Feeling stuck


I don't really know where to start - I've spent the majority of this week avoiding the lab and kidding myself that I'm 'working from home' when really I'm watching rubbish on youtube, making lists of things to do and then getting stressed out by how much there is to do. I have four months of funding left and loads of experiments to do still, and not a single complete draft of any of my chapters. The four month funding isn't the end of the world (I have another write up year after that, albeit without funding) but it's knowing there's less than 18 months now until the final submission deadline and I just feel completely overwhelmed. I've tried making lists, taking breaks, talking about it etc. but nothing is making me get back into the swing of working. I feel like I've reached the stage of wanting the stupid thing done and dusted but I'm not at a point where I can grit my teeth and write up properly, because I still need more data sets. Feeling pretty fed up and frustrated!

Sorry for a depressing rant... Anybody else feeling/felt this way and figured out how to get back into working? It's probably just a bad week, I hope everyone else's week is going better!



Many of us have been there.

Simply, you have to really want the PhD, and do whatever it takes to get it.

Lists, discussion forums, books, coffee chats - they all have their place, but you simply need to put in the hours.


Hi Tulip,

First of all I can say I totally understand! I can be like that too, I am super ambitious and driven BUT I am a perfectionist and that means it can manifest in procrastination of the worst kind!

I will help you out here :) First spend an hour or so (only a specified time!) and do anything you need to do to create a good work space if that means clearing your desk or living room or even the kitchen or laundry if it means you wont spend time being distracted by it!

Next make yourself a yummy coffee or tea or whatever you like and a small snack and make a to do list with ONLY two or three items on, something manageable. Use a timer or mytomatoes or something and work through the first of the items on your list. When you have done task one take a 15min break and then tackle number two on the list. Honestly the achievement you feel from that one item crossed off will spur you on :)
Chin up Tulip, if you want to PM me feel free :) I know exactly how you feel!



I think there are two main strategies here.

The first, not very pleasant, is to wait until the sheer terrror hits enough that you start working in earnest, despite procrastination attempts. I do not recommend this approach!

Alternatively, BevCha's advice is really good. I know you said lists haven't helped you, but I found they were my way out of a non-productive phase, time and time again. I'd pick the easiest item on the list, tackle that, then reward myself, and cross it off the list. It gave me a boost, which I could use to then move on to the next item and so son.

The big advantage of a list, in particular breaking down what you have to do still into manageable tasks, is that it turns what would otherwise be a completely overwhelming mountain of work (as indeed you've described) into something you can tackle, one small step at a time. And the more you do, the more confident you'll feel.

Good luck!


I've had a week like this too. I've literally done exactly what the others have suggested and made a list and FORCED myself to do things from it. It's been really hard. I didn't manage to get everything done that I wanted to but I felt a bit better from just making a few tiny steps.

I broke big things done into very little things so that I thought I wasn't really doing the thing I should be doing.

For example instead of 'spend 3 hours subculturing' (which I really had no motivation to do) I had: 1. Make agar 2. Pour agar plates. 3. Label agar plates 4. Find cultures 5. subculture.

These tasks are much more manageable for me and I managed to do them.

I've done the same thing with the thesis where I have just thrown everything together in one document at the moment and I am just working through subsubsections slowly, rather thinking about each chapter, which seems such a daunting task to finish.


To add to the others' good advice here, one useful tip I got was to complete a horrible or unpleasant job, if you've got one lingering on a list or at the back of your mind. It's amazing the energy you can eat up trying to avoid one particular job, when you could just get it out of the way.


Definitely recommend using a timing technique like pomodoro so you can have a balance of work time and rest time. I've found it really useful when I've been struggling.


I think it is common and normal not being motivated for some days, weeks, or even months while doing a PhD.

I had a long period at the end where I was not very motivated and everything was just painful and took very long.
I went every day to the uni and tried to do something, but if I was not able to focus on my work I just left and did something different (i.e. not sitting in front of a screen, but walking around, biking, reading). One day, after about 3 months, my motivation was back!

I think it was important to try everyday of doing something, so I kept the ‘contact’ to my thesis, colleagues, field of study, went to the seminar talks ... I did not work much, but still talked and thought about my work, so I just could start to work very productively once I was motivated again.

I think it is maybe contraproductive to sit at work when being unable to focus on it. It is just tiring and frustrating. Maybe it helps to acknowledge we are in a low-productivity phase and try to gain some perspective by doing other things...


Sure, everyone goes through phases during their PhD where they are unmotivated and uninspired. However, sometimes to break through a rut, you just need to work through it, rather than try to forget about it. There is always something you can be working on during such a phase, such as data entry, which isn't depedent on intellectual inspiration. If it really is all too hard, then tatjana's suggestion about keeping in touch with your PhD through indirect means is a good alternative.


Thanks for all the advice guys. As usual with any PhD, I've had a few more ups and downs since posting this, but at the moment things seem to be going well. In this case it was definitely a case of needing to just work through the rut and get back into the feeling of making progress. Fingers crossed it stays this way for a while!

Thanks again,


hi tulip, I'm so glad things are going well for you now :-) yes fingers crossed -- keep at it!!!

love satchi