Dr. Bhaso Ndzendze — University of Johannesburg

Blog by Bhaso Ndzendze

Tips on creating and maintaining writing momentum – 14 May 2021 (based on talk to PSF on 13 May 2021)

“Infinity achieved through finite stages loses its terrors and temptations.” – Henry A. Kissinger (A World Restored)


•Momentum: constant work towards your end goal (your MA or PhD thesis) at planned increments and at a desired pace.

•No need to rush, or do your thesis under an unreasonable timeline; but you want momentum to achieve your goal within your determined timeline.

•Problem is when you’re under-performing regarding your own timeframe.

Types of procrastinators I’ve seen:

  1. The perpetual reader
  2. The “right environment” anticipator.
  3. The logistics procrastinator (“I need my interviews first,” “I don’t have the right equipment”)
  4. “I’m blocking my topic” mentality.
  5. Perfectionism
  6. The faux worker/the Ghost writer
  7. Anything but write procrastinator

Knowing the finish line

• Have an idea of what your thesis looks like when it is completed so that you know what stage you’re in.

• My theses always had questions which could be answered with a straightforward YES or NO (quantitative and qualitative).

• The supervision mechanism – proposal, chapters, submission. Make strategic use of your supervisor.

• Don’t expect perfect feedback. Strive for it (through your supervisor). But don’t be cowered by it to the point of inaction.

• E-mail yourself: no mechanism for keeping tabs (can’t update your supervisor on every little step, can’t use friendships for these purposes – in any case, written not to be read, but for you to write and reflect and identify next steps – email puts us on our ‘best behaviour’).

• Work: Wake up early and work, every day.

• This makes it clear that you’re not going to work on certain days or when specific conditions are met.

• EVERYDAY: Momentum is not a feeling, it’s a process. It’s a pattern of action.

• Prepare, prepare, prepare: be specific on what to do next; recite your RQ before getting started to filter out ‘noise’ or filter the fascinating from the relevant;  consider writing something else (journal articles, op-eds, blog, personal journal).

• Keep busy; focuses your time; you’re more likely to be productive when you’re busy with other projects than when you’re “free” – don’t encroach on your PhD writing time, and that’s why it must be on a specific time every day.

• Parallel productivity – post-PhD/MA prospects; work mode all the time. Filter out predatory journals.

• The problem of “free time” is the illusion of maximum productivity throughout those hours – but your mind needs variety.

• Take care of your mental well-being (a thesis is intensive work), relax and refresh in a structured manner.