Pomodoro-ing my way towards a proper thesis draft

There’s a lot of different productivity apps available nowadays and one that I found most useful was the Pomodoro app.  I’m not affiliated with the company or work for them, I just liked the idea of working in small chunks of time. That’s essentially the idea behind the Pomodoro technique. You work for a set amount of time. The app is essentially a timer, where you can set how long you’d like to work for and how long you’re breaks are. There are a lot of useful posts out there from academics reviewing this app (see @thesiswhisper and @thePhDWar for some insightful reading) and, in general,  many users found it helped kick start the writing process by getting you mentally out of a rut. For me, this has been the most practical app I’ve tried to get me to be more productive.

I use it often as a ‘warm up’ session for writing. When I think about what I still need to do to finish this thesis I easily get overwhelmed with “OMG I don’t have enough time!” or “Sh*t, how is this possible in 2 months!” or “I can’t…etc.etc.etc.” However timing myself has helped me gain some control over my work (as well as my mental state).  Knowing that I only need to write for 25/35 minutes took the pressure off me because I felt there was an end. Also, I only had 25/35 minutes to finish a task and this helped me avoid wasting time on the internet. Sometimes I get to a point where was able to continue working without timing myself because I felt already on a roll. Other times, I feel, “Nope, that’s all for now” and move on to something else with the relief that I got something done.

When I began actually writing my thesis I used it to time particular tasks, like reading for an allotted time or writing an outline for a chapter.  Nowadays, as I enter the last few weeks of writing (that’s the plan so far *heh*) I’m using the Pomodoro timer to keep me focused.  I work on one specific section for an allotted time, whether it’s revising what I’ve written or working on an entirely new section. Mentally this has helped clear the cobwebs and I’m beginning to make the connections between my chapters. I have what would be considered a full draft consisting of a bunch of chapters but it’s not a thesis, yet. Working on the coherence, one section at a time, is helping me identify the details I need to sharpen up, and timing myself has forced me to really focus.

This technique may not be ideal for everyone and may be better suited for particular tasks. It’s up to you find out what works for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of using Pomodoro below.

My top 4 reasons for joining #phdchat on Twitter

I’ve heard about Twitter chats before and had read through a few hashtag conversations but I’ve never really participated in a live Twitter chat before, and I really wanted to.  So last Thursday I took the plunge and join in on #phdchat that takes place every Wednesday, 7:30pm (BST).

Now why would I want to join a twitter chat?  That’s a question I certainly asked myself.  I wondering what would be point?  For me, I had 4 reasons:

  • I’m curious! I want to know what it’s like to participant in a Twitter chat.
  • I’d like to meet other PhD students from around the world and possibly make new connections.
  • I’m interested in the topic of conversation (which was on ‘blogging about your research’).
  • I want to learn more about using this particular feature of Twitter.

I was genuinely surprised at the level of engagement that was taking place.  There was very little by way of introductions and people just went straight into discussing the topic at hand – which was on blogging about your research.  There was some really good blogging advice shared and there were a lot of people asking about different aspects of managing a blog as well as some very interesting chats around confidentiality issues and personal/public disclosure.

I found the actual process of joining in a twitter chat was a lot like going to a party.  You start by milling about, listening in on a conversation and then when you find one that catches your interest, you join in.  Sometimes someone finds you and strikes up a conversation, then others join on.  After a while, the conversation subsides and you move on to another one, only to pick up the last conversation because someone said something, and then you start a new conversation, an others join in.  Then after a while you have to leave because the dinner you left cooking on the hob smells a bit burnt (ahem).

I left that twitter chat feeling positive and motivated because I had learnt a few tips that I found useful for blogging and, more importantly, I met other PhD students who were were interesting to talk to and made me think .  Can’t really ask for more than that from ‘party’?

For a record of the #phdchat from last Thursday please click on the following link (courtesy of Steve Moss): http://bit.ly/HDxmZd

Reflections on leading a “how-to” #twitterSoE workshop for academics

I delivered my first in a series of social networking workshops for academic researchers that are new to using social media tools.  The session focused on the ‘basics’  of using Twitter, which included an overview of what it is and a step-by-step interactive session on getting to grips with the various functions of the app.  The presentation, including the resources I used, can be found HERE.

It was a really enlightening session, not only for the participants who found it really useful but also for me as a first time trainer in this sort of field.  I have a background in teacher training and teacher development in TESOL, so this skills-type of training (so to speak) was an interesting challenge.  The session was designed to provide a clearer understanding of the purposes of Twitter so that individuals can begin to see for themselves how it can be used to raise their academic profiles.  I could have easily make the session all about using the functions of Twitter, a sort of ‘click here, click there’ presentation, but I didn’t.  Just because someone knows how to use something doesn’t mean that they understand how.  So, I started with presenting what Twitter is which helped raise the curiosity of the participants.  There were a lot of “Ah, I get it!” sort of moments in the beginning, which was great.

From there the session focused on trying out the different functions of Twitter while at the same time tying the practical aspects to the purpose of Twitter.  For example, we looked at how to mention someone in the tweet and why this could be an important tool for networking with other researchers (i.e. highlight interesting / important info relevant to a particular individual).  We looked at retweeting tweets and why this is useful for sharing resources with others.

What I took away from that session was that just because I know how to use something doesn’t mean that I necessarily could show others how to use it as clearly as it ‘seemed’ in my own head.  In other words, just because it makes sense to me doesn’t mean that it’s clear to others.  You’d think that someone who has teacher training experience would understand this!  I was aware of this gap when developing the content but teaching on a more technical level was a challenge that I’m looking forward to in developing in my own teaching practice.