- Completion Planner (PDF)
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey asks us to ‘begin with the end in mind’. Fortunately for you, your ‘end’ is clearly defined, and it’s very much on your mind — you want to submit your thesis. If you’re funded or approaching the maximum registration period, you’ll have very little flexibility over when you finish. There’s probably a date looming. While that might be scary, it’s also helpful to have a deadline. Too much flexibility gives us the option of deferring tasks. For now, we’ll look at what needs to happen, then later we’ll break it down into sprints.
Think about what needs to happen before your submission date. What are the steps you’ll take? This might depend on the nature of your research project, but here are the typical steps.
- Finishing research
- Analysing data or results
- Completing chapters
- Producing a full draft
- Incorporating feedback from supervisor(s)
- Final edits
- Printing & binding (if necessary)
It’s probably hard to know at the moment exactly how much time you need for each of those steps. But by working backwards, it helps you to make a realistic plan. You’ll undoubtedly end up with less time than you thought, but it will focus your mind and also ensure you don’t get stuck in one particular phase.
Make sure you’re absolutely clear on your final submission date. If you’re funded, the money might run out before the end of your maximum registration. If you did need longer to finish your thesis, is that financially viable? Do you have enough savings? Or could you take on some paid work? If you decide to work alongside your PhD, what are the implications? What sort of job would give you enough flexibility to still write your thesis and not completely drain your life force?
If paid work isn’t an option, what else could you do? Is there any way you could drastically reduce your overheads, at least temporarily, while you finish? This might include moving somewhere cheaper or taking in a lodger.
Perhaps you’ve worked out your plan, and there simply isn’t time to do everything before your deadline. If that’s the case, you should seriously consider applying for an extension. It’s much better to do this now, rather than the week when you’re supposed to submit. Even if you don’t go through with applying for an extension, familiarise yourself with the process — that’ll make it less intimidating if you do need to apply. You might have to negotiate and demonstrate that you have a plan for completion. This is worth doing, though, as it’s in nobody’s interests for you to give up. Some of the planning techniques we’ll look at should help you devise a realistic timeline.
Have a go now at mapping out the remaining time for your PhD. There’s no need to be precise at this stage — I’d just like you to get a sense of the time available and what you need to accomplish.