PhD Productivity

How to be Productive During Your PhD

by Fiona Martinez


Productivity has to be one of the key subjects that’s discussed most among those who work independently. Any profession which involves the often-dreaded ‘working from home’, and therefore a great deal of self-motivation, can often be challenging. Of course, there are many benefits: working outside on a sunny day, the ability to set your own working hours and the joy of wearing clothes you’d normally only wear to the gym all day long.

However, the downsides can sometimes cloud these benefits and when I started my PhD in October 2015 it was the negatives that first struck me.

I was used to the hubbub of a busy office, and in my small home office (read: spare room/the cat’s room/a room with a desk in it) I was acutely aware of the silence. There was nobody around me to discuss the day’s news or the weather, or any of the other seemingly mundane subjects that you might often talk to colleagues about on a daily basis. There was nobody to make tea for, or to grab some lunch with. It was quiet and it was sometimes a little bit lonely. So, after about a week of feeling a little isolated and saving up all of my day’s chitchat for when my *lucky* partner arrived home from work I decided to try a few things to ease the quiet and general alone-ness.

  • Firstly, I found some white noise on Spotify which helped me so much. Just having some background noise made the flat a little less dauntingly silent! There are lots of playlists online you can stream from, and even websites whose only purpose is to provide you with different kinds of white noise sounds. These are all useful when you need some non-distracting but comforting background noise.
  • At a time of deadline pressure when even the white noise couldn’t cancel out my urge to procrastinate, I decided to visit a local coffee shop. Anybody who knows Sheffield will know how many delightful coffee shops exist within its seven hills, and travelling outside the house allowed me to sample them all! The noise in the coffee shop was just enough to keep me focused without being so much that it distracted me. The interactions with other people, even when just ordering a drink, made me feel part of the world and less removed from everything. The ability to consume delicious cups of caffeine without the dishes was merely an added bonus!
  • If I ever grew tired of a particular coffee shop, I would grab a cup to go and head to the library – another of my favourite places to work. Here was a familiar space for me after years of studying, with all the books I could need and the support of knowing others around me were working also. Once again, the little interactions with people made me feel more sociable and being surrounded by other people removed the feeling of isolation I’d had at home.

I still love days where I can wear my comfy pyjama-esque clothes and sit at my desk, and on those occasions I now know the many benefits of a Spotify rain sounds playlist. However, if I’m still struggling for motivation I get up and move. The beauty of changing location has had a huge positive impact on my productivity and I’d recommend it to any PhD student struggling to stay motivated. You might find it not only improves your work and output, but also your knowledge and appreciation of where you live!

This blog post is adapted from ‘PhD Productivity and the Joy of Coffee Shops’. The original post and other pieces on PhD life can be found on