How I wrote 10000 words of my PhD thesis in 10 days!

Crocheted flask-shaped laptop sticker available to purchase from my Esty shop for £6, check here.

I didn’t lose my mind, no no! I did write 10000 words of my thesis in 10 days. It isn’t a typo either! How that happened? The writing up period is notoriously the hardest and most stressful bit of a PhD. And, for students like myself, who are doing their PhD in a second language that should be much more intense! I was honestly quite scared to even open a Word document and put together a few words considering all the bad publicity.

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Speaking for myself, this has been the most enjoyable part of my PhD as it gave loads of flexibility to arrange my workload as I wanted to. I have been doing things that I never took the liberty to do during the “lab period”. Welcome impostor syndrome, every PhD students’ best friend, the nice feeling that makes you feel bad any time you consider enjoying life without stressing about your research. I got my nails professionally done over lunch break, enjoyed drinking cider under the sunshine at 3pm in the afternoon on a Friday, finally got back on track with my gym schedule.

Not sure why I never did all this before as enjoying life improved my productivity, by no means made it worse.

So how did I manage to maximise and optimise my performances while writing up? I believe I would have not achieved any of this if I didn’t use the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It is designed to optimise performances by splitting big chunks of work into small tasks. So, a pomodoro cycle means working for 25 min, get 5 min break and repeat this 4 times. At the end of the cycle, you get 20 min break and start back again with another cycle. I tend to do 3 cycles every day, 2 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Traditionally, a pomodoro-shaped kitchen timer was used to set the time, pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. In the 2.0 generation, you can download an app to track the time. I personally use BrainFocused, but friends of mine use Forest which is more customizable and you can change the timing, like working for 50 min straight and get 10 min break instead. It sounds silly, but starting your workload with only a 25 min schedule really feels less overwhelming that thinking “Crap, I have 4 hours of work this morning!”. PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION: DO NOT SKIP THE BREAKS. I initially tended to skip the 5 min intervals. Do not do that. Breaks are as important as much as the time you spend working because they prevent you from burning out!

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You will not make it if you put yourself in the mindset of taking a break = waste of time!

One of my Instagram friend Sarah from Academeology started a new challenge and related hashtag #100daysofdissertation. If you are in your writing up period, I strongly recommend joining it. The thesis period feels quite isolating as if a PhD wasn’t a lonely experience already! It is so good to feel part of a community and get motivated by looking at the work of fellow students around the world. We are all in the same boat!

My second recommendation is about writing down your goals. Some folks use Excell spreadsheet to organise their weekly work. I love handwriting so I bought a new agenda, which I renamed BECOMING DOCTOR to organise my workload. So, I tend to organise my work week by week by writing down all the things I need to get done in one day. I usually make plans from Monday to Thursday and allocate an extra day for the section “you never know what’s gonna happen!” I did come across a few unexpercted events over the last week and I am glad that my schedule did not change drastically because I made the wise decision to take the unexpected into account. Plus, I make my plans realistic, I know that I don’t get any work done over the weekend, so I don’t make plans for Saturday and Sunday.

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Procrastination isn’t the lack of time management rather having non-realistic expectation!

Last but not least, choose a relaxing environment for writing up your thesis. You don’t necessarily have to go to your office which tends to be quite noisy above all if it’s a shared space. Many libraries have silent areas and you can find loads of resources like books or magazines for your bibliography. Personally, I stay at home. When I decided to rent this house, I knew it was the right place for me to write up my thesis. Look at this! How can you possibly be in a negative mood when you wake up with such a view? I put relaxing music on YouTube, light up a candle and the job is half done!

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What else you do to improve the performances while writing up your thesis? Le me know in a comment below!

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