frequently stalling


About a month into my second year now, I'm getting extremely worried about my progress. I go through periods of 2-3 weeks at a time when I am amazingly productive, then I tend to stall and get anxious and depressed. My supervisor is away a lot and I hate to admit it, but I find that I'm far less productive when he's not around. I have a tendency towards depression which I deal with outside University, and I work very hard on managing this. But sometimes I just feel drawn out and exhausted, I can't get anything done. I often doubt the validity of my work and don't know where I'm going. I try to present alternative methodologies to my sup but I don't communicate what I mean very well. I get randomly anxious about making mistakes then I can't concentrate at all. I go through patches of being very productive and producing work that I think is quite good. Right now is a low patch but I have deadlines looming, so I'm getting a bit worried again. This anxiety can completely overtake me at times -- does anyone have any ideas for getting over myself and working consistently?


Hi Cornflower,

I have been thinking about this a lot too.. some days I work long hours in the lab and go home satisfied for having done some good work. But on most days I find that I'm trying to just get through to bedtime. What is worse is when I do get motivated it is not remotely related to my thesis topic! The idea of doing my PhD in an area I don't even find interesting gives me the creeps! And I feel people around see me as a slacker with no passion, and though this is true this bugs me, leading me to try and avoid interactions and slacking off even more..

Sorry for going off on a rant of my own. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't be too hard on yourself.. You can't be expected to produce consistent work everyday for years. Some people are better at coming up with a system than others.

Have you tried having an accountability partner? Is there one person in your department who you can talk to about your goals and can put gentle pressure to complete?

When you have deadlines, mytomatos is a good help.. my problem often is sticking to it when I don't have deadlines. I think it is a skill we need to learn because our undergrad studies are so much more structured, and jobs have high accountability, thereby motivating us to work hard regardless of our feeling for the topic. PhD tends to have neither, which makes is such a unique experience.

Another thing that works for me is dumbing it down. Take one goal at a time and break it into tiny, ridiculously easy steps, and check them off with a big flourish when you are done, reward yourself appropriately

With my depression I have noticed, though it creeps up suddenly, it only lingers when I am giving attention to it, does that make sense? So when it seems like it is dragging me down, I pop an antidepressant and try to distract myself.. even though laying in my bed wallowing seems like all I want to do, I have always felt better when I faced a fear and got something done...

Sorry for the drone, but I hope you feel better!


I'm forever stalling. It usually comes in (around) weekly cycles; I have a good end to a week, take a day or two off at the weekend, then at the beginning of the next week I can't get started or go anywhere until near the end of the week.

I guess that when I have a day off, I force myself to forget about work and so don't think about it until 9am on Monday - At which point I lose my streak and so spend a lot of the day not knowing what (exactly) I should do from the big list of 'things to do'. I'm very concerned about using my time effectively, but I end up going the opposite way and spending so much time thinking about what I need to do (or starting something before dropping it within half an hour to move to something else) that I end up getting very little done.

I'm not very good at setting 'little' goals or recognising my achievements, so I end up getting very disheartened and depressed with (lack of) progress very easily. This makes me stressed a lot of the time and concerned that I need to make progress, so much so that I frequently get panic attacks with stress and worry. I doubt the validity of my work a lot, and don't have a great deal of faith with it.

What are the techniques you're using to deal with things? How do you deal with the depression?


Thanks to both of you!

Well, I am somewhere in the middle. I try to be ridiculously organised, using MyTomatoes and breaking everything down into small chunks. But I find that so time consuming and end up procrastinating the really big bits. If I have, say, 3 large projects -- a lit review, some data to analyse and a methodology to sort out -- I find it impossible to break them down into tasks I can actually do to progress on all three at a time. Then I find myself sinking further into anxiety and depression.

With my depression I try really hard to take care of myself. This usually means actually making a real breakfast, and taking lunch to work. I try to go for walks at the weekend and see friends. Walking is good because I think of "vit. D from sunlight, chemicals from exercise" etc. I try to relax in the evenings and do non-PhD work, usually doing something creative whilst listening to music. I'm much happier if I can keep my flat tidy because it looks nice (but then I start to think I should be making lists for all the ways to beat the depression stuff, arrrghh!), and I see a counsellor for those times when the anxiety really starts to get too much. With daylight hours dwindling rapidly and living in a city that is never quite dark, I'm thinking of buying a lightbox. I sleep with a blindfold to ensure my body produces enough melatonin as I sleep. This definitely, absolutely, 100% helps me get a better night's sleep, and good sleep is so fundamental to feeling good. The joys of having a biology degree means I get a bit detached about taking care of myself!

I get really down about the things I'm supposed to be doing. I'm sensitive to perceived criticism and competition. I'm working on it with my counsellor, but sometimes it gets really hard not to lose myself into the depths of imposter syndrome and get nothing done. But I definitely don't give myself credit for the things I do get done. In fact if I'm in a productive phase my supervisor doesn't even seem notice that I've had a bad patch. He's much more likely to notice poorer quality work if I'm visibly anxious or stressed...

Zinar7 -- have you tried adjusting your working days? Sometimes I work Tues-Sat or Sun-Thurs, or even just work all weekend and take a few days off midweek. I'm lucky that my research is flexible that way. I find that, at certain times, I am amazingly productive at the weekend and towards the end of the week. Maybe shifting your working patterns by a day might help you get over that "9am Monday" feeling? I also try varying the times I come in and leave, although I've started varying it too much and getting lazy. I need to go back to getting up at 6am every day!!

Mumbler, I really hear you too. I always feel much better when I've actually done something. I also tend to think, "What was I stressing about? It was fine!" But then I forget that by the next time..........