Reader, the final countdown is fully under way.
There are now just under four (4) months until my submission deadline and things are getting intense.
I have LISTS and SPREADSHEETS and WHITEBOARDS and a very strict schedule for getting each section of my thesis edited, proofread, and (gulp) finished.
Thinking about actually submitting the thesis is giving me waves of imposter syndrome. I don’t feel entitled to be looking at Intention to Submit forms (they’re for people more ready than me, surely?), or to be making final decisions about examiners. I’ve already started having anxiety-inducing dreams about my viva and I expect to feel like some sort of fraud the day I take my ‘finished’ thesis to be bound.
Arming myself with organisational tools makes me feel more in control. By breaking the stomach-turning ‘Finish my Thesis’ task into tiny measurable steps, I can see progress happening every day. That makes it easier to celebrate little victories and know that the finish line is always getting closer.
This is my mission control centre. Here are my systems.
Kanban is a great way of tracking and visualising progress on a big project. Every task gets its own post-it (extra-sticky post-its are a must) and you move the post-it through different sections to indicate whatever stage it’s at.
This works well for a thesis (or any other big project) because it means you can keep tabs on individual sections/subtasks without losing sight of the big picture.
On the main section of my board, I have a post-it note for each of my thesis sections (Intro, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, etc.). I’ve stuck each post-it in the column that best reflects the current state of the thesis section (e.g. Chapter One = Rough Draft, Chapter Two = Refined Draft). As the sections get closer to completion, the post-its will move across the board towards the right – through ‘With Readers’, ‘Finished’, and ‘Proofread’.
When all the post-its are in the ‘Proofread’ column, my thesis will be ready to submit.
(Side-note: the three boxes stacked vertically on the far left of the board are my regular to-do list [‘Clean oven’ – never going to happen…], and on the far right is a sleek little thesis word-count tracker. I just shade in the bar from top to bottom as I write/edit words.)
2. Rolling 6-month/6-week writing plan
I got this idea from a free creative writing newsletter (go see Writers’ HQ). Basically, I keep a Word doc with rough writing plans for the next six months and six weeks of my project.
The Six Month plan covers the big picture:
The Six Week plan is more specific, plotting out which sections I want to be working on each working week:
I check in with my plan every few days. I cross things off as I finish them and keep tweaking my goals for the weeks ahead to take into account new developments/obstacles.
(I also keep all my old entries in the same Word doc, greying-/crossing-out completed tasks rather than deleting them – it feels good to see how far I’ve come!)
3. On the Radar
Finally, around my desk are three little tools that help me see what my immediate future looks like.
These two pads are always in my eyeline. On the left is my daily To-Do list. I pop my writing/reading goals for the day on there alongside any errands I need to run (food shopping – bleh) and emails that need sending.
On the right is my weekly desk planner. I block out stretches of writing time with pretty washi tape and write in all the appointments and deadlines I need to be mindful of. (I got this idea from YouTuber/writer Jen Campbell – specifically this video on organisation techniques – and bought a cheap pad from Wilko). I also like to stick a little post-it in the corner with a list of things I want to get done by the end of the week.
These are both handy for narrowing down the things I need to be thinking about while I’m sat at my desk, and for knowing where I need to be and how much writing time I have available.
Finally finally, my On the Radar whiteboard has been propped up against the wall beside me since the very early days of my PhD. I like to keep tabs on when my work is due to be sent off to my supervisor and how long I have left until self-set chapter deadlines. I’ve added in the section at the bottom more recently – now that completion deadlines are getting closer, it’s helpful to know who I’ve sent chapter drafts to and whether or not they’ve responded with feedback.
I get that all these systems might seem excessive. But I’ve learnt over my PhD that these things work for me, and each tool has played an important part in keeping me motivated and on schedule (so far; touch wood). Hopefully I can use them to ride the waves of imposter syndrome!