Saturday, July 7, 2012

7 Ways to Keep Reading While Writing a PhD Thesis (or anything, really)

Because, Nawwww! (source)
As I'm sure you've noticed, things have been a little quiet around here. I've tried my best to post at least 1 review a week, but content is definitely a lot more sparse now that I'm 6 months into my PhD. This is mostly due to a simple lack of time and motivation. When you're at the university working from 9-5.30 and come how to cook dinner and probably get some more reading (research) done before bed (earlier than ever before because you really need your 8 hours now) it's really hard to do anything, let alone read a book.

Naively, I hadn't expected my PhD to take over so much of my life. I thought I'd be able to handle it like a full-time job just like they recommend at all the orientations. However, when you've got a milestone due and 20 pages to write about the methodology you're utilising it isn't easy to just get up and walk away from your computer at 5.30pm, even if you've been working solidly for 9 hours at that point. So it's been a real learning curve, and to begin with I really struggled to pick up any books that weren't related to my study but I'm slowly getting better. Here's a list of 7 ways to fit reading into a busy schedule...because while I'm writing this from the view of a PhD student, it's a problem I can imagine people face whether they're a full time worker, undergraduate student, mummy or whatever.

1. Don't push it: When I started my research I was so overwhelmed with what I had to read for my project that I couldn't even look at another book, let alone read one. Anytime I picked up a book I would read a few lines and then put it down. I felt bad about this, especially since it meant I had nothing to contribute to my blog but I just let it go and avoided any new books for about 2 weeks. Then I was really craving a good book, and I was able to move past that exhaustion and enjoy the process of reading again.

2. Adjust your reading: I'm a pretty quick reader and I tend to devour books pretty heavily. Last year I was averaging around 2 or 3 books a week on top of studying full time and working part time. I won't lie, I was pretty disillusioned when I found myself taking two weeks to finish a book that would have taken 4 days last year. Once I realised that I simply couldn't consume books the way I did last year, I started to feel a lot better and now I happily take as long as I need to finish a book.In saying that, I really want to readAnna Karenina and Battle Royalethis year, but those books are so thick that I know they'd take me a good 2 months to read considering how little time I currently can spend reading my personal books. I can't even comprehend spending that much time on one book, so I'm going to focus on smaller, more realistic sized books to keep me motivated instead.

3. Start small: To get over my reading slump and motivate myself to get back into reading I started small. Like single issue comics small. An issue of a comic will take you about 10 minutes to get through...if you're going at a snails pace. I could read two or three in a sitting and not feel guilty of wasting time and they're text-light so it felt completely removed from my academic reading. I still try and read a comic when I'm feeling exhausted, which leads me to my next point...

4. Read everyday: I know that seems to contradict everything I said above about not feeling like I could read anything but once I got back into the rhythm of reading, I found that if I read something each day, whether that was a comic, magazine or a chapter in a book, I could keep that up longer. If I take a week off  and go back to TV shows and podcasts then I find myself right back at square one, because an episode of Parks and Recreation or an interview with Tina Fey on The Nerdist Podcast takes far less brain power and concentration than even the simplest book.

5. Buses/trains are a perfect time to read: When I finally was given my office space I started coming into the university regularly on the bus everyday. Depending on traffic, that gives me a good 40 minutes to read everyday, which is nothing to turn your nose up at! Sometimes it's a little hard if all the seats are taken and I'm stuck standing in the aisle, but I usually get lucky with seats so it's nice to sit down and ignore all the gross smells and heavy breathing while lost in a good book (OK my buses aren't usually that bad, but it sounded better!).

6. Take a lunch break: One thing I've come to realise after these first few months on study, is how important the lunch break is. My office is basically in a dungeon. It's down underground with no windows, so there have been plenty of days when I leave the office for the first time since arriving 8 hours earlier and am surprised to find myself in the dark or torrential rain. To avoid losing my sanity and to regroup before spending another 4 hours working, I like to leave the office completely to eat my lunch. This way I can leave my research behind (not that I can ever truly disconnect!), grab a little sunshine and unsquare my eyes after a morning looking at a computer screen. I know not everyone gets a chance to take this kind of lunch break, but if you have the chance, I highly recommend finding somewhere quiet outside to sit down near trees or grass and just read a few pages while you eat your lunch.

7. Embrace technology: Whether that means audiobooks or a Kindle, technology is your friend! I spend all day at my computer listening to podcasts because I need some sort of noise to concentrate properly (and surprisingly music is too distracting!) and recently I started to download audiobooks to see if they'd work as well. To be honest they're not perfect since I seem to miss entire chunks, but they make life on a busy bus easier because I don't have to juggle a book in one hand, a bag over my shoulder and a handle to hold for fast corners. Similarly, when I have a bag filled with 8 or 9 text books, having e-books on my mobile phone (thanks to the free kindle app) makes a huge difference.


  1. This post has kind of simultaneously made me scared of/wanting to do a PhD, is that really weird? Probably. But anyway, yeah, these are definitely good tips for like fitting in reading-ness- I know when I had a job last year (ah, a job... *sigh*) at first I was like 'ARGH I'm too tiiiired to read' but definitely like having a proper lunch hour and sometimes just making myself read after work definitely helped.

    Also- my tip, if you're like 'GAH I can't reeeead' is to re-read a book that you already know you love (but maybe haven't blog reviewed), because a lot of reading pressure is taken off just by knowing that you love it! And then also you get to write about one of your favourite books on your blog! Woo! Hehe

    1. Oh that's a good one! Sometimes the feeling to read only new (to me) books for the blog makes it feel too jobby so I try and read a beloved quick read (usually harry potter!) And remove that stress, which would definitely work as a phd/work reading hurdle too.

      Also, come do your phd at my uni! It'd be so much fun, I'll clear out a space at my place for you to stay! :-)

  2. This is a fantastic post! All great tips.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...