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How to Survive #ThesisLife over the Holiday Season

How to Survive #ThesisLife over the Holiday Season

If you intend to graduate in March 2019 and your thesis submission deadline is somewhere between now and then, you know what I’m about to tell you: You’ll have to work on your thesis over the festive season.

Of course, it is tempting to simply take the December holiday period off and pick up your academic study in the new year. But, while the idea of fitting in thesis writing between sun-downers, year end functions and family get togethers may seem an impossible task, it will be well worth the effort to get organised and do as much as you can without sacrificing an entire month of progress.

Simply put: make peace with the fact that you will have to give something up to fit in your work. More on sacrifice here. Then be pragmatic and start planning in sessions that you will dedicate to your thesis between 1 December and the first week in January (when things finally start winding down).

Here are some helpful and healthy mindsets to push you onward and upward over the holidays.

1. Set a goal

How much would you be satisfied with getting done during December? 20 pages added to your paper? Compiling the research from 2 books?

It’s vital that you set yourself a realistic goal so that you can hold yourself accountable to the outcome. I recommend tracking your progress after every session: (1) by simply making a note in your diary of how many words / pages you’ve written that day, or (2) by recording the precise number of hours you’ve worked on other parts of your project. You’ll get a powerful sense of achievement when you watch one page today become 10 pages by the end of next week, all the while pushing your thesis closer to the finish line.

2. Break it down

Now that you know how much you wish to get done, look at the time available to you – be realistic. How much time do you need? How will you break up the time you have to fit in the work? What other engagements are you able to forfeit? Do you need to say no to some social obligations?

For example, if you have 20 pages to write over 30 days, and you know you need 2 hours to write a single page, then you know you need 40 hours to complete your task. That is 8 hours per day over a working week (Mon.- Fri.), or 4 hours per day over 2 weeks or 2 hours per day over 3 weeks. Once you go through the exercise of breaking the load down into bite size chunks, you’ll find a session duration over a defined period of time that works best for you.

Tip 1: Add at least 15 minutes to your time allocation to settle behind your desk.

Tip 2: Learn to say no to some social invitations, true friends will understand.

3. Schedule it

Make non-negotiable appointments with your thesis. Just like you scheduled the year end function in your calendar, you should schedule blocks of time in the bite sizes you chose. Respect your own arrangements to get the work done, you deserve the space and time.  However, it is imperative that you discuss your decisions with your family so they too are fully informed of your work schedule.  This should alleviate any disappointments with regards your availability.

Tip 1: Place your typed up schedule on the fridge door for everyone to see and cross of the days as they pass to tick off progress.

Tip 2:  Show up for yourself, your dedication will rub of on your whole household.

4. Routine is key

If at all possible, try and set aside the same time every day. That way you will get into a daily rhythm. Routines and rhythms are important because they make the settling down behind your desk easier, wasting less time to get started on a section of work. Your brain will switch more easily into work mode when it knows what’s ahead, instead of having to change gears abruptly. Your productivity in your time block depends on the time of day you know you are more focused.  Plus, don’t let your healthy daily routine slip: sleep, water, nutrition, reflection, mindfulness and exercise are essential keys to your success.

Tip 1: Consider “sacrificing” a long night’s sleep to wake up two hours before everyone else so that you can work uninterrupted and without the guilt of losing family time.

Tip 2: Or take the hours you need every day in the afternoon just before dinner time.

Tip 3: But, whatever you do, make sure it’s realistic – do not set yourself up for failure.

5. Eliminate distractions

To make the most of the time allocated, you’ll need to work in a highly focused state. This means no distractions. No email checking. No social media. And no internet. If you come across something you need to look up, make a note of it and do it later. Don’t confuse surfing the web and “researching” as productivity. This is a time to collect your thoughts and ideas and process all the research you’ve already done onto paper. There’s way more value in having a draft of a section that you can go back and embellish on, than walking away from a work session that has resulted in a blank page.


I recommend you read Deep Work by Carl Newport to better understand the value and philosophy of eliminating distractions so that time spent working is deep and productive.

Tip 1: Use a pomodoro or timer and set yourself 50 minutes. Focus, break for 10 minutes, reset 50 minutes.  Record your progress.

Tip 2: Do not allow the procrastination monkey to render you powerless, you are able to make your own choices.  I recommend you watch Tim Urban’s TED talk “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator”.

6. Self-doubt is inevitable, just ignore it

You are bound to get to the point where you feel like you should never have embarked on your thesis in the first place. Impostor syndrome, fear of failure, self-doubt, perfectionism, and others are common place amongst people tackling big goals. Acknowledge these thoughts for what they are: just thoughts, that are unlikely to be true, you can and must choose to move on.  Your supervisor will alert you to any problems in your thinking or content, it’s their job. In a nutshell: Just keep swimming!