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I am a master's in applied science student in Civil Engineering. My research work deals with analysis of 3 huge data sets in R language and simulating the results in another software. I want to stay productive and work really hard to complete my thesis in next 3 months. I wakeup at 4:30 in the morning and start work at 9:30 am. Usually I finish off my day at 7:30 pm. I also have 2 teaching assistantships for which I need to spend about 8 hours per week. What would be best practices and tips to stay motivated and productive to complete analysis and writeup in 3 months?

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It is very rough preparing a thesis for any level.

It may be argued that you need to feel (a controllable degree of) the 'fear' of non-completion.


  • Be very clear of the physical requirements of the thesis (length guidelines, data collection requirements, etc.)

  • Pre-structure your thesis - create the index for the so-far imaginary thesis - and go into sub-sections and further sub-divisions if need be (this should guide you in the writing and collection phases)

  • Accept that for the next 2-3 months you will be living and breathing your thesis. Explain to your friends and loved ones so that they may understand what you are going through and not make it harder for you. Failing this - you may need to find a quiet zone of neutrality. This will also involve taking a break from your own hobbies and interests.

  • Consider investing some of your leave into buying you more time.

  • Sleep well - it will improve your aptitude not only at work but in working on your thesis.

  • Start writing and researching concurrently - the research should not heavily impact the writing in some areas of your thesis and by the time you are done writing them - you should have a better idea of how to word the rest of it.

  • Set daily goals and do not stray from them - these should be harsh such that you are mostly done with the writing (ideally also research) within 2 months of your 3 month deadline - you need the extra time to blitz through your work, proof reading and beefing up the style (additional information, diagrams, photos, examples, sources, etc. (all if relevant)).

  • If time is short (under a month to go) start printing sections of your thesis. It also does not hurt to explain the situation to your tutor - perhaps with some samples (and don't be afraid to submit samples early for feedback - if the tutor is open to such) to see if an extension is a possibility.

  • Do not count on an extension - and expect things to go wrong - there will be setbacks - illness, job pressures, flat tyres and worse.

I had pretty much done the same with my Bachelor's degree. Made mistakes along the way but scraped through with a pretty good thesis (I hadn't counted for miserable response rates though - always have a backup plan! And it helps to have a good friend ready to burn the midnight oil occasionally).

Since you have just three months to deal with a thesis, and considering your long work day, the truth is that you are going to find difficulty finding time slots for elements to promote motivation.

However, once you complete the above-mentioned Indexed pre-structure of your thesis, you could allot yourself a pre-defined reward for each section and sub-section - the nature of which is best answered by you ( a movie? Time with a significant other? Going out for a coffee or meal? Playing a good shoot-em-up (or whatever helps you to unwind), etc.). Just be sure to keep the rewards proportional to the ground covered.

Set the rewards for yourself and make sure that they are feasibly enjoyed. If you see yourself unable to afford to treat yourself to a predetermined reward then give yourself a token (quick) treat and pledge to reward yourself doubly after the thesis is finished. Who knows - you might find yourself cashing in more rewards for bigger payoff after and may still feel good about it.

If you have problems focusing on your thesis on a given non-work day then you could do worse than to either set yourself periodic reminders to get back on track (such as a non-annoying alarm every two hours of designated thesis time). If you are lucky you could have a friend over who is able to help you focus (maybe make you a cup of coffee or such). Just be certain that the friend won't chat your time away and that he or she can do other stuff that is unlikely to distract you.

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Upvoted especially for the 'living and breathing your thesis. Explain to your loved ones and friends' comment! Support from them makes it so much easier. – Rory Alsop May 16 '14 at 15:48
+1 for "you will be living and breathing your thesis" – Abid Rahman K May 18 '14 at 7:47

Focus on the things that really matter, and add less important things later. For example, focus on core content and add side matters if you have time. Focus on good content rather than getting your punctuation perfect. Find out who'll be assessing your work and focus on the things that will impress them most.

One of the most effective ways to maximise your productivity in any area is by removing anything that could hinder it.

For example:

  1. Take care of yourself as much as you can: eat healthily, sleep well, get exercise and sunlight.
  2. Schedule times to take proper breaks when you can forget about work. These needn't be long nor complicated, just enough that you can give your brain a rest.
  3. Eliminate interruptions.
  4. Ensure that you have all the supplies you need so you don't need to stop and shop for the things you've forgotten. e.g. paper, printer ink, coffee, food.
  5. Enlist people who can help - people to bounce ideas off, people who can help with technical issues, people to run errands, people to take you out for a meal or whatever.
  6. Make sure your equipment is in good repair.
  7. Keep important data backed up. Data loss is less common than it used to be, but it still happens.
  8. Keep all notes in digital format rather than on paper. That way you don't have to re-type your notes, you can just flesh them out.
  9. Organise your workspace and keep it clean and tidy.
  10. If you need to get your work reviewed, get early chapters out to reviewers whilst you're working on later chapters - you don't want to be waiting on others.

Don't forget to allow for the difference between done and done done. Indexing, printing, binding, submitting etc. can take up more time than you expect. You don't want to miss a deadline because you're still finishing off.

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  1. First of all, you need to exactly review all the research work in the literature. Divide your time to some stages.
  2. In the first two weeks, try to review the researches, thesis, dissertations and published journal or conference papers which are so similar to your own work. You may mostly benefit from asking previous students of your supervisor, what they did to success in their research. Most important thing is that you need to talk to your supervisor as much as you can. Talk about the things you find out or you do not understand and ask for his help.
  3. In the next two weeks, try to narrow your way to your thesis solutions. I mean, at the end of two weeks, you may have a scheduled sheet to do your own research. Try to find out, if you need to learn something about the software you are using or some mathematical things you need to learn about. Gather the most important resources such as files, papers or past research works; all in a folder in your computer.
  4. Your thesis, as I think; may have two parts. One part is about analytical and formulas and the other part is developing codes or models in softwares. When you are working on the analytical part, from the early days; type your formulas with the exact references. So you may not miss any formula and it's reference even three years after you graduate. By typing your formulas and drafts, it will be easier for you to prepare your reports to your professor or when you want to publish your papers. You may easily copy and paste from your draft reports then.
  5. After a while, I mean two or three month, you may feel that the more you work on your thesis, the more you get tired. At this stage, put your research work away for one or two weeks and enjoy your life.

I insist that the only things that will help you to finish your work soon is talking and reporting your progress to your supervisor once or twice a week. And asking your problems in code writing from your friends or previous students. The may be some parts of the codes available in their own research.

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