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Time Management & Your Thesis

December 2, 2012

Hello bloggers! In case you were worried, no, I will not be parodying one of those educational drug videos. Maybe another post.

This post will actually be about time management and how it relates to your thesis. Time management is a skill, just like sailing or knitting, but, like languages, needs constant refurbishing and polishing. Don’t speak a language, you lose it. Don’t manage your time, you lose the ability. Or at least you become crap at it.

With finals rapidly approaching, time management is now more important than ever, and, for those pre-college and high school students reading this, you’re going to have to learn it. The specific difficulty with thesis is it’s always there, breathing down your neck and crying like a baby that you work on it. Meanwhile, the internet, your friends, school events, jobs, sports/exercise, and other coursework, like an older toddler, demand your attention. It’s a tricky water to navigate, but you can do it and will it or nil it, your thesis will get done, because you have to graduate (or if you continue the metaphor, you can’t let your children die unless you want to end up in jail). Here are some tips I’ve discovered for how to fit some extra time in your schedule. Just a head’s up, these tips are focused on college seniors doing thesis work, so the applicability to other things may vary.

  • We all have our own process. This tip I actually picked up from a speech. We all have a work process, just like how writers have their own writing process. Some people like to go to dinners with tons of people and talk out their ideas; others need to mirco-blog on tumblr for 30 minutes before even looking at a problem set. They’re methods of relaxation and de-toxing from the day and they’re important because they make us happy. That being said, when you’re budgeting your time, keep these needed breaks in mind and know yourself and your tendencies.
  • It’s okay to say no. One of the major difference I’ve noticed in a senior’s college life versus a freshman’s is seniors by choice don’t get out much. Friend groups become highly condensed and they’re not out on the town or at the constant gambit of lectures and film screenings that make up college life. Most of my weekends are spent in, either studying or watching a movie as a break. You legitimately have work and you need to get through the process you have to get that work done, so you need to internalize that it’s okay to say no to your underclassmen friends. And by “events” I even mean sharing meals. The more people there are, the longer meals take. These are important bonding times, but by senior year people usually stick to main friend groups. It’s not to say we don’t like underclassman, but we’re always rushing to and fro and have a 50+ paper to write at all times.
  • Make a daily schedule and use an alarm to keep it. Some people like to physically write down/type out schedules, but the important bit is to use your alarm at all your slotted end points. Most days I make myself a mental schedule of ‘in the morning I’ll write my essay and after class I’ll finish it up and read etc.’ Again, make sure you factor in break time and think of your work process for these. My phone alarm has gotten so much use lately. Bonus points if you have your alarm a super annoying ringtone that you can’t stand and therefore you have to pay attention to it for the sake of shutting it off. For writers, I’ve noticed that timed writing time quickly turns into “lemme just finish this scene,” which turns a 30 minute break to a hour. Pay attention to your alarm. Keep setting it. Your characters will be there when you get back.
  • Find a study space and/or partner. This tip is pretty typical (wordplay much?). You don’t have to study by yourself if you find it lonely! Sometimes people study better if studious people are around them or if a certain friend is present (I study way better with quiet people about, especially the Invisible Ninja Cat). Spaces work similarly and sometimes the right kind of studious people occupy them to keep you focused. Studying alone or somewhere alone and away from your usual surroundings (and distractions) work too. At my college, some of my favorite study places are the Invisible Ninja Cat’s floor, the library, or our neighboring college’s huge glass cube (its chairs are made perfection).
  • Start your thesis early. The Invisible Ninja Cat would like to add this one. Basically, if at all possible, start immediately if not sooner. Even for non-historical fiction creative writing theses, you have to take the time to get to know your characters and ‘verse. And once you’ve written it, you have to edit, edit, and do more edits. Lots of seniors start their thesis research in the summer or have a definite list of potential topics in mind once school starts. For year-long ones, starting summertime early is less important (plenty of my friends came back and their only thesis idea were ‘Roman Emperor portraits’ or ‘Gothic literature’), but still: start early. Even gathering sources and reading them sooner rather than later will help ease the last minute panic. Most seniors find that actually writing their thesis is the easy part, but doing the research is hard and time-consuming.
  • For thesis, set one day aside each week, at minimum. No really. Do it. I don’t care how many essays you have due Monday (okay, maybe if you have three) It’s probably going to take more than 24 hours a week to finish thesis, so you may want to set aside two days for thesis or have it be a day and an hour on the other 6 days per week. I find myself really looking forward to the day I can forget everything else and just work on thesis. I usually get a lot done too.
  • Make an overall thesis schedule that makes you finish your thesis with plenty of time to revise it. This can be as simple as a hard and fast first draft deadline (end of January for me). For people doing historical fiction, I find that I spend two weekends doing research and the next one writing.
  • Take less than the full course load of classes. Ignore whatever the credit amount of your thesis seminar is. It counts as a full class. If you have all your GEs done, don’t have a truckload of major requirements left, and have little need to acquire random credits to graduate, take less classes and spend the time on your thesis. Most seniors do not take a full course load. If you absolutely want to take a class, remember auditing may be an option. Auditing is where you sit in on class: you attend all the meetings and get the syllabus and all handouts and such, but you don’t have to do all the assignments and papers. It’s a great way to keep learning without having to stress, especially when you’re a Ravenclaw senior and know how to write essays and therefore don’t really need the practice. For historical fiction writers, this is a great way to research a time period and professors can often answer any weird questions you have like whether lanterns were around or not in 891 Ireland (they were).
  • Seek outside help to keep you focused. This can be a buddy who watches over your shoulder and snatches the computer away whenever they notice you’re on facebook, or you can download programs that shut off your internet (or just specific websites) for a specified time period. For Mac users, the app that does this is called Self-Control (cheeky title, ain’t it?). Click here if you’d like to download Self-Control.
  • Become a hermit. Seriously. The Invisible Ninja Cat and I refer to this as “hermit mode.” Assuming you don’t have a roommate, you lock your doors and windows and shut off your phone. No contact with the outside world. You are alone. Alone to work.

My own thesis had a major breakthrough today and I wrote two chapters! That’s three chapters plus a prologue! YAY MONKS! Next chapter, England! For Chapter 4, I have my last major chunk of research i.e. the daily life of the Anglo-Saxons. I’ve got a stack of books on the subject though. Literally. Not that I don’t have four bookshelves and a small mountain range of books next to my desk, already, but I finally get to attack this specific stack. Since I don’t have thesis seminar again (I think), I may just wait until finals are over to expect a chapter out of myself. And that’s all I got for now! Until next time, lovelies!


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