I am so excited my new website is finally ready! You won’t believe the work that went into creating it (There is an entirely new 6-week online programme I am very proud of. Check it out here…) One page that didn’t need much tweaking was the ‘My Story’ page, where I tell you all about how this blog, the online course and the coaching biz came into being. My personal tale is so interwoven with what I do now. The PhD is now so far away, yet so present day to day! I was taken aback when I re-read my story, even though I lived – and wrote! – it myself. Sometimes you forget all it took. So today, as the official launch of the new blog, I’d like tell you about the six shifts I made in order to finish my PhD in a couple of hours a day.
When I collapsed in 2008, the doctors first thought was burnout. And although in the end this turned out not to be the cause of my severe health issues (it was Lyme Disease. Don’t get tick bites. It may have very nasty consequences), it wasn’t an odd train of thought: about half of PhD students struggle with stress/ mental health problems, it is rather alarming! But even though stress wasn’t the cause of my woes, managing stress was the first step to getting back to (a few hours of) work. If only I managed to recover, I could perform, sort of. This turns out to be true for most of us, especially if you have been burning the candle on both ends…and exponentially so if you’re dealing with health issues. For me meditation and mindfulness played a key role here, as did working in intervals.
Create A Work Routine
Once I got serious about finishing my PhD I freaked out a bit, as I realised I only had a few hours a day of mental energy (if I was lucky!). But where there’s a will… I started researching productivity and came across a method that seemed promising. It focused on managing your energy, not your time, and it promised an end to long work days. Good! Because long work days were out of the picture. Working in waves: moving from intense, focused work, to utter relaxation was the key to my new workday. I started out with 20 minute intervals, and then worked my way up to 45 minutes at a time. Simple, but highly effective. It worked!!! My work started to pick up…
Harness the Power of Focus
The next hurdle was what to focus on. Now I had an advantage, which was that I was already in my 3rd year of my PhD, so I knew what the PhD was about, which is an achievement all to its own, and I say if you have nailed that part, you are already half way there. Even so, I still couldn’t really mess about much. I needed maximum results with minimum effort. I was basically forced to do/ read/ focus on only one thing at a time, and I had to make sure it was the most important thing! This caused me great anxiety — it meant I had to NOT read and research and reflect on so many things — but it was also the absolute best decision I could have made. Focusing on your main argument (I talk about this in my e-book), and ruthlessly prioritising pays off…
Manage Worry and Thesis Anxiety
Truth be told, it was difficult not to worry. I was already worried when I was writing my PhD full-time, so now doing the same in half the time with all the odds stacked against you? Er…it wasn’t something I’d have volunteered to do, but I found myself in this place, so I decided to give it a go. Two interesting things happened. First, lots of people opened up about their own PhD struggles. In academia showing vulnerability only tends to happen once you know the other person is as least as vulnerable as you are. Truth! Every other academic has experienced burnout at some point, does anyone talk about it? I think not. Anyway, the point is that I realised my worrying had little to do with me personally, it was simply a feature of ‘academia’ or ‘the PhD’. The other thing? I started to ask myself what would happen if I dropped the worries. The answer? I would be able to actually finish…
Own Your Work
Now we are getting to the fun part. I am serious. This is the best part of writing a PhD, it is when your ideas start developing, and you start to realise everything is coming together, and you are mastering what you are doing. You wish it would happen earlier, but in a way this is your reward for years of hard labour, and it is so, so sweet. Developing, articulating and owning your ideas is both the process, and the goal of PhD research. You are doing research, and then making it your own. It requires you to make a mindset shift along the way, from anonymous researcher to independent scholar. It is great once you get to that point. Mindset is so important here. (It is also where supervision relationships come into focus.)
Intrinsic Motivation and Being Kind
There are too many fear-based mechanisms at play when writing a PhD. Sometimes it is like you are in a perpetual loop of feeling ‘behind’ and having to ‘work hard’ to ‘catch up’ and ‘get published’. Maybe you feel you don’t ‘belong’, or your confidence got a hit, that is not all uncommon, and you are really hard on yourself as a result. This way of motivating ourselves can really wear you down. It isn’t that goals and standards aren’t important, they very much are, but it is just that there are better ways of getting there. Much better to align with the positive reasons for doing the work, and work from curiosity and engagement rather than dread. It helps to be kind to ourselves in the process. There is so much criticism all around, and it is a good idea to stay mindful. Much better to support yourself fully, and to be gentle (well, and fierce, of course!).
Want to know more? Come join me for six weeks of stress-free PhD-ing. Over these six weeks you will build your own super effective work habits. I will guide you through it step by step, day by day. And at the end, you too will be able to write your PhD with shorter hours, and better results. Early bird price applies!