who produce outstanding work. They think quickly, they are proactive, and they are always upbeat. At times, you might find yourself comparing yourself to others and feel that you are not good enough. Instead of comparing yourself to your peers, it is best to think about how to do the very best you possibly can. Do not waste time feeling despondent. Instead, brainstorm what you can do to develop your skills and your research further.
Developing your skills
Do schedule some time to reflect on your skills. Ask yourself: ‘What are some of my strengths and what would I like to improve?’. You might find it useful to take part in a speed-reading course. This could help you to familiarize yourself with lots of authors and discussions and spend less time reading books line-by-line. Are you struggling with time management and keeping your work organised? Most universities run internal short courses for students on a range of subjects from time management, languages, research, and IT skills (just to mention a few).
Do one thing a day
I received a remarkable piece of advice nearly 20 years ago. A university lecturer shared an off-the-cuff remark in a seminar which forever changed my way of working. My lecturer argued that people can learn almost any subject or accomplish seemingly impossible goals if they just do one thing about it daily. Rain or shine, you could come up with a simple action and just do it.
A few years ago, I shared this piece of advice with a lifelong friend who had less than a year to master a foreign language. She decided to study the language for only one hour each day of the week. Her progress has been nothing short of miraculous. She could not wait to tell me how confidently she speaks the language and even surprised herself with her top-notch motivation. This principle works magically because daily practice boosts motivation. You quickly create momentum. You eliminate precious time spent on recalling information.
Manage your energies
Dealing with knockbacks is easier when we are physically cared for. Skipping meals, dropping good old exercise habits, and being wired on caffeine can lead to feeling emotionally vulnerable. If you look after your body, you will be able to face inevitable life stresses. A postgraduate student, called Sue, recently admitted that she started skipping lunch in the hope that she would get more work done in her lunch breaks. She stopped going for a brief lunchtime walk and continued working on the computer. She realised in retrospect that her increased irritability and headaches were all connected to missing breaks. She noticed that her productivity decreased because of not eating regularly. She felt drained by the end of the day.
Maintaining your resilience is a daily practice. Having a supportive community is paramount. Regular reflection can go a long way. However, you need to recognise that developing more resilience is not the answer. You can burn yourself out by working too hard for long periods and neglecting the rest of your life (hobbies, family, and friends). Recognise when it is time to take time off and recharge the batteries.
Find an accountability friend
When you talk about your goal and your intention to achieve it, you become accountable. Can you think of any other PhD students who might be interested in becoming your accountability buddy? You could agree to contact each other at least for a few minutes each week to see how much progress you have made on your objectives. When you set clear goals and consistently take steps towards achieving them, you are more likely to succeed.
Celebrate your achievement
At times, you may need to slow down your progress because of difficult life experiences. You must always keep your end goal in front of you (e.g. to receive a doctorate, to work as a researcher). At times, unexpected challenges might crop up and you might be tempted to give up your studies. If you are struggling, you need to reach out for help and let others support you. Make sure that you celebrate your success both small and big. Would you like to go on a day trip with friends? Is there a book you would love to buy? Think about how you would like to celebrate the achievement of each of your successes.