Student Studying

If you’ve ever had to plough away at a thesis, essay, script, dissertation, or anything similar, you will probably relate to feelings of worthlessness, stupidity, anger, frustration, desperation, and everything in between. Don’t panic! There are ways and means to get yourself back on track with the finish line in sight.

Set rules for yourself

Your favorite band is playing in your town, you want to go out with your friends, or you just want to sleep a little longer in the mornings – setting rules for yourself and learning say no to things you want to do is tough. But self-control and self-motivation are the most crucial parts of getting your work done.

If you function better in the mornings, then you need to wake up early and do some work, it’s as simple as that. Set mini deadlines for yourself, so you are working towards something every day or every week. If you find you struggle with distractions on a regular basis, take a look at anti-distraction apps like Cold Turkey, or a scheduling app like Evernote to make sure you are on track.

Be tough, but be flexible. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach the goal you wanted to. Going out with your friends is still important to give your mind a break, but you will have to learn to say no quite a lot. Sorry!

Just write, even if it’s bad

In the words of many a famous author, good writing is really rewriting. So whatever you put down on paper first won’t always stay. Just write, write, write. Even if it’s the worst thing you have ever written, get the ideas onto paper, and you can come back to them later. You have to accept your writing will sometimes be bad before it will be good.

When we undertook a survey of students from Canada, the US, and New Zealand, one of the biggest problems they said they faced was knowing where to start. Instead of focusing intently on a perfect introduction or succinct points, find freedom in writing ideas as they come to you. The real perfecting comes in the editing, and you can’t edit if you haven’t written anything down!

Change your methods when you face a block

Sometimes you can write thousands of words in a day, and sometimes you can barely write ten. It happens. If you find yourself reaching a total mental block, you need to think of things from a new angle. There are in fact 7 different learning styles, and often people discover they have been using techniques that don’t work for them. Perhaps you are a little linguistic and also a little social in your learning style; you can learn from reading texts (especially aloud), but you should mix it up by bouncing ideas off other people.

Even at InsightNG, we have discovered the benefits of visual learning and are developing a digital assistant called Your Smartest Friend. Engaging key visual learning techniques, Your Smartest Friend finds insights specific to your situation that would otherwise be hard or impossible to find. We are already seeing incredible results from students who have used it and is proving to be a great tool for a mental block.

Take breaks

Did you know that most adults and teens can only fully concentrate for less than twenty minutes? If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, you probably know how ineffective it is. Longer hours certainly does not equate to more words, especially not well-written ones, so take a break often. This will give your brain time to breathe, and you will be better able to return to your focus.

Additionally, you will find that you work harder and more efficiently when you work in small chunks. Tying yourself to books for hours on end is like a prison sentence for your mind, but if you know you are taking a break in half an hour, you will be more likely to go full force until you can rest.

Take care of yourself

When you neglect the health of your body, it inexorably affects your brainpower. Make sure you are eating healthily and often enough. You can easily schedule this in if you follow rules #1 and #4. Certain ‘super foods’ like blueberries and avocados are great snacks to fit in during your breaks, and make sure you fit in lots of protein with fatty fish and nuts when you can.

It may seem like exercise is hard to fit in when you are dedicating your time to your dissertation, but this doesn’t have to occupy large chunks of your day. A brisk 30-minute walk on a morning will get your blood pumping and metabolism working for the day, and is easily slotted in.

The most important one of all, though, is water. While you may think caffeine is the key to staying awake and focused, just trying drinking 6 glasses of water a day and see how you feel.


About Neil Movold

I am the founder and CEO of InsightNG. I have a career spanning across Canada, Australia, Bermuda and New Zealand. For most of my life, I have been keenly interested in how our human brains function at a cognitive level. When my son Jaden was born with Spina Bifida, my interest in human cognition became more focused, resulting in the creation of InsightNG. My current interests lie in the areas of social learning, open innovation, collective & contextual intelligence, knowledge discovery, findability and content visualization.