How would you rather be, in the last three weeks before you submit your thesis?
A physical and emotional wreck, chewing your fists down to the bone as you desperately trying to scrape together the final pieces…
…. or calmly adding the finishing touches, breezing in before the deadline to submit your thesis feeling like you’ve just been feeding the ducks during a nice stroll in the park?
These are the two paths you can take. It’s up to you to decide which one to follow, and the earlier you make that decision, the better.
Deadlines, weddings and gas bills
It all comes down to how you treat deadlines (of which there are two types).
The first type is an event deadline (like organising a wedding, dinner party, etc), where everything has to come together and be finished at exactly the right time. A day late is no use at all, but then for many of the tasks a day early is no good either. It all has to be ready at the same time, for a short time, and so the stress builds the closer you get to the event as you are juggling multiple difficult things at the same time and there are major consequences to getting it wrong.
The second type of deadline is more like paying the gas bill. You have a final payment deadline, but if you pay 2 weeks early, then it’s done and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. But you can also treat a gas-bill deadline like a wedding deadline and leave it to the last possible day and in practical terms it’ll probably be OK.
But when you do that, a tiny part at the back of your brain is occupied by that gas bill. On its own it’s almost nothing (until you get the “OH SHIT” moment when you realise it absolutely has to be done TODAY), but added to all the other unfinished tasks you’re putting off for later it becomes part of a general feeling of unease or lack of control.
Here’s the problem. If you treat your thesis submission like a wedding deadline, then you are guaranteed to be the fist-chewing ball of stress. Instead, you can treat the thesis as a series of separate small gas-bill-like tasks, each of which can be finished at any time before the deadline. You have to take urgency out of the equation, because it’s impossible to do 100 difficult things at the same time when any one of them would require your full attention to do well.
Here’s how to do it:
- What section are you working on right now?
- What do you need to do to finish it? Make a checklist of everything you need to do.
- How much time are you going to give yourself to finish this section?
Then go through each thing one by one, and do it to completion. Focus on one thing. Get it done, then it’s off your mind and you are one step closer to finishing.
You need to get into the habit of finishing things. If it is possible to finish it now, finish it now. Do not leave it for later, because you have lots of other things to do later too. If it’s not possible to finish it now, what needs to be done first? Do that.
The third step, deciding how much time you are going to allow yourself, helps you make decisions about what you’re going to do, or not do. If you only have 3 months left before you submit, you can’t spend 3 months doing data analysis. Some people try, and try to write at the same time in the hope of cramming it all together at the last minute, but they’ll be the ones mashing at the keyboard with bloody stumps where their fists used to be. You have to make a decision that you’ll only spend, say 2 weeks on it, work on it exclusively for that time, then stop.
Here’s the thing. There comes a point when desperately hunting for one more result, or one more literature source, isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference. You have to start wrapping things up and reducing the amount of things you are working on by finishing one thing at a time.
That way, and only that way, the stress can decrease the closer you get to submission. The last few weeks and days, you’ll only have a few things left to do, and then you can breeze in before the deadline to submit your thesis feeling like you’ve just been feeding the ducks during a nice stroll in the park
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