how my masters thesis changed my life

writing my masters thesis was the beginning of my personal systems and productivity transformation. it may or may not have happened at the same point in my life, but definitely attribute my attention to my workflow and productivity to the magnitude of the task. having been through the undergraduate program in my department, i got to know many masters students. i also got to watch two years of students go through what looked like hell as they wrote their theses. the spring semester of everyone’s final year seemed like an incredibly isolating, depressing, and terrifying time. 

i wanted the masters degree, but i was determined to avoid that experience at all costs. hence, i tried to get as much advice and pick up as many strategies as i could before i went into it.

although i learned a lot and built many important habits during the process, two specific ones really changed the game for me.

first, ​i realized how important it was to have a thesis buddy (huge shoutout to annemarie gray). we committed to getting up at 6a almost every day starting in early 2016, getting to a coffeeshop by 7a, and writing for 2-4 hours. we did this for months. we even had a hashtag for our instagram posts: #thesismornings!

having the accountability and support of a partner was unbelieveably important for me. on days that i didn’t want to get up, hearing annemarie getting ready made me do the same. and i knew that if i wasn’t ready to go so that we could get to a coffeeshop when it opened, i’d feel real bad.

so, having a buddy totally changed how i view and understand accountability. i always knew it was important, but this took it to the next level. especially since it lasted for months. this understanding about accountability has influenced the international writers group i’m trying to grow these days (shout out to cameron russell and janani for the inspiration on that one!) and also my decision to join my friend ross as a co-founder of jungle).

and second habit was the pomodoro technique. so many good things came from pomodoroing:

  1. the practice of dividing my work into chunks helped me get realistic about how long each step of the process was actually going to take.
  2. working for uninterrupted blocks of time and then doing whatever i wanted during the break times made me realize how much more effective i was when i could focus. that also helped me realize how detrimental interruptions are to my productivity. even the smallest interruption can be totally destructive to certain types of work. 
  3. learning how to notice when my heavy-thinking energy had been used up made me understand the value of working with my body’s systems and not against it. having pomodoro chunks of time made it very obvious that 25 minutes of writing at 7a was sometimes 2x more productive than 25 minutes in the afternoons and sometimes 3-5x more productive than writing at night. this made it much easier for me to justify to myself and others why i needed to not have morning meetings. 
  4. learning how doing something physical during the 5-minute breaks kept me productive during the 25-minute sessions has made me integrate walking and stretching into all my workflows. 

observing how critical these two changes were to me completing my thesis in a low-stress manner kickstarted my productivity journey. things have never been the same and they’re definitely only getting better.