How to focus in working on your PhD

In the last few months I often face paralysing moments that left me stuck in my writing process, and often prolonged my writing/drawing process in assembling the PhD draft. To untangle these moments, I found that there is one particular tip than can be addressed to reshape my focus.

My mentor in my home university made an analogy of focusing on any working process as approaching rows of columns. You just need to reach the column nearest to you. You know that there are plenty columns left that you need to get onto, but for now just think of your one particular column, and get there. Then when you arrived on that column, you get to think of the next column. As simple as that.

This analogy is reflected in many other references across movies and literatures. One of the dialogues at the end of The Martian film narrate Matt Damon welcoming his students, saying that in the time of crisis, they need to just focus on solving one problem at a time. Then if they managed to solve enough problems, they might get to get home—refering to his complicated journay back to the Earth.

Regarding such strategy of focus, Peter Drucker quoted the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It tells a story of the summer when her brother was doing a report on bird which he actually had three months to write, but somehow had neglected to and now due the next day. Anne’s father wrapped his hands around the poor boy that was paralysed by the massive task, and said calmly,’Bird by bird. Just take it bird by bird.’

PhD is not a sprint, whatever phases you are at. It is a long and painstaking process. Lengthwise, it is in minimum five times other documents that you submitted during undergraduate and masters. So let’s just reach the next column and track your way from there. Making sure you reach one column at one time is better than thinking of five but reaches nothing.


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