Using the F word…

2015 was a busy year for me. A year full of new places, new people, new experiences, and new opportunities. I travelled, a lot.


2015 – flying instead of focusing

I crossed a few architectural treasures and dream destinations off my bucket list (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Guggenheim Museum; Le Corbusier’s Chapel at Ronchamp; Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque; Marrakech, Budapest, Iceland…); I visited family and friends I don’t often have the chance to see; I had good times with my parents and my in-laws and my husband and my kids.


And (I tell myself), I did it while still staying busy with my PhD and other commitments. An inventory of what I achieved on the work front actually looks quite impressive …

  • Completed my PhD data collection, interviewing a further 38 people in 4 countries
  • Transcribed (some of) my interviews
  • Got to grips (maybe) with my analysis method, after reading far too many irrelevant papers/books on methodology
  • Wrote and presented a (PhD related) conference paper
  • Wrote and submitted a (PhD related) journal paper that has been accepted for publication (pending revisions)
  • Drafted (in various states of completeness) 7 more journal papers based on my PhD
  • Outlined another 3 PhD related conference or (possibly) journal papers
  • Gave seminar presentations on my PhD work at 4 different institutions
  • Was invited to submit a chapter for a book, related to my PhD work
  • Co-authored a (non-PhD related) conference paper (presented by a colleague)
  • Wrote a (non-PhD related) abstract that has been accepted for a conference mid-2016
  • Co-authored a (non-PhD related) paper that has been accepted for a journal special issue
  • Attended two other (interesting but not particularly useful) conferences
  • Started a blog (…?)

However, although it looks good, and I can pretend that I have been really busy, I know that this list is not a true reflection of the (lack of) effort I have put in. Specifically, the problem with 2015 was a lack of focus. I have scattered my attention across lots of different possibilities, but it still does not add up to a PhD. As Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Workweek) said, we should “focus on being productive, instead of busy.” I had a very busy year, but not a very productive one. In real terms I have not made a lot of progress from where I was at the start of the year. It’s time to stop kidding myself that I am nearly finished on my PhD (which I have been saying for the last 6 months) and accept that there is still a lot to do, that I can’t do it properly with the superficial level of concentration I have given it over the past year, and that I have to move out of my comfort zone. My motto for 2015 was “First things first”, and my “first things” were supposed to be all about getting my data collected and analysed and my papers written. In retrospect I think my 2015 motto morphed into “Fun things first” quite early in the piece, and I seized every opportunity with both hands.


Doing a PhD is more fun with a  mango daiquiri*

For 2016 I am relying on a couple of “F words” to help me along my way, and the motto I have decided on for this year is a bit more specific: “Focus to Finish”

Will I finish my PhD in 2016? Can I make the changes in my attitude and lifestyle that are required to do it? I know I can and I will. But it’s going to be a real challenge, because I have become too used to pleasing myself rather than stretching myself.

The first challenge will be to relearn some good habits and build up an environment where I can achieve the outcomes I want. I need to accept that I will not be getting the support I want from my supervisors, so I will take responsibility for my own project, and stop blaming them for my lack of progress. I will say no a bit more often to my family and friends instead of accepting every invitation and joining every trip.  It’s time for me to quash my magpie tendencies and stop chasing squirrels, to put aside the camera and the novels and all my other distraction techniques, and have other priorities for a while. It will be uncomfortable sometimes, it will be unpleasant, it will mean that I miss out on many of the things I would rather be doing (there may be some muttered use of another F word along the way!), but I know that it will be worth it for the satisfaction of achieving what I set out to do. It is not for very much longer, and I have my wealth of experiences from 2015 to sustain me.

I plan to use this blog to record my progress as I rebuild my focus muscles and get to grips with completing my thesis this year. Any encouragement will be gratefully received 🙂

Having reached this point and given myself this pep talk, you might think I would be heading off right now to get some serious work done – but no, my hedonist inclinations are still in action (and we have some longstanding plans to complete) so first I have a few other F words to work on – I’m taking more time off, with a fortnight in Florida with my family. 2016 for me starts on February 1st, when I am back in New Zealand and started in the new academic year. See you then…

*Every year I decide on both a motto and a New Year’s resolution – this year’s resolution is to perfect a new cocktail every month 🙂



About Kathryn

PhD student; lecturer. Wife; mother; daughter; friend. Reader; photographer; traveller; arts consumer. Hedonist and eudaimonist (and lover of big words).
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2 Responses to Using the F word…

  1. Pingback: Signs of the times | Distraction Techniques

  2. Pingback: Signs of the times | Distraction Techniques

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