Dissertation Motivation

Staying motivated to complete a dissertation can feel like an immense struggle at times, but there are ways to make the words flow again to finish your thesis on time.
In her book, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis, Joan Bolker, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Harvard Writing Center, presents the “15-minute rule.” Bolker encourages students to write every single day, even if it is only for 15 minutes. Writing constantly, and continuously, throughout every stage will help you find your way through your thesis. The writing itself doesn’t have to be perfect. Letting ideas related to your dissertation flow out as they pop into your head will help warm you up and prepare you to continue working on your thesis. For many, the most difficult part is getting started. Beginning with a 15-minute session of writing down ideas and not pressuring yourself to immediately produce meaningful work can help. Let the ideas flow, then get into analyzing data and sources to have a productive writing session.  

Others’ tips to stay focused and motivated include: recognizing how you best work, rewarding and encouraging yourself, listening to your body, keeping a personal journal, asking for help when you need it, and sharing your writing with others. 

Everyone has different work habits. If you find yourself constantly hitting a wall or losing motivation, pay attention to yourself as a writer. When do you work best? Where do you work best? If it’s at 6 a.m. in your favorite chair in the student center, then you should set your alarm in the morning, get to that chair, and then get to work. Take your work habits seriously and don’t compare how you work to how others work. The writing will come when you recognize how you work best.  

Developing and keeping a dissertation work schedule will help keep you motivated and stay on track to finishing your dissertation. Break up your timeline and long-term goals into smaller deadlines. Set aside times during the day to focus solely on writing and developing your thesis. When you reach a milestone, finish a few pages, start a new idea, or do something else toward finishing your dissertation, give yourself a little reward. Buy that cupcake you’ve been eyeing in the bakery, take a guilt-free Saturday to relax, give yourself a sticker—let the reward match the accomplishment.  

If your body tells you it’s time to go to sleep, then go to sleep. Treating your body right is important in keeping yourself motivated. Maybe you work best while drinking coffee. It’s fine to have some coffee, but your body needs a lot more than that to keep you going. Give your body everything it needs so you can stay in good shape to complete your dissertation. Eat nutritious foods, get the rest your need, and exercise.   

Write in a journal about the times you feel discouraged and frustrated. If you have other ways of letting out frustration, do them. Punch a punching bag, go to the gym, cry, create art. Let out the frustration, recognize and let go of disappointments, and ask for help if you need it. Remember you aren’t alone throughout this process. There are those around you who want you to succeed and are willing to give advice and help when you need it.  

Sharing your progress with others can help you stay motivated and excited about your topic. Tell friends, family, and your advisor about your goals. The people around you will help keep you accountable and motivate you to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. Be proactive in asking for feedback, and take the feedback you receive constructively.  
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