1). Form a community
The PhD can be a lonely journey. This has only worsened during the pandemic, as you can’t casually bump into fellow researchers on campus and have impromptu catch-ups.
If you want to be a more productive writer, forming a community with your fellow researchers will really help.
A number of us in the School of Law keep in touch through MS Teams and WhatsApp, while we also attend ‘Shut Up and Write’ sessions, where we get together (virtually) and get the creative juices flowing.
As I am funded by Midlands4Cities, I also have close ties with colleagues in other Midlands institutions that I chat to regularly.
2). Keep to a routine
It’s important to determine what constitutes your working day and your time off, and to do your best to stick to that routine. If you don’t do this, then you may find yourself feeling guilty for not writing or researching.
Having set time to relax should be the norm if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your project. Plus, distancing yourself from your work – whether it be for a few hours or an entire day – can stimulate new ideas for when you return.
In terms of how to improve your writing, I find writing every day is essential – even if it’s not for very long or of a particularly good quality.
I do this because I don’t think that writing should be viewed as an ‘event’ – it’s a creative practice that takes time and constant revising.
It might feel like you are wasting time and energy writing something that you might discard, but without this process of trial and error, you’re not likely to produce your best possible work.
There will be instances where inspiration strikes and you can take advantage of that, but this doesn’t happen regularly (at least personally!).
3). Take regular breaks
These are a must. I’ll take the dog for a walk once or twice a day, so this gives me a chance to distance myself from my work and get some fresh air.
During writing sessions, I’ll work in 20 to 30-minute sessions, with 10-minute breaks in between. I certainly think this makes me a more productive writer.
4). Make the most of software
When I sit down to write, I make use of an app called Forest. This prevents you from using your mobile and/or web browser for a set period of time. I’m awful at procrastinating so this is an absolute must for me.
In terms of recording evidence, my research is almost entirely literature based, so I make good use of a referencing manager (usually Mendeley).
There are a range of other useful apps out there that’ll aid your doctoral research.
5). Take care of yourself
Getting good, regular sleep will help you become a more productive writer. I’m prone to insomnia, especially when I’m stressed, and I’ve recently had a bad time progressing with my research because of this.
I had times during my undergraduate degree where I pulled all-nighters to get work done, but in hindsight this was a bad idea – it wasn’t beneficial for my work or my mental health.
Generally, it’s always good to be mindful of your mental and physical health while doing your doctoral research. I do my best to eat well and get regular exercise.
Mentally, taking time away from my work, and spending time with my friends and family is really valuable.
I’ve had really positive experiences with the University’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Team in the past, too, so I would certainly recommend them if you need support.
Looking for more advice? Our tips for working from home blog offers valuable pointers on staying focused while working remotely.