For six months now I have been working on my thesis. The more time I spend on it the harder it seems to get to motivate myself and to actually make progress. Getting up and writing the first draft of a chapter turns out to be the hardest part of it.
The past four weeks I have been trying to work on my literature review, the chapter that probably requires the most work and usually turns out to be the longest. Nevertheless, it should be fairly easy to get it done, because I wrote a basic outline of it during my data collection period and have been working with the literature for the past year. However, I always appear to find ways to prevent myself from doing so. In a way, I became pretty skilled in preventing myself from making any significant progress. So in the process of being ok with where I am right now, here are my top three ways of how I prevent myself from being productive.
Whenever I am preparing to go home to see my family (which in my case means flying to Germany for 1-2 weeks), I am super motivated and convinced that I will be able to work on things while I am there. I pack everything I need and visualize what I want to accomplish. But regardless how well I prepare everything, the moment I am home I just can’t bring myself to do any of it. I just fall back into old habits of sleeping in, laying on the couch all day, meeting friends or going shopping with my sister, playing games, eating ridiculous amounts of food, etc. Even when I try to go to the library and to sit down to write on my thesis, my brain does not seem to work. At the end of the day I will have written a sentence, which I do not even like.
Sleeping in and staying in my apartment
Even when I’m in my own apartment in Chicago, I have found ways to prevent myself from being productive. The easiest way is to sleep in and not leave the house prior to 12pm. I know that I work best outside my apartment, therefore, at a coffee shop or at the library. There are just too many temptations to slack off at home, including a noisy cat that thinks sleeping on my computer’s keyboard is the best thing in the world. In addition, I am most productive between 10am and 2pm. I hardly get anything done after that time period. So whenever I sleep in and do not leave the house before 12pm I pretty much know already that it will be another unproductive day.
Setting or not setting deadlines
This is a tricky one. I’m usually more productive when I set myself a deadline and/or create a to-do-list. It helps me to continuously work on something and in a timely matter. It also forces me to start the writing process, which – as mentioned above – is my greatest obstacle. However, sometimes my deadlines seem to hang over me like Damocles’ sword. I get anxious, can’t concentrate anymore, and start deferring the dates. That again makes me even more anxious, because it messes up my thesis timeline. It’s a vicious cycle. Luckily, those phases of needing and not needing deadlines come with phases of being productive and not productive. In the end it always seem to work out somehow, but it is a real struggle to figure out what I need in the moment.
Conclusively, there are probably many more and smaller things I do to prevent myself from being productive. But these seem to have a 90% success rate. So whenever I feel like not doing things, I go back to these three strategies. I better avoid those when I am actually want to get things done. ;)