I spend a lot of time on the computer. Currently averaging four hours a day typing thesis-related or other work stuff, and an extra inordinate amount cruising around the internet for no good reason. There are lots of downsides to this kind of lifestyle.
My keyboard, for example, should not be looked at too closely under good lighting. The less said about its cleanliness, the better. Biscuit crumbs, drops of coffee, and crumbs from my week-long pancake experiment have left a minor trail of destruction and a testament to why snack and meal breaks should happen away from the desk. The start-up fan makes a noise that can only be described as unwholesome. The dent in one corner of the screen is a testament to poor navigational skills in the dark. Yet the laptop has soldiered on. It was my first Ph.D. related purchase, and hopefully will survive the entire process.
I’m coming towards the end of my candidature. 17th January 2014 is D-day. That means that the next few months will be dedicated to rewriting, editing, rewriting again, and progressively less healthy means of self-expression. Beer helps. So does denial. Writing nothing for a fortnight and then thousands of words in a night is also a brilliant way of dealing…
If you’re thinking about undertaking Ph.D. studies, or writing anything in general, be it a short story or a full-length book, here are a couple of less dangerous coping mechanisms that I’ve found helpful along the way in my four years of Ph.D. study.
1. Make lists. Itemise your workload and make sure that some parts are super-easy to tick off. Makes it feel like progress, even when you’re in a really unproductive mood.
2. Don’t just sit there if you get stuck. My process is one-part incentive, two-parts punishment. For example, if I write 250 words non-stop, I get to check a favourite website for a few minutes, then start up again. If I write 250 words slowly and badly, I get five minutes off once it’s done, but have to do sit-ups during that entire time. If I can’t even get 250 words, I have to do five minutes of sit-ups, then alphabetise 3 pages of bibliography, or something else suitably menial but easy.
3. Taking breaks is fine, but make a routine for it. Don’t just get into the habit of taking a break every time you get bored, otherwise you’ll start finding more and more excuses to stop. Pick a word or time limit and enforce it.
4. Coffee can be distracting. When you really don’t want to work, drinking a cup of coffee non-stop without typing “because I don’t want it to get cold” becomes an extremely lame and valid excuse. The instant you see yourself doing it, ban the coffee and only have it once the work/time limit has been reached.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of menial tasks to get your brain going again. If you’re stuck or unmotivated, go and empty the dishwasher. Dust/tidy your desk. Do something that frees up your brain but keeps you active.
Lastly, and most importantly, stay off eBay. A bored brain is bad with money, and ends up with way more Labyrinth merchandise than it can ever truly justify.