The British Tax Authorities tried many ways to persuade tax avoiders to pay their taxes.
They wrote letters on the penalties you had to expect, they warned about charging administration costs and threatened to take legal action. All this had some result, but not enough. So the Tax Authorities decided to change something. They added one sentence to the letters to people who won’t pay their tax bill in time. This little sentence had a great impact: 5,6 billion pound a year to be precise.
So which sentence was added? It was a phrase stating how many people actually do pay their taxes in time. A form of moral act.
How you do something can make a world of difference. The same applies to PhD students.
Because, be aware…
One third of PhD students are depressed. And only 11% of all PhD students will finish on time. Is that because they are not clever enough? Of course not. That is because most PhD students don’t really know how to get their PhD. They don’t focus enough on the process, which is the same for their supervisors.
When you are fit and full of energy you will achieve much more in one hour than if you would be tired and depressed. It would then maybe take you a whole day to do the same tasks. And changes are big you will find distraction in other things if you aren’t really sure what to do. So you might check some offers online and suddenly your Facebook posts are way more interesting, or you start reading an article you don’t really need.
In short, you will do everything except writing that article, or making that model, or do the right research. Basically you will do lots of other things than doing the things you need to do.
What is a smarter strategy?
Focus on the process. Find out what works best for you. Experiment; what is the best way to divide your day up. Check your emails later in the day so you can start in the morning with a task that demands your full concentration like reading or writing. Make sure you know how the writing process works, how to make a planning you can keep, how to profit from the meetings with your supervisor. Are you looking after yourself, do you reserve time to do some fun things? In short: the process is what is key.
Does this mean I have to focus on everything?
You can’t change everything in one go. And you don’t have to either. It is easier to just change small steps so you can continue that way. Tiny habits – learn new habits by taking baby steps – is a very handy technique. The psychologist B.J. Fogg invented the strategy. He is the Director of Persuasive Technology Lab of Stanford University.
According to Fogg it can be easy to develop a good habit, make sure you make it something extremely small that you can do in about 30 seconds every single day and then tie that action to something that you already do everyday, so that the first action becomes a trigger for the new action that you are trying to make a habit.
His formula for a tiny habit:
Once I have done….. (normal habit), I will…….. (new habit)
- Once I am home, I am not working anymore
- Once I had my coffee, I will go outside for 5 minutes to reenergise
- Once I have fired up my computer, the first document I open will be the one with my most important actions for the day
Why do these tiny habits work?
Because you anchor the tiny habit to something you will do automatically, the tiny habit routine will be easier to maintain. And because it is only a small habit it is done before you know it. To do one pushup, to open one document, to write down one sentence, it is short and painless.
Write down a habit you would like to change and make it a tiny habit.
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