Monday, March 26, 2012

Finding time for writing

About a year ago, I wrote about decisions and priorities, and I referred to the urgent-important matrix which can help you prioritize your tasks. My top priority is writing my thesis and getting my doctoral degree - but it seems to be harder than I thought to find time for writing my thesis.

A year deeper into the program, and I can only say that the list of tasks has increased even more. It seems to me that there is some sort of a snowball effect. I realized I wanted to have written the first 4 chapters of my thesis by the end of March, but I only managed to draft the introduction chapter (something which roughly took me 2,5 hours during evenings). It seems like I don't get to writing in my office hours, because there are too many urgent/important things to be finished. Reports need to be written, meetings prepared and held, and then there a "few" sideprojects that I took on, which seem to quietly eat up all the crumbs of time I might have left in the day.

But to finish a PhD, you have to write the thesis. Because my thesis deadline is over a year away from now (that is, if I don't want to apply for an extension or end up with unemployment money), it's easy to keep on pushing it to the back and try to deliver all the other work prior to get serious about the writing.

As of now, my strategy has been to write from home in the evenings and during the weekends. Even though the evening hours are typically not my best writing hours because I am already slightly tired by then, I do enjoy not being disturbed while writing. The large disadvantage so far has been the fact that I am mostly writing on my personal laptop, a 5-year-old machine which would prefer to retire than to have another thesis pushed out of himself. I also don't have the same versions of MS Office on my laptop as on my office computer. I bought a download from a more recent version of MS Office through a webshop, but so far we're 1 week after the purchase and I only get errors and their support team is incredibly slow at responding. (And I hate having spent money on something which doesn't work!).

Another strategy I tried was going earlier to the university. The initial goal was to have my mails and other smaller tasks out of the way earlier in the morning, but I've contemplated reserving the first two hours for writing.

Alternatively, I might consider hiding in the library, or going to a coffee place for writing. I'm still trying to find the best way to get the writing done, and the biggest challenge in there seems to be to find the time for writing.


  1. Just try multiple ways until you find one that works for you. I did that when I was writing my chapters too. I tried to write every day after office hours. Not my best writing time but at least I write something. You'll be surprised how much things get done bit by bit over the time. It works for me. All the best to you.

  2. Thanks - I indeed feel that even one hour makes a major difference.

  3. I haven't even started the research and I already find the idea of writing my dissertation to be daunting. Especially since I have a 5 and 2 year old at home and work full time. For now, I will settle with the small victory of completing my 5 page assignment due tomorrow (although maybe I should wait to celebrate until I actually finish the assignment).

  4. Hey, wat schrijven betreft, dat kan ik het best gewoon thuis, tijdens de uren omdat ik inderdaad 's avonds ook met het probleem zit dat mijn frisheid verdwenen is. maar ik ma dan ook thuis werken. misschien mag jij dat niet zomaar? verder schrijf ik ook vaak op bureau, met koptelefoon. ik heb namelijk de afspraak met mijn collega's dat als dat ding op mijn hoofd staat, dat ze mij dan enkel mogen storen voor dringende dingen, want dat ik dan met iets belangrijk bezig ben dat volle concentratie vraagt. maar ik weet dan ook weer niet of jij dat zomaar kan. en ja, 's morgens er meteen invliegen en de mails ed laten staan tot 's middags helpt bij mij ook enorm :-) het verschil is dan wel dat ik geen heel boek moet schrijven, maar gewoon mijn artikels. tegen de tijd dat ik aan mijn inleidend en afsluitend hoofdstuk begin, ben jij waarschijnlijk al bijna klaar met je hele ding! wanneer wil je eigenlijk indienen? zal het lukken?

  5. @Stephanie: Good luck :) Seems like a challenging combination of tasks!

    @misseslee: ik zou tegen midden april volgend jaar willen indienen, maar dat moeten dus nog wel zien of dat gaat lukken. Op zich heb ik het meeste al gedaan, maar voor 1 hoofdstuk (mijn theoretisch model) moet ik nog alles doen. En ik moet alle hoofdstukken (op de inleiding na) nog schrijven. Ik mag in principe van thuis werken, maar ik woon niet alleen he... mijn huisgenoten zijn overdag wel meestal op de TU, maar ons gebouw is ook nogal gehorig.

  6. As a principal, I had way less work to do during the summer and did almost all my writing during two consecutive summers. You do need to be fresh and uninterrupted for at least a few hours at a time. It will also help if you do a few hours on consecutive days so you don't have to spend too much time asking yourself "where was I?" Good luck.

  7. Thank you :)
    I indeed noticed already that when I can't work on a paper for consecutive days, that I need to go and figure out again where I stopped and gather all my material again.

  8. Thomas K. ZavalaMay 29, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    It’s been over a year now, how’s your thesis now? Well, it is really hard to find time for thesis writing, especially if you have other things to do like work and family. But, it is advisable to write every day for at least 2 hours, that way you gradually fill up the paper even if you’re still busy with something.

  9. Thomas, it's finished, printed and published and will be defended on June 14th :)