One of the obvious challenges of grad school is the need for self-motivation and direction. I’m great at self-motivation for tasks and projects I’m excited about, but of course less so with things that I’m just not that in to. One way I deal with this issue is to outsource my accountability.
I do this a few different ways. For one, I use a website called Complice which is basically an advanced to-do list. (It costs $6/month with a student discount.) How it helps with my accountability is that at the end of each day, it asks me if I completed enough for a given category of tasks. The positive reinforcement of being able to see all that I did and say “YES that was enough for today” really helps me. I also ask my advisor to give me deadlines and plan regular meetings with me. This was hard at first because my advisor is definitely on the more hands-off end of the spectrum especially given our lab is almost 15 people! But when I voiced to him that I need more regular check-ins, he made it much more of a priority.
My favorite way to outsource accountability is online co-working with one of my closest friends from undergrad. This friend lives on the east coast and is doing a humanities PhD which allows him to travel frequently and work on the road. We’ve learned that we both do best when our co-working has structured check-ins and we actively report what our next tasks are as well as what we’ve done. I think though the most interesting thing is that my friend pointed out that co-working helps him because I’m more forgiving of him than he is to himself. When he’s not satisfied with his progress, he can sometimes go into a guilt spiral that prevents work – something I am all too familiar with! But because we remind each other that doing a PhD is hard and it’s okay for it to not go 100% according to plan, we’re both able to move forward feeling proud of our work and motivated to keep going.