Remember the old saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today?” It’s easier said than done when it comes to writing your PhD thesis. Considering 80 to 95 per cent of college students procrastinate, you’re far from alone. 

While there’s comfort in this statistic, it won’t help you finish your PhD thesis. There are many reasons for PhD thesis procrastination. They include a lack of support, difficulty setting priorities, the challenges of working from home, and more.

Despite these pitfalls, you can get from a blank page to a committee-ready document faster than you might think. Keep reading for ten tips that outline how to avoid procrastinating when writing your PhD.

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Why We Procrastinate


Understanding why we procrastinate will help you overcome this negative tendency. What’s the number one reason many PhD students delay dissertation writing? Self-doubt.

Graduate students have many fears. They include concerns about performing inadequately and failing to meet expectations.

Students also procrastinate because they underestimate how long different steps in their dissertation will take to complete. Some assume they must feel “inspired” before they can write. They fail to realise that writing is a skill that requires daily practice.

Others overestimate how motivated they will be later on. They also mistakenly believe they must be in the right frame of mind to work. Waiting to “feel ready” to write a dissertation will never happen, though. Nevertheless, this false assumption can trigger a vicious cycle.

Finally, procrastination proves a common problem for individuals who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Why? An unhealthy level of perfectionism often accompanies OCD.

This perfectionism can prove paralysing when students become afraid to make mistakes, take chances, or do anything that might not turn out perfectly. 

No matter why you’re procrastinating, the following tips will help you get back on track for success.  


1) Set Priorities and Stick to Them


Procrastination can take many shapes and forms. One of the most insidious remains putting off urgent matters to complete menial tasks of lower priority. 

Why do we do this? Because humans are hardwired to seek out instant gratification.

That’s what completing little tasks gives you. Besides delaying urgent tasks for the sake of non-urgent ones, procrastination can also take the shape of setting aside unpleasant, challenging jobs in favour of fun ones. 

Again, these fun jobs often do little to help us complete anything of urgency. Perhaps the reason it’s so easy to get caught up in this form of procrastination is because it will keep you busy. It may even give you a fleeting sense of accomplishment until you start ruminating over your dissertation again. 


2) Manage Distractions


How do you avoid mixed up priorities? By scheduling a time or day to take care of these minor tasks. Call it an “admin day” or a “detail day.” No matter what moniker you give it, dedicate a limited amount of time to efficiently and quickly completing these minor tasks. 

Now that you’ve designated a day on your calendar for tidying up loose ends, create a dedicated “to-do” list. Then, every time something that you need to do pops into your head, add it to the list. 

You’ll prevent distraction by knowing you’ve scheduled a time to address these minor concerns. This approach will allow you to concentrate on your dissertation.


3) Establish a Support Network


When it comes to avoiding PhD procrastination, you need a strong support network in place. After all, it’s easy to get distracted by well-meaning colleagues and friends. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, too.

By sharing a civilised conversation about what you do and don’t need to focus on right now, you also avoid a build-up of potential awkwardness and tension. Explain your difficulties with concentrating and how they can help you. 


4) Get Over the Romance of Working From Home


Working from home is idealised by many, yet the reality proves far from perfect. It can feel quite challenging to concentrate while in a space usually reserved for fun times and leisure activities.

What’s more, your home represents the ultimate obstacle course when it comes to trivial matters you should put off until later (but don’t). Whether it’s dishes left in the sink or dusting that needs to be done, staying at home can exacerbate procrastination through distractions.


Your PhD Thesis.
On one page.

Use our free PhD Structure Template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis.

5) Make Peer Pressure Your Ally


Fortunately, when you surround yourself with others who may be working or writing, you gain a boost in productivity. After all, productivity is contagious. Find a great coffee shop with remote worker energy and let the “peer pressure” around you reignite your creative spark and energy.


6) Know Your Limits


Did you know that the average attention span is just 20 minutes? Sure, individuals can force themselves to focus on one subject for much longer. Nonetheless, peak productivity time still comes in 20-minute chunks.

Stop trying to force yourself into binge cycles of research and writing. Instead, understand your limitations and schedule accordingly. Plan your day with small breaks in mind when you need them most, and you’ll avoid distraction and frustration.


7) Take Advantage of Productivity Software


What’s productivity software? The ultimate answer to procrastination. This software lets you block sites that typically distract from work at hand. Whether it’s Netflix or Facebook, BBC News or Instagram, taking away temptation will help you get more done.

There are many different types of productivity software out there, but one of my favourites remains Cold Turkey. It completely cuts you off from the civilised world for a length of time that you determine. Yes, the experience can feel daunting, but you’ll be amazed by how much you get done.


8) Treat Your Body Well


PhD thesis writing can take a toll on your body if you let it. This reality can lead to a vicious cycle of getting sick, trying to catch up, burning out, and getting sick again. How about we agree to avoid this cycle from the get-go?

Eating right, sleeping well, drinking enough water, and exercising might seem like luxuries you don’t have time for right now. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Your brain works better when you treat your body right, and you need a working brain to write a dissertation.


9) Gain Confidence


When you’re not sure about your writing prowess or what makes for a fantastic dissertation, this uncertainty can impact your productivity. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of free resources available to help you create a finished product of which you’ll feel proud.

Check out these free guides to improve the quality of your writing, boost your motivation, and help you stay sane throughout the PhD dissertation writing process.  


10) Get Structured


Many PhD students have questions related to properly structuring their dissertations. Again, a lack of clarity in any area of the process can lead to stilted creativity. So, you need to iron out these issues right away. 

If you’re looking for guidance when it comes to planning and structuring your work, check out this resource for templates, chapter cheat sheets, and other thesis writing tips. 

While you’re there, don’t forget to sign up for the daily PhD newsletter featuring helpful tips for how to write a doctoral thesis. 


Dealing With PhD Thesis Procrastination 


Are you struggling with PhD thesis procrastination? If so, you’re not alone. That said, now’s the time to get proactive about finding solutions to put you back in control of your educational path.

Fortunately, we can help. We offer expert support to help you with your PhD journey. Contact us to discuss where you are in your PhD thesis writing process and how we can help. 


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