Creating Habits for Research

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

You know you need to publish or write that thesis chapter, you know what you need to write about, so what is stopping you? Is it just me or does everyone else seem to be doing this just fine?

At this moment in time I have a paper to write, for you, it might be the running on the PhD/ECR/Masters 'hamster wheel'. The ability to churn out whatever you need to churn out is certainly a daily battle. So what's the secret to making things happen? Well, developing habits and good routines might be your answer.


From my conversations with friends, the only way to get something done is to be consistent about it. Day-in-day-out, it is that simple right? As a part-time PhD student this was important, I had to make some progress every day regardless of how big or small the progress made. Indeed, many prolific academics and those whom I view as being at the top of their game seem to share this idea. Today, many of have given up on the idea of switching between teaching and research depending upon the time of year. What seems to be a recurring theme is that research writing needs to happen in some shape or form every day. For some, that means getting up in the wee hours to write before the working day begins, for others, this isn't realistic with family or just not being a morning person. In that case, it's about making time - an hour or two during the day (no phone, no email, no anything) for complete focus.


As I said, this week I am consciously trying to get some work done on a paper. I have had a few weeks where this it has been tricky. I'm juggling a few major projects, and some unexpected time-heavy tasks have crept into my schedule which has meant my own new year goals and plans were on the back burner. Is this the same for you?


It's a new week to try and achieve your own goals.


                                            1. Routine /ruːˈtiːn/ noun1.

A sequence of actions regularly followed.


Think about your priorities - what is it that you need to do this week to get you working towards your goal? For me, it's sorting out the literature review. I've got lots of tasks on my to-do list but this one its number one.


Scheduling - where are you going to fit it? Block out time in your daily schedule but be kind to yourself - start with something small 30 mins, an hour. This might be simple for some but this is still something I am still learning about personally. I am going to book this time just like I would for a meeting - but this time I'm having a meeting with myself!


Distraction & Procrastination - This isn't going to be easy but cut yourself off. So put your phone in another room or away from your reach. Close your email and all of those unnecessary windows on your screen, get your headphones, go find somewhere else to work to avoid distraction (good for open plan working), get the tunes going, remove anything you don't need from your desk apart from what you need and hydrate. Try working in focused bursts - try 30mins not 3 hours. Stay away from social media, your phone during any breaks. Get up walk around instead.


2. Habit /ˈhæb.ɪt/ noun1

Something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it.


Consistency - Ultimately, you want your routine to become a habit that you don't even think about, you want to go into auto-pilot a for a little bit each day. So just like your first morning coffee try and be consistent. It is hard to get sucked into an email string or an urgent request from a collaborator, colleague, company or whoever you need to be talking to but you need to be disciplined. Focus on your priorities for a little time in the week. The first starting point is doing your activity every day and ideally at the same time of day.


Tracking - Record times when you work well - what is it about that day or hour. Is it the fact that you have a tidy desk, that you are working away from your office, that you got that swim session in first thing? Is it that you ate a healthy breakfast or that you have a clear plan of what's coming up this week so you're not worrying about tasks that lie ahead.


This is my starting point - what about yours?

What are your habits for getting research done? Tweet me @drsamlynch #habits #ecrchat #phdchat

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