Being productive and succeeding in the graduate program

The first part is the agenda for our workshop on productivity and work habits. It’s here in case it’s useful for participants or others. The bottom of the page contains links to related materials (please contribute – you can send your links, or thoughts on these topics, to Joe). 

Update 2023: The slides for our Fall 2023 version of this workshop are here.

Taking care of yourself

Strategies for being productive

  • Task analysis – start early, plan
    • Divide and conquer – large into small (work with advisor, handouts can be useful)
    • Multiple deadlines for each part of a larger project
    • Early deadline for the project as a whole
  • Having types of work that fit time, mental state and other things you can’t control – being flexible
  • Finding ways of making time for work that work for you
  • Keeping track of obligations – to-do list – don’t overcommit
  • Productive procrastination (Not e-mailing, not choosing a font)
  • Making effective use of class time
    • Listen critically to class lectures (not simply a recapitulation of readings; helps generate ideas for projects)
    • Choose your questions and comments as ones that will make good use of class time
    • Do not hesitate to ask for clarification, and aim to make contributions in all of your classes
  • Discussion outside of class with classmates and professors, including the ones not teaching you
  • If you are for any reason having trouble making progress, speak about it right away with your faculty advisor(s) and/or the GPD – fellow students are also often a good source of advice, as are past GPDs.
  • If you are having trouble working with a faculty member, you can always get confidential advice from the GPD or the Chair.

Further material 

The Grad School’s Professional Development workshops include Grants and Fellowships, Communication, Teaching, Career Preparation, and Personal Development.

Ivy Hauser points out that the webinars and other resources provided by the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity are extremely useful, for example on how to plan courses effectively. UMass has an institutional membership: visit, click on “Join NCFDD,” choose “University of Massachusetts, Amherst” from the drop-down menu before clicking “Continue” and select “Activate My Membership.”

Here are some useful thoughts on transitioning from undergraduate to graduate school.

Here is a blog post about the importance of “Deep Work”, and the seductions of “Shallow Work” (originally from Kristine): Cal Newport on “Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working (and Here’s What to Do About It)” . The blog is called “Study Hacks: Decoding Patterns of Success”.

How much do professors work? Probably about 60 hours a week (that link also gives you an idea of how those 60 hours are spent), and probably not 80 (that link also talks about the harmfulness of the 80 hour week myth). 

There is a whole book on productive procrastination, or “structured procrastination“.

E-mail from John McCarthy, March 3, 2016:

One idea about writing productively that is laid out in our dissertation writing retreats is to set *process* goals rather than *productivity* goals. Instead “I will write 5 pages today”, it’s “I will write for two hours every morning after I have my coffee.” For some people, this way of framing the goal is much more effective.

It is said that Alexandre Dumas ate an apple every morning at 7AM under the Arc de Triomphe, then set down to write.