By the time I stopped doing experiments, I knew I had enough for a PhD. Not the best PhD ever, and not world-changing, but good enough.
Because I wasn’t allowed back in the lab, I just had to focus on writing. The hard part was behind me. The results weren’t going to change, so it was just a matter of making sure I was productive when writing.
It is much, much easier to write when you know the raw material isn’t going to change.
I decided to work at home, not at the office, because there would be fewer distractions.
I got rid of the TV, and had no internet connection on my computer. The lack of internet meant I had to gather all the papers I would need beforehand, forcing me to think about what I would need.
I also set up a dedicated space (2 large desks joined together and a very comfortable chair, next to a large window for plenty of natural light), just for thesis writing.
6. Targets and consistency
I set myself a target of 3 months, broken down into targets for each chapter. This would give me about 3 months in reserve before the final absolute deadline.
This meant that because I smashed the target most days, I finished every day feeling good about my progress, which in turn meant I started the next day feeling confident.
The two most important parts of the day are the beginning and end. It’s important to build momentum early, and have a routine for ending the day too.
At the end of each day I always left myself something easy to do to get started with the next day, so I woke up knowing what I was going to do.
I also tidied the desk at the end of every day, which also helped close the day mentally and stopped my brain going over and over the thesis at night.
8. Applying ruthless standards to what I included
Whether it was the lit review, or my own work, I cut anything sub-standard.
I focused only on the very best literature, saving myself a huge amount of time. It also had the result of associating my work with the very best in the field.
I only wrote about what I knew about, which made the thesis shorter, faster and easier to write, and of higher quality than if I had included everything whether I understood it or not.
9. Taking time over details that matter
I took painstaking care over the clarity of the writing, the diagrams and the overall look of the thesis.
If a diagram took 2 hours, so be it. If I couldn’t find a high-quality image in a paper to paste in, I would re-draw it myself. Why? Because it adds so much to the feel of quality running through the thesis.
“The unreconstructed Si(111) surface”. This took a very long time to draw and make sure the diagram was accurate.
By applying obsessive focus to one detail at a time, I could make sure that I wouldn’t have to do it again. This brings me to the final point…
10. One draft
I always edit as I write, with one goal only: to make sure I’ve expressed the idea in my head clearly on the page. I don’t move on until I feel the sentence makes sense, with no ambiguity of meaning.
Clarity of thought is always the number one aim. But it is very difficult to come back to a piece of writing days or weeks later and sort out a mess of thought if you don’t clarify your writing while the thought is still fresh in your head.
This means I was constantly re-reading and revising what I’ve just written, but also means that when I submitted something to my supervisor it needed very few revisions and saved months, simply by getting as close to “right” as I could the first time round.