Students studying and writing

While research suggests that most people are productive for a maximum of four hours a day, the style for how one manages those four hours can vary widely. 

Tips to make your four-hour workday productive:

  • Choose the time when you are at your strongest. Are you most energetic in the morning, afternoon or night?
  • Turn off your notifications. Treat your dissertation like a job and tell your friends that your “boss” doesn’t allow you to have your phone on at work. It can take 20 to 30 minutes to get back to where you were before you looked at your phone.
  • Define what you mean by “work.” Devote your four hours to doing intellectual tasks associated with your research, whether it be brainstorming, analyzing, writing or revising. Checking email, completing administrative tasks and reading are not considered analytical work and should not be included in the four-hour productivity block.
  • Distinguish between important versus urgent tasks. Let your important tasks, like writing your dissertation, take top priority. It might feel like the world is ending if it takes 24 hours to respond to an email. It won’t.
  • Establish concrete and realistic tasks. Tasks should be concrete and realistic—something that you can finish in 1 to 2 hours, like edit section 4 or analyze data for section 2.
  • Try the Pomodoro technique, which involves working in 25- or 50-minute bursts with 5- or 10-minute breaks.
  • Take breaks to go outside and spend time in nature and the sunlight, even if it’s just a patch of grass. Don’t bring your phone with you. Give your brain a break and spend time doing nothing to get refreshed.
  • Reward yourself for your hard work. Take a bubble bath or hot shower, polish your nails, watch a movie, take a walk or go for a run, listen to a podcast, read a novel, hold a cup of hot tea in both hands or wrap yourself in a soft blanket.
  • Find an accountability partner. Schedule time with a classmate or friend, on a weekly basis, to check in on your progress. Looking for an accountability group? The Graduate School offers weekly writing accountability seminars designed around time management skills and maintaining healthy writing habits.

For more information on the writing accountability seminars and other graduate writing programs, check out the Graduate Writing Program.

Find out more about additional professional development opportunities.

Leslie Blood, director of graduate community and professional development, contributed to the content of this article.