Defining my ‘blockers’ and acting to eliminate them.

A good portion of this blog is about sharing with you (and recording for myself) my journey in becoming a PhD student. It is a journey that I am less than 1/3 of the way through. Looking over previous blog posts on this blog, I can see that I am regularly looking at my time and goals and changing how I organise my time to ensure I meet my goals.

In the last month I have become increasingly aware of some long term goals that are approaching, and that I need to start to pull these together (lit review, anyone, LOL).  After several weeks of this task appearing on my Evernote weekly to do list I stopped myself the other day from the thought process of: “have to write the lit review…I have the outline somewhere (turns on laptop to look for file….gets distracted by facebook, twitter, reading new blogs, filing articles)…oh gee..out of time today, better plan my classes for next week” and began to really think about why I haven’t started…In other words: What are my Blockers?

This technique has been very helpful over the last few months for me. In daunting tasks, for example writing letters of invitation for my research and Ethics applications. I knew the sort of thing I wanted to write but was avoiding actually putting these ideas into a document. I decided I had no good reason to avoid this any more, and so devoted a ‘pomodoro’ to this task. In 25 minutes this letter was written. I put it aside and looked at it the next day in another pomodoro, when I focused just on editing it.  I could finally tick this task off my list, and there was no good reason for my previous avoidance. I had spent more time avoiding the task than it actually took to complete it! There are a few other tasks just like that on my list that I have been tackling, bit by bit, pomodoro by pomodoro. The process of realising that you are procrastinating, and questioning why, then actually taking action to ‘get on with it’ sounds pretty obvious, but, like every other process it takes a conscious effort to acknowledge and improve our own behaviours to meet these goals.

This thought process and journey have also been helped along by my ‘wider reading’ of academic and PhD blogs. These blogs range in topic, and one that resonated with me a couple of days ago was this one,from PhD2Published : Charlotte and Jesse suggest that when your mind wanders to other things, perhaps it is time to take a break, do that other thing, and then return to writing refreshed. This is something I know to already work for me, my vices range, but include gardening, tatting and reading (not articles). I like this post as it ‘gives’ permission for me to be flexible and allow myself to be my best when I am in ‘PhD’ mode. I have also been reading and acting on the tasks in the Patricia Goodson ‘Becoming an academic writer’ book.  These exercises are giving me more structure to refine and develop my skills.

My PhD reading this week was around neuroscience and learning, and in terms of my own learning this quote stood out:

“…short-term motivational processes may have a powerful influence on long-term outcomes.” Van Geert and Steenbeek (2008) cited in Howard-Jones, et al. (2011)

I instantly thought ‘pomodoro’, as a tool for setting short term goals and then giving a structure to focus wholly on one task and make significant progress, this technique is really helping me. It supports the approach I have taken over the last few years, with my craft and show entry, my other studies and work… I chip away a little at a time, in regular bursts of approx 20 minutes (for reading and craft). This chipping away is the ‘short term motivational process’, and it is also the divergent challenge I need to have a mental break from my study, and return to it refreshed.

So, here is my ‘overcoming blockers’ action plan:

  1. Identify the task that you are avoiding.
  2. Think about the reasons why. Is it a mental blocker eg: ‘this task is to hard’ (ask yourself ‘why’, chances are it isn’t too hard at all, and maybe you need to do some more reading, or seek more specific help),  or is it a physical blocker; eg: ‘need printer ink’ then go and buy some…NOW.
  3. Once physical blockers are removed, commit some time to just start that task (I like pomodoros, but you may have another technique). If it is a big task (I’m thinking Lit Review here) plan several small goals that will build this over a few weeks.
  4. Remember, the aim is not necessarily to finish the whole task in one sitting. Perhaps a plan is a great starting point, then in the next session do some more or begin developing sections of your plan.
  5. Be realistic with your goals, short term motivational goals are not ‘2000 words in 25 minutes’. They are more like ‘list key points for each area, tag references to support key points’, next time might be ‘expand one set of key points’, and then session 3 may be ‘expand another set of key points’, and session 4 ‘edit writing from session 2 and 3’.
  6. Over the long term (I see this task as taking 4-5 weeks) you will see your project developing. I know from my past experience that the end product is satisfying and the ‘reward’ in a job well done will motivate me to my next set of goals.

Thanks for ‘listening’ while I planned my approach to my lit review. Now this week, I WILL start the plan and the writing. Promise 🙂

I wonder what your ‘blockers’ are? How do you overcome them?

Until next week

Fiona T


Howard-Jones, P., Demetriou, S., Bogacz, R., Yoo, J. H., & Leonards, U. (2011). Toward a Science of Learning Games. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5(1), 33-41.

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