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How to Get Motivated When Your Dissertation Deadline is Approaching

Washing machine and pile of books

When you have a dissertation deadline approaching, it can be challenging to keep motivated.

In fact, the closer the finish line looms, the harder it gets to stay focused and enthusiastic. Anything but sitting down to work starts to look attractive. (I often used to find myself really interested in dealing with the laundry backlog.)

You can’t escape dips in motivation during dissertation work, but you can lessen their impact and boost your mojo by:

  • making a clear plan

  • promising yourself rewards

  • taking breaks

  • indulging in some public accountability

  • chatting with your friends (yes, really)

Make a Plan

Motivational quote from Mark Victor Hansen

It’s easier to feel motivated when dissertation tasks feel less challenging, and the way to make a task less challenging is to break it down into smaller parts.

Make a “to-do” list to map your path to the finish line. By transforming that last slog into small, manageable baby steps, you make it easier to see how to get finished quickly.

When you can see your task as achievable instead of unending, it will be much easier to feel motivated.

I use a to-do app to assign myself discrete, concrete tasks (i.e. tasks that have a measurable completion goal) for specific dates and times. Ticking off when they are done is a huge motivation booster!

Line up Rewards

If simply getting your dissertation tasks done for their own sake is not motivating enough, you can sweeten the deal by promising yourself something nice when you get done – this is known as an “extrinsic” motivator.

Whether its ice-cream, a night out with friends, or an early night and lots of blissful sleep, having something to look forward to is a huge motivator.

Brown Shoes

Just before my PhD oral defense, for example, I promised myself a new pair of (very nice) shoes. I knew that even if it all went horribly wrong, I would still have the most awesome shoes in town – this thought was immensely uplifting!

Warning: Save these for short-term emergency motivation needs only! They can get expensive / bad for your waistline.

(Brown leather MaryJanes in case you’re wondering. And no – it didn’t go horribly wrong).

Take Breaks

Much like having a “to-do” list, breaks make a dissertation task feel more manageable, and thus help you feel more motivated.

Remember that your mind needs time to recharge as much as your body does, and that continuing to push through exhaustion to meet a deadline will only leave you feeling burned out and flat.

Taking the rest you need – whether it’s a five=minute stretch or a 2-day mini-break at a spa (yes please!) – will allow you to step back from the project and see it in its proper perspective. You should find it renews your enthusiasm – and enthusiasm is great for motivation.

Go Public

There’s nothing like the critical scrutiny of your peers to help you feel motivated to up your dissertation game. If you are worried your motivation will fail you, give it a boost by announcing your goals on social media.

According to one study performed in the 1980s, by seeking public accountability, you are setting what is known as a “performance goal.” Asking others to hold you accountable gives you an external source of motivation only indirectly linked to your dissertation. When you go public, your motivation becomes preserving your self-image and reputation – new motive = new motivation!

Phone a Friend

As we’ve already said, enthusiasm works wonders for dissertation motivation, so if you are heartily sick-to-death of your dissertation topic, use one of your mandated breaks (see above) to chat to another enthusiast for your topic.

We complete PhDs (hopefully) because we have a passion for our field, but that passion can flag when a deadline is looming. By taking the time to chat with others about our research, we can renew our awareness of that passion and thus remember why we’re putting ourselves through the mill.

So, go ahead – phone a friend and call it course work.

Need some extra help staying motivated and on task? Try a free coaching session to find out how I can help you.

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