PhD Thesis: marathon or Fartlek training?

A while ago, while I was writing my own PhD thesis I read a piece by Ben (from Literature Review HQ) on The Thesis Whisperer blog called ‘The piece of dissertation wisdom that made me want to scream’.


It was based on an analogy between writing and running, and proposed a Fartlek approach to writing. While probably most people have heard of marathons: long-distance running events in which participants run approximately 42 kms; Fartlek is maybe a less known approach to running. Fartlek translates from Swedish as ‘speed play’ and involves fast running for short periods of time followed by slower running to recover.

The three key pieces of ‘Fartlek’ writing advice were:

  1. Make a plan with short sections. By short I mean a “sprintable” length. Something that you could complete in one sitting if you’re focused.
  2. Make a timeline of when you want to achieve writing goals.
  3. Make self-imposed deadlines and make yourself accountable for them. Be creative on this one: tell your supervisor, your friends, colleagues, write it on Facebook, blog about it – whatever. The key aspect is: You need to feel that people are going to hold you to account if you don’t do what you said you would.

Sprint and then slow right down.

Are you willing to give it a go?


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