I had two Siamese cats growing up and one looked a lot like this, perhaps that is why I can’t stop laughing…

By Kelly

What? Oh right yes, how to write a thesis with a limited attention span. I’ve spent the last four months running around like I’ve stolen something. I’ve been multi-tasking somewhat precariously, with the flurry of activity only hindering actual progress on a handful of occasions. (I don’t want to talk about loading the wrong standard on three separate occasions, while trying to find out why my standardized values were wrong). But the hard work has paid off and I have more data than I presently know what to do with*.

After being in such a frenzy though I’m finding it a little difficult to sit at my desk and write all day. I’ve grown accustomed to 10-12 hour days but they involved a variety of activity, some completely mindless, like weighing out the wrong standard over and over again. As it turns out, I can only focus for 90 minutes at a stretch, and then my mind starts to wander. And if I can manage four such sessions in one day, then there is cause for celebration.

At first I was alarmed, but then I remembered back to my first two undergraduate years at RMIT in Melbourne. My girlfriend Emma-Jane and I were incredibly good at a) having good a time (some might say too good a time) and b) studying with extraordinary efficiency without compromising efficacy. After all, there were good times, as well as high distinctions, to be had. And so how have things changed? Why do I now have the attention span of a Siamese cat?

It occurred to me that putting in a 10-12 hour day from here on in was a recipe for burnout, and that in the past I had managed to do some very good work on as little as 6 full hours a day.  A 90 minute attention span is not actually bad at all. Sure I would like it to be longer but if I can write 250 decent words, or read and fully assimilate a paper or two, then I am being a lot more productive than entire days I’ve had in the past. Is anyone else ever surprised to find you’ve been at your desk all afternoon but appear to only have a couple of hours worth of work to show for it? Say, 90 minutes worth?

There really is something in the saying ‘work smarter, not harder’. If I am physically at my desk, but I have mentally checked out, then it’s time to get up and do something else. If I only get 4 1/2 hours of solid work done, then that will have to suffice for the day. Sitting there for an extra 4 hours and not producing anything is a complete waste of four hours.

The production of my thesis will not be an effortless stream of scientific prose. Rather, I will sew together the fragments of my literary coughing and spluttering and eventual fashion a cohesive body of work. Proving that even those with a short attention span, can produce a thesis salad.


* A friend suggested I sell my extra data, so if anyone is in the market for a couple of thesis chapters I’m willing to sell you the ‘results’ sections at a heavily discounted price. I’ll even give the discussion in dot points, just don’t make me write it.