When you want to get more done, there are four ways to go:
- Spend more time working
- Work harder
- Be more efficient
All of these are useful at times, but they have limitations and drawbacks too.
The fourth way is by far the most powerful, but we’ll get to that in a minute…
1. Working more hours
Sometimes, you just have to put the hours in. There are times when maybe you do need to work late and sacrifice some leisure time to get the work done.
But there are limits. Even the most work-obsessed can only do up to about, say, 18 hours per day. There’s no room to increase your working hours beyond that and still enjoy such luxuries as food and sleep.
It’s unsustainable anyway. Not only does it take it’s toll on your body, but also on your sanity and social life.
2. Working harder
Working with more effort, resisting temptation and distraction, and just doing things faster can help you get more done. Again, there are times when this is necessary, but also a few drawbacks.
If you put pressure on yourself to do everything faster, then you stop giving yourself time to think (which is kind of essential when doing a PhD). Sometimes the most valuable flashes of inspiration come when you slow down and take time just to play with ideas.
Also, If you work harder expecting better results, then it can be incredibly de-motivating if nothing changes. So you put everything you have into the work, something goes wrong, then you’re left with the feeling that if you put in all the hours and effort, then the problem must be you.
So maybe the answer is working smarter…
3. Being more efficient
It makes total sense to make better use of the time you have, finding inefficiencies in the way you work and eliminating time wasted.
This could be as simple as sitting down and thinking, “what the hell am I trying to do”, or it could be through implementing some new time-management system.
But the effects of any efficiency or time-management program are often short-lived. You can set targets, plan your week, block the internet, use pomodoros, whatever… It works for a day or two, then you slip back into old habits.
So if all three of these perfectly reasonable strategies can fail, what can you do to get more done?
4. The fourth way…
The fourth way is to forget time management to start with, and just do what you do for the hell of it.
Some things just take time. And so the only way to stay motivated is to engage in the process and do things with care, rather than focusing on the end result.
Targets and deadlines can be useful to help sharpen your focus, so you know when to put in that little bit of extra work or extra hours. But for many people targets aren’t intrinsically motivating in themselves. If you only do it for the deadline you’ll find ways to justify putting it off till the last minute, and end up demotivated if the deadline is missed.
So just do it for the hell of it, start now and let things take as long as they take, do things well and enjoy the process.
Time management comes second.
The painless PhD (video course)
The painless PhD is a video course designed to show you exactly what is required at every stage of your PhD.