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Create Routines and Structure

A significant challenge you may experience while working on the thesis is the relative lack of structure associated with the project. The thesis is often different from other projects in that it requires a substantial amount of independent work and there are relatively few deadlines for completion.  Many graduate students have a limited amount of experience managing, supervising, and working on large projects such as the thesis. Moreover, most graduate students work more productively in a structured work environment in which a supervisor (e.g., faculty) assigns tasks, establishes expectations, and sets deadlines.  
There are a number of ways you can increase the amount of structure associated with your work. It may be helpful, for example, to schedule more frequent meetings with your adviser or to interact more consistently via email. These types of interactions establish expectations for the work and provide some accountability. 
A routine is a specific type of structure; it determines when and where you will work during a designated time frame. A routine is important because it removes the necessity of making a decision about whether or not to work. If you have a routine, then you have already decided that you are going to work. Now, the task is to follow through on that commitment. The research on decision fatigue is relevant here--essentially, we become more fatigued throughout the day, and the quality of our decisions declines due to accumulated fatigue. A routine can improve decision-making in situations where you may be vulnerable to decision fatigue.
Some things to consider when establishing a routine:
  • Be realistic – a routine is only meaningful if you follow it consistently
  • Be specific – identify specific times and places where you intend to work
  • Be professional – follow through on commitments you’ve made to yourself
  • Be flexible – determine where you will be most productive and work there
  • Be systematic – evaluate your work every week and adjust your routine
  • Be creative – the thesis is a long project and vulnerable to fatigue
  • Be collaborative – working with colleagues makes you more accountable
  • Be persistent – identify strategies for working despite obstacles and challenges