Need some advice :-)


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Here's hoping you can give me some tips! Ok, as you may know, I pay overseas tuition and am working while doing a full time PhD. I am shifting to 20 hrs a week (3 days per week) of work from July. This is all non research work most prob (I love RA stuff!)

Not that I have an option, I HAVE to do 20 hrs. My question to you is this: Given my speed and focus, I find 4 hrs of PhD work, concentrated, every day, (p'haps a bit more on weekends) is enough for me. I read and synthesize very fast, and write a LOT.

I've been doing a lot of good work on my PhD till now, lovely things have been happening, but now, I am increasingly beginning to see WHY they say it's builds up over time, and then fatigue catches you.

Can you please give me any tips, on what may be the best way in which to manage my FOUR dedicated hours for myself every day? I can work late, I can wake up early. But I just need to figure out a way around this...

PS: Going part time is not an option for me, so that is out of the question.

Any help anyone?


Snowed under myself and I found the following helpful:

i) If possible, split the 4 hours into 2 x 2 hour blocks that have a gap between. Cut down on fatigue. Not overwhelming or difficult to motivate yourself compared to facing a 4 hours solid block.
ii) If you in sciences and have any automated procedures or anything that you can set up then leave running make sure you schedule these in the early part of the day and leave them running. They will be ready for you when you come back from work.
iii) Use an activity schedule with concrete achievable goals. Will help you stay on target.
iv) If possible try to get a post within your job that allows you to study while on company time. One of my PhDers works at a Sainsbury's warehouse and chose a post with lots of hectic periods followed by long break periods. He takes his laptop with him and writes up in the downtime. To his credit he is one of my most productive students. Can you do something like this?


Thanks BHC :) Right now I am doing an RA ship for my sup. It's from home and/or work, no fixed hours. But from July, I dont know what I will do..this job ends in June.

No am not in the sciences. I like your 2 plus 2 idea.

I guess I am feeling very very demotivated now, as I am beginning to see fatigue and exhaustion creep into a PhD period that is already fraught with high ambitions (!) and a budget that just refuses to fit anything...

I'm sure things'll work out.with time...we get used to everything..after all..


You might have to change the way you divide up your Phd workload. Save writing for days when you've got several consecutive days to devote to it, so you've got more continuity of time and thought for whatever you're working on, then do other stuff like reading papers/books, bits of online research, things that can be completed in small chunks of time that you can tack onto your paid job days that don't need a huge amount of dedicated time and thought.

I'm sure you are very good at what you do, but be careful about getting up early and working late all the time on top of a job, as you don't want to burn yourself out - you've got ages to go yet! I've always worked p/t while doing mine, but found it next to impossible to do any substantial meaningful PhD writing on days I was at work. It wasn't a timetable thing as the time was there in theory, it was more a problem of switching my mind back and forth from job to PhD mindset. I tended to save job days for going to the library, photocopying stuff, seeing friends for lunch in a vague pretence at having a life, squeezing a meeting with my sup into a lunchbreak, reading short papers etc, then the rest of the week for solid PhD stuff. It's not ideal, but you don't always have much choice.


Hey 'Bug!
Is there anyway you can give yourself a couple of days off to work through this? It sounds as though you'll be having big changes this summer - moving and having to do extra work! - so although I know that you enjoy working hard and really getting through work you do need to make sure that you give yourself a break or the fatigue will get to the point where you aren't working at the rate you are used to, or even not at all!
I know everyone is different, but I find it easier to work in blocks - two/three days of hard PhD work, then two days of other work, then back to phd. Working in short bursts means I don't fully think through some key concepts (and my supervisor loves noting this!). So try both systems, doing half-days of PhD with half-days of RA work, then try blocks and see which one you adapt to more easily!;-)


Thanks sleepy...all fantastic tips..

Having a very rough day, getting scared, and tense.

I guess I'll return to the forum a day or two later, I am somehow getting a weird sinking feeling as the challenges of this situation are hitting me. Brief instance: had a schol app to complete tonight, for sup to sign tomorrow. Couldn't finish it, totally jammed in the head. Had RA work to complete (stuff I usually dash of in an hour) couldn't complete.

It's so unlike me, isn't it to post dreary and gloomy and downbeat posts..Will return a day later perhaps, with a brighter perspective and a plan..though as Ruby says so correctly it's not just a question of the plan...the 'time' does exist in theory...Ruby I SO get you...


I also work in blocks of 3-4 days and find it very difficult to mentally switch gears and do 2-4 hours in the evening on other days - unless as pp said it's something fairly mechanical. You don't have to work flat out all the time all the way through - pace yourself.

I think this is a tough schedule to keep up for so long. One year yes - but 3 is tough. I know your finances are immovable but is there any way you could factor in some complete breaks from your PT jobs? It would be a shame to burn out. From my own experience this tends to happen after a few months of working at absolutely maximum capacity.

Also your PT job sounds very demanding - is it possible next time to get something really non-challenging - something that doesn't use the same mental resources as the PhD? The warehouse job mentioned is the kind of thing I would go for (no idea of course how that would fly financially but shift work is somtimes better paid because of the akward hours).

Don't get downhearted - we're all only human you know



The thing I thought when I read your first post, and which I think even more now reading your subsequent post is relax. To me, you seem fixated on the number of hours, you're focusing on this and getting stressed as it seems impossible. Actually, the number of hours is in many ways immaterial. Plenty of people convince themselves they are doing good work by hour counting, but they are not necessarily productive hours. For me, what is hard about a PhD is dealing with pressures of managing everything yourself, and feeling achievement when there can often be little tangible evidence of it. Focusing on the number of hours is a neat way of avoiding that, as then so long as the hours are there, people can feel they are doing something. That's not to say your do or don't need to do those hours, or you do or don't work that way, or any such thing. But, my advice would be to take a step back, breathe, relax and look at the bigger picture, rather than devote all your energy and create stress relating to one small thing.


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Alice, I completely agree.

Bug, another thing to try to do is learn to not beat yourself up mentally because you can't do everything you want to do into your timetable. So much of this PhD for me has been about learning how I work and not to be hard on myself when I can't do everything I want to, even though there's a gap in my diary. Sometimes you just need a rest, mentally and physically. We're not robots and can't just flip a switch when a certain hour strikes, to make us change mindsets and do something completely different. We frequently grapple with quite complex ideas and bodies of knowledge, so it's a lot to retain in your mind and use effectively, only to switch over 4 hours later into a completely different set of ideas for some other purpose. It's cumulative too.... the longer you do it, the more stuff you have floating about in your mind and the more juggling you have to do. So don't be hard on yourself, just modify what you're doing and your expectations of yourself, and as Alice said, see the bigger picture and be less fixated on the numbers of hours you do. You'll get there in the end, but don't make yourself ill with an inhuman workload in the process.


quick not to alice and rubyw, when I say 'hours', i completely mean productive hours. I am an incredibly focused person, I am also tremendously productive. I wouldn't say so myself did I not have concrete stuff, like papers, presentations, essays, and focused progress on the phd front to prove it.

Believe me, I am not a person who replaces productivity with hours spent on the laptop.


Although i'm not on a phd i do have experience when it comes to spreading myself thin! I like to be busy! When the deadlines all get a bit much, and I feel like I can't achieve what I need to I get stressed out too. I think the best way to deal with the fatigue and feeling down on yourself is to take a minute and look at what you've achieved so far! You've juggled a job and full time phd! And you've done it successfully for a considerable period. Sit back, give yourself a break for an hour or two and re-evaluate your situation a little.

If you can, cut out the things you don't need to achieve so quickly and use the extra time to relax and get your motivation back up and unwind yourself. You seem to be on the road to burning out. Find something that takes your mind off both work AND phd stuff that you can pick up whenever you need to and use it as a break between your dedicated phd time.

From what I've read, I suspect the main problem is that you're losing sight of how well you're doing and looking at the negative, and that's having a knock on effect on your energy levels and motivation. It took me a long time to realise that nobody ever expects *anyone* to be highly productive and superhuman consistently. That expectation of myself often used to lead me to burning out while trying to "get back on track" to how efficiently I was working before the little stumble, as soon as I managed to kick that mentality and work with the natural highs and lows I knocked the fatigue problem out of the window. Try not to impose that standard on yourself too. It's the perfectionists curse! :)


Hi PhDBug

Ha... (try to) enjoy the juggling... and accept that it's hard - but actually, it's also good preparation for the post-PhD research life. You say you don't want to 'go part-time' but actually, effectively, by working 20 hours a week, you are kind of making your PhD work part-time - why not think about it - you'd save on fees at least as part-time fees are much less (especially if you are an overseas student) - you could still aim to finish in 4 years (which is what it takes most full-time students anyway). I'm also (officially) working 21 hours a week as a Research Fellow on non-related work (similar but not tied to my PhD) - mostly I find it takes a lot more than 21 hours a week sometimes, but hey ho... other times it's slack (like in summer months). My goal is to do 3 days a week on that - 2 days on PhD but it rarely works out that way - other ways I've tried are 4 hours per day on job and 3 hours (min) on PhD - job in morning, PhD in afternoon - but the sucker on that is that I work better in the morning. As others have said, though, the trick is to learn to juggle, to find what mode works best for you. Other than that... will PM you. Don't panic - you'll be fine. Honest... you'll find a way of working that suits you when the time comes. (up)