Well, after over a fortnight of air-headedness in relation to my entire PhD enterprise, I think I’m finally getting back into the habit of working hard.

Yesterday I resolved to create a meticulous plan of work covering the next 8 months to submission. I’ve found this immensely motivating in the past, when I used to exist in a bizarre kind of high tide/ low tide work arrangement (periods of not much going on, then high-stress periods of a thousand things to be done at once, then not much going on again). The plan of work essentially involves mapping out every single thing, however big or small, that needs to be done over the time period being covered, over a week-by-week and month-by-month timeline. Mine end up looking a bit like those timelines on Facebook Walls, except they go horizontally. In fact, they are exactly like a Gantt chart, although their visual arrangement is different, as for some reason I find Gantt charts irritating to look at (might be something to do with all those coloured blocks).

Sitting down to reflect on the plan in my journal (I have a notebook-type journal to reflect on my PhD as well as this blog…talk about procrastination), I noticed that the time ahead, despite still appearing nerve-wracking and chaotic from where I’m standing now, is actually clearer now in terms of what I have to do in order to achieve what I want to achieve. In other words, whereas before my idea of what I’ll be doing over the next 8 months was vague and blurry, now it’s so much more definite, detailed and mapped out (even if only provisionally) through the timeline. In still other words, I now know where I’m going!

For me, having a clear plan in my mind, and on paper in front of me, of everything I need to do, is reassuring about my capacity to work hard and achieve good things. I’ve got something to do each day, and that motivates me to get it done – not just to be able to tick the boxes, but to have a sense of progress that I’m gradually moving towards more and more significant milestones. In other words, knowing where I’m going motivates me to work hard to get there. Or in still other words, I’m getting there!

And sitting here now reflecting on this whole thing (there’s a lot of this reflection stuff in social sciences), I can’t believe I didn’t realise earlier how work plans and motivation to work are so closely linked for me. I suspect this is because I was going through that inspirationlessness phase for a fortnight and therefore didn’t have any motivation to reflect, although seeing as I work in the social sciences then I’d expect I should reflect on that sort of thing regardless, seeing as I was able to reflect on my own inspirationlessness. Put shortly, even on reflection, I don’t really understand why I wasn’t able to reflect on why I was feeling the way I was, and find a solution to it faster. In fact, I have experienced this sort of confusion over what does and doesn’t motivate me to work and what triggers my inspirationlessness and what works to fix it quite a lot, even as an undergraduate, and I still don’t understand what sense I should make of it.

And you know what? I probably never will.

Because however much doing a PhD is a journey designed to help us becomes doctors (from the Latin doctoris, ‘teacher’), or learned individuals of our discipline, it just as much leaves us still bewildered at our own inner workings of thought and emotion, even after so many years of work.