I have less than a week left in my PhD submission - it's due by 9th of December. This is almost the end of my fourth year and I have been able to edit it several times since I completed the first draft.

So I planned out my week to read each chapter a day and finalise everything. But, I am tired sitting in my room watching TV instead of following my plan. It's been two days I haven't looked at it. I have completely lost the will to work on it and have no motivation to work on it whatsoever. In fact I am rather planning what I need to do after submission rather really working through it now till the submission date. My neck is in pain and I just feel drained out.

I can't believe what happened to me suddenly. I worked on it well in the past almost four years.

Has it happened to anyone else here? How I can bounce back to get advantage from this last few days that I have left in my submission? How I can motivate myself again to work on it?

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    Go party and get drunk. Hopefully next day your blockage goes away. Dec 5, 2016 at 13:10
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    See if you can do only 15 minutes. That's not that hard, right? Then do it again. Dec 5, 2016 at 14:35
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    Plan something sinfully fun for when you're finished. Plan on spending weeks celebrating the holidays without thinking about research, put together a full weekend of activities with friends, splurge and buy yourself a new TV or video game console or a lot of an indulgent desert you love but don't get often - something that will last several days at least and is nothing but pure joy for you. You will have absolutely earned it when you're finished, and knowing that you have something incredible coming up will make it easier to soldier through for just a few more short days.
    – Kevin
    Dec 5, 2016 at 17:15
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    Alternate between going for a walk around the block and working for 15-30 minutes until 9:30 tonight. (don't forget to eat a well balanced meal for dinner with very little sugar/carbs) sleep for a minimum of 6 hours before getting up and repeating the cycle. It NEVER fails.
    – dalearn
    Dec 5, 2016 at 18:34

9 Answers 9


I agree with lostsoul29, but I will add a couple of additional thoughts as that answer did not address all aspects of your question.

  1. For your neck pain, I recommend using Tiger Balm (specifically, the patches rather than the goop which can be messy). After writing much of my master's thesis on a laptop while sitting on a couch, I developed "military neck," or a loss of the natural curvature in my neck. The pain made it so hard to sit at the computer b/c that's what aggravated it most. I get chiropractic care for that and have had success there, but for you, you need an immediate solution and, as I said, Tiger Balm.
  2. Remove your TV. Sounds like this is your crutch. It's easy, it's there and when the volume is loud enough you can momentarily ignore the stress you're feeling. Maybe you can simply unplug it to make turning it on a more conscious decision, but I would go so far as to ask a friend to store it at their apartment for the time being. This may sound dramatic, but it's extremely effective.
  3. Go for a run, or some sort of vigorous cardiac exercise. Take just 1/10th of the time you've been watching TV and exercise instead (that is, you clearly have the time so that is not an excuse). Not only is this a great way to increase blood flow to your brain and help clear the fog, it will help with your neck pain as well. That was the only other thing that helped mine (besides Tiger Balm and, eventually, getting treatment).
  4. Be kind to yourself. So you took a couple days off? Big deal. Do not be mean or self degrading. Move on. Do not think about how much there is to get done, just do the next thing. And then after that, do the next thing. Rinse and repeat. When you start that negative inner dialogue try stopping it quickly. My mantra is something like, "that thought doesn't serve me well, let's move on." When I start thinking of the next 5 things I have to do, I think, "just do the next thing," repeatedly as a way of focusing me on the task at hand. These might seem cheesy, but I find them effective, and you may need them if you follow through on step 3 and no longer have your TV to drown out your inner dialogue.

This answer is based on my own experiences being in your position. I am terrible procrastinator so, sadly, I have lots of experience in this department. Wishing you the best of luck!

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    If anyone hasn't clicked that link, then I would advise you to do so right now, especially if you are a procrastinator.
    – user61733
    Dec 5, 2016 at 6:06
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    As a CS guy (who spends large amounts of time in front of a computer and has older colleagues who've been at it for decades) I wouldn't so much recommend tiger balm for issue #1 but a complete change of habits in the future. Do long amounts of work at a real desk with a monitor and keyboard that are correctly configured for your height and make regular breaks. Otherwise you'll have big health problems later in life! Ahem, otherwise good answer, although I think I'll have to stop procrastinating now :(
    – Voo
    Dec 5, 2016 at 8:36
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    For future reference, Stephen Pressfield wrote a great book named 'The War of Art' about how crazy procrastination can get, writer's block and some tactics at to how to overcome both. I'd advice OP against reading it now since it's quite a book and he has little time, but perhaps for future readers with more time on their hands. Also available in audio book for easier combining with actually doing useful stuff. No affiliation.
    – Mast
    Dec 5, 2016 at 10:13
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    You forgot sleep! Eat, Sleep, and Exercise is the answer here.
    – dalearn
    Dec 5, 2016 at 18:38
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    No, I do not actually believe in subluxation. I was treated with active release technique (ART), not adjustments. Still I wouldn't consider ART a legitimate science. But, that doesn’t actually matter. I also have a copper IUD, and it's very effective, but scientists have no idea why. More importantly, academia is a community of people in the pursuit of scholarship and, yes, scientific research. At its core it is about discussing ideas and pursuing knowledge with respect and integrity. In this case, @Davor, I would argue that you are the one that is out of line. Dec 7, 2016 at 1:11

Well, first of all, I don't really know whether additional work will result in an improved thesis. Maybe your subconscious just knows when to stop!

However... IF there are a few last things to fill in, loose threads to tie up, etc., then you need the following:

  1. A to-do list. Jot down the tasks that remain, and prioritize them. You might not have the oomph to do all of them.

  2. A change of scenery. Pack up the things you need and go work somewhere else, such as a quiet library. At this point, you might find it helpful to get off campus and go to a public library frequented by children and non-academics. Perhaps a window with a nice view would be helpful, to try to get some work done, despite your feeling of burn-out.

  3. Inspiration. Re-read some piece of scientific writing whose style gives you a real kick.

  4. Encouragement. Show or send some favorite bits to a friend, someone who will appreciate them and enthuse. Pre-write some stubborn bit by explaining what you want to write to your friend.

  5. Pain relief for your neck. Consider: heating pad, hot water bottle, hot bath with epsom salts, ibuprofen, Tylenol, chiropractor, physical therapy, massage.

  6. A really fun reward. Promise yourself something fun for the end of each day, and then follow through.

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    Plus 1 for change in scene. Go 'live' in a cafe for a couple of days. With headphones. You can't watch TV, do cleaning chores, sorting out closets, etc. if you aren't actually there. Makes being productive easier due to less alternatives. Dec 5, 2016 at 14:07
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    Yep, going to the public library works for me. I like to find one of those cubicle desk things and just camp out for the rest of the day. If possible, I don't bring my computer or my phone, since my Instant Gratification monkey will just cause me to read Stack Exchange or watch YouTube instead, but that's not always possible.
    – user61733
    Dec 5, 2016 at 14:31
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    @FighterJet Yes! Stack Exchange is the worst! The most moral thing we could do would be to stop making it such an interesting place to spend time! :D
    – msouth
    Dec 5, 2016 at 14:59
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    Hi this really helped. I made a to-do-list and stuck to it. Cheers for a helpful answer.
    – Ahmad
    Dec 5, 2016 at 19:07
  • @Ahmad - I've been there, brother. Happy editing! Dec 5, 2016 at 19:16

I'm in a similar boat. My Masters thesis is due in three days, and I've completed most of the revisions suggested by my advisor. However, until two days ago, I had lost the motivation to complete the final set of major revisions. I motivated myself by:

  1. Telling myself that I've spent the last two years working on this, and although I could spend a lot more time working on what I love, I need to move on to bigger things.
  2. Although writing is stressful and a drain of energy, I love how every single revision makes my work better. Years later when I look back on these days, do I want to see a passionate, hungry perfectionist at work, or a big whining crybaby who barely got through?
  3. Drink coffee, lots of it. Its not healthy to drink a lot of it, but it gets the job done.
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    Be careful with coffee if you're not accustomed to drinking it. A large, sudden increase in coffee consumption might give you a stomach pain to accompany your neck pain. Dec 5, 2016 at 5:31
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    @Andreas To emphasize the legitimacy of you concerns: You may also experience Nervousness, Jitters, Sweating, Nausea... That's what happened to me in a similar situation. These symptoms lasted for several hours and were severe enough that I had to stop working, lay down and wait for it to be over before returning to my desk. So, overdosing on caffeine may actually cost you valuable, productive time instead of earning you some. Dec 6, 2016 at 10:38

Indulge in the feeling, temporarily.

The anxiety produced by fighting the lack of motivation and feeling like it's wrong to feel that way, is far more detrimental than understanding that it's ok to be a little burned out and take a short break.

Take a day or two, be a bum and put it off, but make sure that when you get done with that day or two that you understand the importance of getting back to the grindstone.

Most importantly, congratulations on your achievement.


So I planed out my week to read each chapter a day and finalise everything. But, I am tired... Its been two days I haven't looked at it.

So I gather that you're at the stage where you're doing minor clean-up, and you're finding it nearly impossible to concentrate on reading your thesis. I'm not surprised! You're probably seeing most of the text for the fourth or fifth time. Your eyes may be looking at the page, but what you "see" is what you think you wrote, not what's actually there.

So my trick is to read the thesis out loud. It's much easier to concentrate because you're taking a more active role, and you'll catch all sorts of things you would never notice otherwise. Don't try to do it all at once; break it up into short sections or you will strain your voice. And if you do strain your voice, you can get almost as good results by reading silently but moving your lips while you read. Yes, you'll look funny, but it will help you to concentrate.


It's pretty common. If you know you're not up to working on it on one particular day, decide to do twice as much work the next day--- provided that you're confident you can actually hold yourself to it. It's like trying to fall asleep at night: If you're just not tired, then lying awake in the dark is not helpful; get up, do something productive or at least enjoyable, and try again when you're ready. If you're finishing up a PhD, you have the time-management skills to finish up on time; just be honest about what you can actually finish in a day, and don't push yourself past the point where it becomes counterproductive. If it helps to motivate you, schedule some sort of reward (vacation, dinner at a nice restaurant, etc.) after you're done.

  • Hi very effective tips - thanks. Yes London holidays have been booked next week 😊
    – Ahmad
    Dec 7, 2016 at 20:29
  • @Ahmad: Enjoy the trip!
    – anomaly
    Dec 7, 2016 at 23:58

Consider this a completely separate challenge. You are going to hit walls like this in your life. You are clearly burned out on motivating yourself to work on your PhD; so make this into a meta-challenge--motivate yourself to figure out the answer to this question: "What works for me when I've hit a wall on a big project?"

This is a psychological self-hack. Get your brain out of the "I must motivate myself to work on my PhD" rut, and work on this new challenge. You will know, going forward, what to do with a wall when you hit it. This gives you something positive to look forward to, namely, having something in your personal toolkit to overcome future challenges.


best of luck! If you havent lost the will to work on it by the end - then you havent had the proper PhD experience.

I am with the guy who tells you to get drunk. Just get drunk, go party (make sure you keep hydrated - dont end up hung over) and then finish it off.

Also - dont try to sit and work on it for too long. 20 minute bursts, 10 minutes off, and set a goal as to what you want to achieve every time you sit down.

  • P.S. I did the same as you [reddit.com/user/_pantsparty_/] - I started a reddit acount ant started complaining on the internet.
    – Dave
    Dec 6, 2016 at 21:01
  • Thank you much. Its going well and Friday is coming very soon.
    – Ahmad
    Dec 7, 2016 at 20:27

I know this is old, but I am in a similar situation right now with just a few weeks to go and a "preliminary deadline" before the official submission in a weeks time.

What has worked for me in the last days was this:

  • Get a professional relaxation massage Everything hurt. The massage did not completely cure that, I am just too tense. But it was a difference like day and night that I felt in my ability to focus after that massage. I instantly booked another one for the morning after my "preliminary deadline".
  • Find your personal cheerleader I did not actively search for one, but my boyfriend has put it upon himself to cheer me on, every evening and occasionally throughout the day. It might sound cheesy, but a short "You're doing awesome!"-type message on the phone can set free the energy you need to do even better.
  • Retreat Explain to your friends that you are crazy stressed right now and tell them when the deadline is and that you will be back to chat and do outings at that time. I just asked for people to understand that I suffer from being interrupted and that if I feel the need to socialize I would reach out to them. But also that this would be temporary and of course I am always there if it's important.
  • Do not indulge in taking time off Contrary to what others have said and what I would normally say for a stressful time, when it is this close to the deadline, indulging and taking a day off or so might be a problem, because a day is not enough if it is that bad, but enough time off will make you miss your deadline. So now is the time to power through. Having to pick up yourself from slacking off takes time and strength we do not have right now.
  • Plan Mak a short list of the days you still have and what you would like to get done (roughly) on each day. At the end of each day, make a more detailed list for the next one. And then go ticking off. Usually, the achievement of ticking something off the list gives me a feeling of accomplishment and a short energy boost, just enough to start on another item. And of course, if you can reach a flow of working you can always do more (and reward yourself with a buffer day of nothing at the end in the best case).

See it that way: There is a dreaded deadline ahead. But ahead of that is the time after the deadline... when you are done.

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