This month’s article is by a guest author, Jamie Pei. There are a couple of reasons for this.
One is that I try to follow my own advice and take a proper vacation. I’m on annual leave for the first 2 weeks of July. I was going to just skip doing a longer post this month, but then I realized that one of the members of my team might be able to do it.
The second reason I’ve asked Jamie to contribute this month is to introduce you to this member of my team. Jamie has her own coaching business, The Messy Coach, offering workshops for institutions, individual coaching, and an intensive group coaching program. She is also one of the hosts for A Meeting With Your Writing, and starting this summer will be offering quarter PhD clinics for Studio members. These clinics offer group coaching and community connection for those Studio members who are working on a PhD.
As you’ll see, Jamie’s approach to “productivity”, writing, and so on is very similar to mine. I hope you enjoy the article. I’ll be back in the writing chair next month.
In the first week of my PhD, a lecturer in my department told us all that we should be aspiring to work 40 hours a week. She told us that we should be up at 5am, do a workout and then start a solid 8-hour work day. I was horrified – that didn’t sound inspiring or motivating at all!
Looking back now, I can safely say that there wasn’t a single day where I followed this prescription. I also don’t think I ever met any other PhD students over the next 4-5 years who kept to this working schedule either. What worked for me – and which I also saw in many of my PhD colleagues – was to find my optimal way of working, even (or especially) if it looked nothing like the conventional workday we’ve been taught for so long to uphold.
An even bolder claim: by wilfully refusing to ascribe to ‘normal’ ways of working, I daresay I was, ultimately, more productive. And through it all, I was also able to enjoy the overall process of doing doctoral research and flow through it with a lot more ease and pleasure.
If you’re struggling to work the way you think you should be working in your PhD, this article offers some alternative ways for thinking about research productivity and PhD success. I hope it’ll inspire you to discover new methods for yourself that feel good and prompt you to do your best research!
1) The 9-5 day, 40-hour week does NOT suit everyone (most people, actually).
And as academic institutions become more like corporate/capitalist businesses (yes, I said that out loud – come at me), the more our workday is increasingly shaped to prioritise productivity/output alone.
In reality, this mode of working doesn’t suit many people and can often be more counterproductive than helpful… which brings us to the next point:
2) Finding YOUR own optimal way of working ….
… (while also being able to honour commitments/department hours etc.) is more important than trying to slavishly adhere to a fixed and rigid schedule that just isn’t helpful for you to do your best work
3) Research is such an individual endeavour
That means your way of working/time taken will also look very differently to someone else’s.
Don’t compare your 2 hours of work with someone else’s 8 hours (or vice versa) – it’s simply not an accurate comparison.
4) Remember that research work is intense and heavy going…
… so ‘output’ can’t always be tangibly measured. And it definitely can’t be measured using the same metrics as other types of work or from your previous educational experiences. Just because you’re not literally ‘producing’ all the time, it doesn’t mean that the research/thinking/processing/assimilation isn’t happening.
It follows that you might find that while you can normally work 8 straight hours in other contexts (other jobs/previous degrees), you might get tired or hit a wall in a much shorter period of time while doing your PhD. That’s totally okay. Learn to adapt and adjust your norm.
5) Rest, creative play, your normal life and conscious time away from the research…
… is a HUGELY IMPORTANT part of the actual research. You absolutely need time and space to process and percolate. The ideas, connections and deep thinking often happens best when you’re not forcing it.
(I highly recommend checking out Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep for closer insights into exactly what happens in our brain when we sleep and why getting those zzz’s are vital for improved creativity and analytical skills).
6) Your work routine and hours will often change throughout the PhD…
…as your project evolves and as you take on other activity (e.g. teaching, conferences etc).
Some periods are quieter/less busy than others. Let yourself be flexible and change things up as you move along.
7) SUPER IMPORTANT: Longer hours ≠ better work.
Nobody cares if you took 2 or 12 hours to do something; you don’t get extra credit or bonus points for longer hours, overwork and struggle.
8) SUPER SUPER IMPORTANT: Short, focused, intentional periods of work often still yield plenty of excellent results.
For some people, working short amounts is better/more productive and easeful than sticking with conventional (longer) work hours
Bonus: Learning about your human design can be a huge help for figuring out your best way of working (e.g. Projectors are best when they work no more than 4-5 hours a day. Generators can work very long hours but feeling lit up and joyful in what they’re doing is key to fueling and sustaining them)
ALL of this is to say (again) that it’s so important to find your own work groove.
Instead of shaming yourself for it or forcing it to fit an ‘acceptable’ working mould, honour those ways and make them work FOR YOU.
F**k ‘conventional’ working ideals. Find your own. Really.
Welcoming Jamie to the Academic Writing Studio team
As you can see from this post, Jamie’s approach to academic writing and workload management is very similar to mine (JoVE).
Starting this summer, she will also be leading quarterly PhD clinics, which offer community and group coaching for those members of the Studio who are currently PhD students/candidates.
The Studio has a PayLess option partly to make it affordable for students and others on low or precarious incomes.
Originally published on Jamie’s site on 21 June 2022. Intro and concluding section added. Republished with her permission. Edited December 2023 to remove reference to Jamie’s Messy Coach Group Coaching Hive as she redesigns her business for a more broader scope of clients.