coping with unproductive days



Just wondering how other people cope with unproductive days/periods?
I had a great week last week and felt like I knew where I was going for the first time in ages, and then this week has been rubbish. I've just found it hard to get going and do the work my supervisor and I planned. TOday was such a bust, that I gave up and went for a drive.
My research is in humanities and I spend a great deal of time working alone - I think I find it difficult to not to just feel really rubbish about myself when I get nothing done.
How do other people deal with this stuff?

\i'm new to this forum but finding it really helpful.


I don't worry about it, and know that another day/week will go better. If it's a totally unproductive day it's usually a sign that I need to take a bit of a breather from it too. Ok not always so easy to do with pressure, but my mind can turn over thoughts/ideas while I'm in more of a relaxing mode.


I'm in Humanities too and I often feel the same - it's hard when you're alone, as you say, and the day can just go by before you even realise you're not getting anything done. Then I get paranoid I'm a terrible phd student and everyone else is working hard, which makes it worse...

Things I've found that help me are:
- Talking to other trusted PhD friends (when I do actually see them) who always tell me they procrastinate/have completely unproductive days and weeks too, which makes me feel a lot less like I'm bad, lazy and the only one.
- Reminding myself I can start any time, I don't have to work all day - so even if I've wasted 6 hours, just doing one hour now is better than nothing and still a good thing to do - the day isn't necessarily a complete waste. I often try to kickstart myself with a less "thinky" task such as form-filling or basic translation (I work partly in a foreign language) as often I'm procrastinating because I'm overwhelmed by the idea of all the thinking...
- Making a list of all the things I *have* managed to do that day, even if it's just "checked my emails, tidied my desk, made a phone call" - it's still better than nothing, and often you'll find you have been doing necessary things that contribute to your PhD even if it's just in an admin-y way.
- As BilboBaggins said, recognise that it might be a sign I need to take a break - it's fine to walk away for a day or even a week if you really need it. I always find that refreshes me. Often as PhD students we're thinking about our work even when we're not actually doing it, or doing it at evenings or weekends, so it's ok to take breaks during 9-5 to make up for that.
- If it gets really bad, try emailing your supervisor if they're the approachable type, and tell them you've hit a productivity low, and maybe see if you can meet up for just a 15 min chat or something to get you enthusiastic and raring to go again.
- Don't worry! I'd say if it starts turning into weeks and months without getting anything done, then you'd need to sit down and work out what's going on. But the odd day or even week here and there is not a big problem, and in my experience, happens to everyone.

Hope that helps! Good luck getting back down to work, hope tomorrow is a better day.


OK i think it's also important to set smaller goals for each day of the week..some days of the week will be productive and maybe it's more motivating to count them as productive (rather than counting the whole week as rubbish :-)). and have in mind that a schedule is just a schedule to help u organize ur work it's normal that some things won't be done on time it always happens but u can compensate later working a bit longer or working during weekends (not a very nice thing to do though).


Thanks for all the replies.
Its odd isn't it, that all the advice was thoroughly straightforward but it just helps to hear people saying things outside of your own head.
bilbobaggins is probably right and I probably need to take a little break. And I do need to think 'i can start anytime' rather than getting in a tiz and flapping about.
Rebs - I too work with a foreign language and in the summer translation was my default work state for when methodology wasn't getting me anywhere. I should go back to that. As my ancient languages tutor once said 'if in doubt - parse!' Its kind of like eating your vegetables isn't it, it will never do you any harm even if it isn't very interesting.
Tomorrow I will set myself some basic targets and not worry about what I didn't do today.
I wrote on someone else's thread the other day that they should take care not to compare their inside worries to everyone elses outside presentation - I need to take my own advice and pay no attention to the image in my head of everyone else I know churning out thousands of words a day!!

Thanks my dears.


If i think im having an uproductive day there are two things I do to change my day into a productive one.

first is I just think back to the days when i was working/slaving on a building site in the pouring rain and cold trying to get some money together to put me through university and realise that unless i turn my day into a productive one i could be back their again due to the highly competitive job market that exists for life science researchers (im a life sciences phd) especially for gaining acess to the ivy league universities.

Second thing i do to motivate myself to be productive is related to the first point. My current university is pretty rubbish for life science research where the dean and head of school amaze me at their incompetence. where orders or applications to gain extended access to labs to preform experiments can take up to 2-3 weeks to be processed by the university due to the crazy system that operates here. this is in comparison to my previous high ranking university where the day after i applied for 24 hour acess to the labs I got it with no questions asked. So i use such a scenario to motivate myself to work crazy long hours trying to get data together to publish high impact papers which will allow me to escape from my current low ranking university.