Cultivate your working habits

Reflect and evolve your routines

Effective work habits and a good work life balance are essential to staying healthy and prolific. A little self-reflection can help you figure out how to improve your work habits and how to plan time for recreation. Each day, look at the areas that didn't go as planned, that slowed down your productivity or that made you feel too worn out to enjoy a break or recreational activities. Those situations can help you improve how you perform the next day and reveal what helps you in the long run.
Questions to help you reflect on your work habits could be: What do I need to work productively? What interrupts your work flow?

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Find your Rhythm: Work Productively

While some doctorate candidates have fixed working hours, others are extremely independent in structuring their days. Regardless of the flexibility you can actually harness, it makes sense to discover the phases in which you work most productively. Track your productivity for a few days to find out when you experience phases of high productivity and at what times it may be smarter to tackle less demanding tasks or to actually take a break. Find your own perfect rhythm and try to plan your tasks accordingly.At least your phases of high productivity - we usually experience two per day  - should be used for undisturbed work on challenging tasks. Cal Newport (2016) calls the ability to retreat and focus without distraction "deep work".  Deep work allows you to push your cognitive capabilities to their limit and to gain new insights (for your dissertation).

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Break Down Your Goals: Plan Actionable Steps

Setting goals and being clear about what you want to accomplish helps you to stay focussed and productive.  Write your goals SMART and break them down into actionable steps. SMART means that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

When setting a goal, be specific about what you want to accomplish and make sure your goals are not too big or too long-term. Don't think about the entire dissertation, but instead focus on realistic and specific goals that are important steps on the way.

After setting a goal and planing individual steps, don't forget to think about how to implement these steps. How do these fit in your working routine? Pencil them in for specific times!

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Build a Routine: Become a Creature of Habit

Writing a dissertation takes years. This means you need to set up a routine and develop strategies for carving out space and quiet to work on your PhD project on a regular basis. To build a stable routine, you can either dedicate specific times of the day to spefic tasks, or certain situations to specific tasks. Some ideas:

  • Mondays to Fridays between 9 and 11 in the morning I write.
  • After the lunch break, I update my references and track new literature.
  • Thursdays I meet my colleagues to discuss progress and problems regarding our research.
  • Friday afternoons, before heading off for the weekend, I plan my goals and steps for the next week.
  • I don't reply to my e-mails inbetween tasks, but instead reserve half an hour before lunch-break to work through them.

Stay on track!
You can enter your routines directly into your calendar. This ensures that important time periods - for examples writing your dissertation in your high performance period - are guarded from incoming requests that might be answered at other times.

Harnessing the power of rituals
Rituals are great ways to integrate the things you enjoy into your day. You can also intentionally use rituals to jump-start your next routine and to improve performance. A hot coffe in your hand goes along with opening the writing project document. Closing the e-mail inbox is rewarded with a short break with your favourite colleague.

Schreibtisch mit bildschirm, Laptop und Blumenzweig

Your Work Space

If you hold a position at the university, you will also have your office to use as your base. Others will need to create their working space at home or consider to share a rented office with someone in the same position to establish a fruitful surrounding. Find out what supports your productivity most. Maybe you work best in a noisy, busy environment, maybe a silent space enhances your concentration.

As you will spend many hours sitting in front of your screen, we suggest that you invest in a good chair that helps to maintain the right ergonomical position. Also have a look at the lighting and availability of your tools to make your work space the most suitable for yourself. One or two robust plants regenerate the air and let your creativity grow.

It's also important to remember that everyone works differently. You may not have a perfectly organized desk that's tidy enough to be in a magazine spread, but if you can find what you need when you need it, you're doing fine.

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Take Breaks: Make Breakthroughs

Writing a thesis is not a sprint, it's a marathon. Finding effective working habits and creating a wholesome work-life balance is therefore essential to staying healthy and productive - in the long run.

The Room of Silence:  The Room of Silence has been established for all members and guests of the University of Bremen. It serves as a space of peace, meditation and prayer and invites you to take a moment for yourself.

Relaxation techniques (Think Ahead Blog, Sheffield University)

Updated by: BYRD