What if you only worked 2 hours a day?

The PhD (or the research world as a whole) can sometimes be a weirdly competitive space – even as we try to resist comparisons or forge ahead with our own plans, there comes a time in almost every journey where we might think, 

“But why has Karla got so much more done than I have?”
“How does Marc manage to work 8 hours every day?”
“Wait… Yumiko has presented at how many conferences?!”

And then we feel guilt, or shame, or whatever mental equivalent of self-flagellation seems to be trending at the moment.

The thing is – every single PhD varies vastly from another and comparing your daily routine and progress to Karla/Marc/Yumiko is about as helpful as wondering why Tiger Woods can’t run as fast as Usain Bolt, or why Dua Lipa doesn’t have a regular gig with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 

(Forgive my terrible sports/music analogies – I’m not totally down with the kids!) 

On the very first day of my PhD, one of the centre’s lecturers told us that we should aim to work at least 40 hours a week – like an average work day. 

That number stuck like old gum on a shoe for the entirety of my PhD. 

I couldn’t shake this ‘ideal’ work expectation. 

But I could also never really manage to work a full 8 hours every day.

I mean, hell, there were some days where even one hour felt like a stretch.

So of course, that meant that many, many days were fraught with guilt. 

Guilt and shame
Shame and guilt
And the unceasing terror of the ‘not good enough’ monster. 

I didn’t really fall into a rhythm that I felt comfortable and content with until my final year when I was writing up.

For about 6 months before submission, I would aim to physically be in my office for about 6-8 hours a day. But the actual work and the real writing – that totalled maybe only about 3-4 solid hours tops.

But those were 180-240 good, focused, productive, quality minutes.

(And the other 3-4 hours = long lunches, making elaborate Spotify playlists, yoga in my office etc)

I finally got it – only a few months before completing the PhD. 

You don’t need to do 8 hours. Or 6 hours. Or however-many hours it is that you guilt yourself into not fulfilling perfectly each day.

You need to work the hours that will work for you.

So maybe that’s 1 or 2 hours. Maybe it’s 4.

Maybe it’s 20 minutes one day, and 8 hours another. 

Everyone has a different work threshold.
Different optimal-work habits and hours. 
Different speeds and productivity levels. 

And despite what many people might tell you, a PhD isn’t exactly like a job.

The parameters of work, the way we work, the often entirely solitary nature of the work means that it’s not always like a job and we shouldn’t have to feel terrible for not working like it is one.

So find your own work groove and know that even if it doesn’t look like what anyone else’s work groove,

your routine is still perfectly valid
still perfectly acceptable
and can still produce excellent, thoughtful, thorough research

(in fact, I’d argue that following your best working hours is what will help you produce better work and research than ever!)

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