You know the pattern… You have a big job to do, so to get started you sit down and make a plan.
You set targets, you set deadlines. You write a to-do list. You create a skeleton of a thesis chapter and bullet points for each section. You draw it out beautifully with multicoloured pens and stick it up on the wall.
You feel good, you’ve taken control. You’ve made a fresh start. But…
The problem with plans
Making a detailed plan seems like a logical thing to do. They give you something to aim for and help you assess the scale of the task ahead.
But that isn’t enough. Think of how many times you’ve made a detailed plan, felt a surge of confidence, then failed to follow through… If a nice plan was enough, then writing a thesis would be easy.
Just as some targets can be bad for your productivity, sometimes over-planning can be a distraction from actually getting something done. Because you get that short-term good feeling, making plans can become a (seemingly justifiable) substitute for real work. Really it’s just another form of procrastination, because plans are useless if you don’t then follow them up with immediate, decisive action.
Drowning in detail
Writing a thesis is a big job. So breaking it down into manageable chunks is a good way to start.
BUT, if you make a detailed plan for every single section of every single chapter you can end up drowning in the details.
Because there is only one of you, you can only concentrate fully on one section at a time. So if you’re working on chapter 1, right now you only need a detailed plan for the specific section you’re working on. Although it helps to have an idea of what you’ll do later, you don’t need a detailed plan today for a section you aren’t going to work on for several weeks.
Predicting the weather
Weather forecasters are very good at predicting what will happen in the short-term, but the further you go into the future the less accurate they can be.
That’s OK, because for most people all you need to know is whether or not to take an umbrella with them on the way to work today. The information helps you make a decision about what action to take now.
Longer term you can predict the seasons and what will happen in a general sense, but too much detail would be irrelevant, distracting and probably inaccurate anyway.
So when you make a plan, you only need fine detail for what you’re working on now.
Narrow your focus, and ask yourself,
- what is required in order to finish this section?
- what are you going to work on now (that you can finish)
Get on with it!
Struggling with your thesis? Check out the Thesis Writing Tutorial Videos
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