Staying Focused

Writing your dissertation involves several months of intense work. Normally this work takes place at a time when you have other academic deadlines and personal commitments so the ability to manage multiple projects and stay focused is crucial. Working independently can also be an emotional journey! According to Silén (2001) the process of conducting research can be characterised by feelings of ‘chaos’ and ‘cosmos’ where students feel both anxious and inspired by the project.

In order to stay happy, healthy and focused, consider the following tips:

At the beginning of the dissertation project, sketch out how long you have until submission and include key dates (deadlines, supervision meetings, data collection) and what you aim to have completed each week. Review this weekly to see what you have actually achieved and what you still need to do. If you start to fall behind, discuss this with your peers and your supervisor.

Rarely will you have whole days free to work on the dissertation – it is more likely that you will have hour or half an hour blocks. Do not discount these small chunks of time! In 30 minutes you could do some library searching for your literature review, edit the work you have written the day before or even write a paragraph or two. Make the most of every minute!

Independent research can be lonely. Find a group of peers who are also writing their dissertation and arrange to meet regularly to discuss your progress. Not only can you use this group to motivate each other but forcing yourself to talk about your research can help you to clarify what it is you really mean.

Overcoming procrastination is the key to getting your dissertation written. Think about why you are procrastinating. Is it because you are stuck? If so, go back to your original dissertation plan or proposal or speak to your peers or your supervisor. Is it because the task is too big? Break the task down into smaller, more manageable sections and start tackling one and soon the rest will seem more achievable. Use the things you are procrastinating doing (e.g. Facebook, meeting with friends, watching TV) as rewards for when you have reached a target.

Write solidly for 10 minutes – time yourself and stick to it, no distractions, no excuses! Now you have something written! It might not be any good, and you might not even include it in the final version of your dissertation, but you no longer have a blank page. Use this technique to get started each morning and at times when you feel yourself procrastinating.

Ask resources on organisation

University of Reading guide to avoiding distractions and staying motivated