Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated When Studying?

Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated When Studying?

Hi Lifehacker, I’m a PhD student who just completed his first year. Looking back I really didn’t get a lot done. I suffered through a lot of unforeseen problems and setbacks, which cost me a lot of time. Do you have any good advice for keeping motivated in the face of constant problems that keep you from progressing? Thanks, Rotten Break

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Dear RB,

If it’s motivational advice you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. The Lifehacker archives are chockablock with anti-burnout hacks — you can peruse the lot by following our Motivation tag. Some good, solid articles to get you started include Burnout And How To Deal With It, Top 5 Ways To Maximise Your Productivity At University, Finding Balance Between High Productivity And Burnout and Ten Ways to Defeat Brain Drain.

Just yesterday, we ran an in-depth guide to staying motivated at work. A lot of the advice in this article also applies to university students. It covers everything from avoiding self-blame to the /”rule of three” strategy. This involves creating a list of three outcomes you want to achieve for each day, every day. Your focus should be on outcome results rather than simply listing three activities.

You should also try to stay on top of things from the beginning of the semester. If you allow your workload to pile up it can quickly look insurmountable, which is a real motivation-killer. Instead of cramming at test time, stick to a regular study timetable from day one. While it’s hard to stay disciplined all year, you’re experience less work, stress and physical exhaustion in the long run. Just be sure to include plenty of study breaks to avoid burnout.

Enlisting a friend to be your study partner can be a big help too. This ensures you have someone to revise with, grants you access to notes if you happen to miss a lecture and means you have someone other than your lecturer to ask if something isn’t entirely clear. Making friends with people doing the same degree as you will also improve your university social life, which can help to boost motivation.

You should also allocate yourself some exercise time each day. In addition to making you healthier and less lethargic, regular exercise has been shown to boost learning and memory. You can find out more about how better energy management can improve productivity here.

Naturally, the main thing to remember is to recharge your brain’s batteries. It’s essential to relax and switch your mind off a few times each day — just don’t make it a compulsive habit.

If any student readers have motivation tips of their own to share, let RB know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Not only can doing a PhD be very lonely at times, the academia scene is very draining as well. If RB hasn’t checked out Thesiswhisperer yet, that should be a priority.

    • Academia has some of the most obscene politics you can find in any workplace…the worst of which is filled with the heavy air of smug, self-congratulatory superiority wafting around playing who has a heavier CV. How do I know? Its a cruel world, and a very addictive game I must say.

  • The question should be – how do I even get past the point of absolute “I-will-physically-sit-down-and-read-past-the-first-paragraph-if-you-put-a-gun-to-my-head” procrastination when it comes to studying?
    The motivation once you start studying chugs along for hours for me, but it takes sometimes DAYS for me to just get to the point I actually sit down and go to 3rd base (1st base, schedule study time, sit down with books. 2nd base, have stack of books, maybe open up relevant websites in Chrome tab. This is usually when rampant and obscene procrastination takes place. 3rd base. Actually read what I opened.).

  • As a Postdoc, let me let you in on a secret. That’s all PhDs. You maybe going through 2nd year blues, which is very typical. You enter 1st year with a head full of dreams and ideas and plans, but you soon realise most of them didn’t work out. Its part and parcel of PhD and research in general. Focus on what you achieved, not what failed. Even experiments that didn’t work tell you something (AT the very least they tell you what assumptions you made were incorrect). Remember (this is crucial in applied research topics ). The focus of a PhD and research is not to discover a new material or technology (though it maybe nice), it is to answer key scientific questions.

    Depending on your university and faculty, there should be graduate student societies and/or PhD support/writing groups. See if they exists and give them a go. Other thing could be to find a mentor. Depending on the personality of your supervisor, it may or may not be him. You can always approach a postdoc, lecturer or professor (just pop them an email, most are willing to help).

    Know one thing: You’re not alone. Every PhD will feel this way at some point.

    • Thinking that way when going in has been part of the problem I think. A few of my friends who are finishing or close to it achieve very little in their first two years. Most of them know they started a PhD for all the wrong reason and won’t be continuing on in academia. I waited and thought hard about whether a academia and research is what I want to do in the future. I guess all that made me think it would be different for me somehow.

      The office I’m in is a great support next work and without them I would be in a much worse position. I guess I just have to stick with it. Its all character building as some people would say.

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