The spring and summer months stretch forth in an unending desert. Hot, endless, and with my eyes stinging I try to come up with a way to successful make it through to the other side. Many of us face the daunting question of how to be productive in the summer months, when lack of milestones makes time meaningless, and there is an overwhelming pressure to use the time to produce something tangible. Under such circumstances many of us are unable to work and unable to relax. Trust me, I am in the fifth year of my PhD, I know how hard these months can be. So I would like to share what I have learned to cope with summer writing after my long (LONG) time in the graduate program at Queen’s.
Much of the advice here seems old, you have probably heard it before, but I still want to emphasize these ideas to help in whatever way I can:
- Setting Goals: The summer months can seem endless, and creating your own milestones, both large and small can really help break up the vast time before you. A big goal for the summer – such as writing three chapters (my current goal) – can be broken up into smaller goals like writing one chapter every 6ish weeks, and that can further be divided into even smaller sections such as: write chapter outlines, select primary evidence, read up on ‘x’ topic. These goals can help you to stay on track, but they should also remain flexible, as life and learning have a way of proceeding in unexpected ways.
- Take Little Breaks: These breaks are so important for your mental health and productivity. Little breaks throughout the day to go outside, play with pets, do a sink of dishes, or just breathe are so important. Sometimes the environment can influence your break – with the sticky Kingston heat some days it is just too hot to work.
- Take a Brain Vacation: Equally important are the larger breaks, such as taking full days away from your project. It can be guilt inducing to take a weekend, or even a prolonged vacation from your thesis. But it is essential. This can really help refresh your brain in relation to your work. Many of you (like myself) will be in graduate school for years, and without breaks the burnout that emerges can become debilitating. No one is expected to be productive 24/7 for years and years, but somehow as graduate students it seems like we should be. It is not healthy. There is nothing wrong with taking a whole week off to visit family or take a trip, and you might find yourself in a much better place when you return.
- Accept Imperfection: There is so much stress that we put on ourselves to be productive during the ‘regular’ school year, and in the summer months we feel doubly pressured, as many of us are not teaching during this period. But this pressure takes a real toll on our mental health. Accepting your own unproductive days can allow you to forgive the days where all you did was answer and email or skim one article. There will be days that are more productive, and days where almost nothing happens. It is okay!
There are also various helpful programming happening on and around campus this summer that you can check out:
June 6-10th: Dissertation Boot Camp
End of August: Dissertation on the Lake
I hope that these tips are somewhat helpful for your summer term productivity goals. It is important to respect your time and your mental health. Graduate school in hard, but you can still be kind to yourself.