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I am doing my Masters (thesis-based) in Computer Engineering in Canada. I started my research in September 2015 and it is now the end of April in 2017 but I haven't done ANY significant research. It is very distressing and I definitely will need extra time to finish my research and graduate.

I meet with my professor and we both decide on what I need to do and a deadline is set for specific tasks. The initial stages of these tasks mainly involve installing software on my lab system which has the hardware I need for my research. I always run into problems during these installation processes and I end up spending more time than necessary JUST to have the necessary tools needed to do my project. By the time I get started with my work and do anything meaningful, the deadline arrives and the tasks remain incomplete.

My professor is frustrated by my lack of concrete results but despite that, he is encouraging and believes in my abilities. I also think I can publish at least one conference paper before I graduate. However, I am wasting my potential and my expertise by not meeting set deadlines. I know I can get things done but apparently, I am too slow in getting to where I want to be.

I feel that setting aside a set amount of time each day (6 hours or so) is not always effective in meeting goals. Should I just give up sleep (and definitely my leisure time) to meet my goals? I am afraid that it will impact my health and my concentration and negatively impact the quality of my work.

Should I simply come to terms with the fact that given my capabilities, I will need to sleep less to meet my goals?

EDIT:

I also work as a TA and a good amount of time also goes towards preparing for labs and marking students' papers.

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    Why can't you keep working on the project after the deadline? It seems ludicrous to keep missing unrealistic deadlines and then having to reset your work, if the deadline is set to just provide some structure for your research. – Drecate Apr 21 '17 at 5:24
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    What next? Giving up eating? – henning Apr 21 '17 at 5:24
  • I have done this before I used to go on less sleep and I would not recommend it. Granted you can get work done this way but you are young and this is the time that your brain is growing and if you mess up your sleep you're doing yourself a huge disservice. Try getting more time elsewhere. Also exercise and eat well for optimum performance. Good lick. – Miz Apr 21 '17 at 5:37
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    If the main thing that is slowing you down is difficulty installing needed software, then get some help with that, man! There's stackexchange, there are computer gurus, there are fellow students.... – aparente001 Apr 21 '17 at 18:49
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Reducing sleep may work for a day or two. However, after that, sleep debt accumulates, and sleep deprivation will lead to a reduction in productivity.

Sleep is essential for your physical health, and in particular, it is essential for mental functioning. You may find it better to view sleep as a form of "work time". The cognitive structures you have about your thesis will be refined and pruned while you sleep. You'll make novel connections while you sleep. Sleep will also enable you to have the mental energy to engage in focused activity on the thesis.

In particular, the kind of deep creative thinking required to analyse data and write a thesis is helped greatly by being well-rested. Sleep also helps ensure that the work you do is directed towards your goals.

Thus, allocating enough time to sleep so that you are well-rested is essential to overall academic productivity.

So in general, if you are looking to maximise productivity in the medium-term (i.e., from a week or two to perhaps a month or two), then look at things other than sleep and thesis-time that can be trimmed. If possible, remove all other work commitments (i.e., no tutoring, RA work, consulting, etc.). Other work consumes largely the same set of limited mental and time resources that you have available each week. If possible, reduce non-work commitments.

Also, in the medium term, many people do pull back from social and leisure activities a little bit. But in the longer term, you want to think about a balance to your life that truly works for you. I also think that incorporating at least a moderate amount of physical exercise is also important.

  • I guess sleep, diet and exercise should be a part of one's lifestyle at all costs. But meeting deadlines is quite important. If time is used in doing work that is important but not directly useful, wouldn't that lost time have to be created elsewhere? How should I account for the time I lose in doing installations and setting things up? – a_sid Apr 21 '17 at 13:06
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Having less sleep would do potentially more harm than good. Quite simply, you are less likely to be able to work to capacity if you are tired and worn out and this is very likely to have a detrimental effect on your studies and on your health in the medium to long term at least - you could end up becoming very resentful towards your work, which would compound the problems you are facing now.

There have been a considerable amount of research investigating the link between amount of sleep and academic performance. An example is the article Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students (Hershner and Chervin, 2014), where they state:

The consequences of sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness are especially problematic to college students and can result in lower grade point averages, increased risk of academic failure, compromised learning, impaired mood, and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.

Instead of reducing your sleep, you need to ensure that you maintain your sleep duration and patterns, as well as eating well, exercising regularly and occasionally giving yourself some 'time off'. Look for other areas that time can be gained (without harming your studies, health or work, of course).

Talk with your professor about these issues as well, particularly about the time spent on installations and as a TA.

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