So You Wanna Do a Thesis? Part 3: Keeping Yourself Accountable

Welcome to my new series about my decision to do the thesis option for my program, and my advice to those of you considering the same. Are you considering doing a thesis? Does your program require you to? Then join me on this journey! Follow along on Twitter (@JessicaLColbert) with #MSLISthesis.

So you might notice that the featured image of my Trello board hasn’t really changed much since my last post. In fact, you’ll see that something is overdue. And that’s what I want to talk about today: how to keep yourself accountable, and how to stay on top of things. These tips are what tend to work for me, and I hope they work for you!

Know How You Work

I’ve always been a procrastinator. I’ve tried to fix that bad habit, but in college I learned that often I would get better grades and literature papers I would write the night before than ones I would work on ahead of time. Maybe I just work better under pressure. Plus, I realized that I tend to think about what I’m going to write for a few weeks before I sit down and put it on virtual paper, and then I just chug it out all at once.

I don’t recommend you do this. There’s a lot of anxiety and wine involved. But this is how I work. I know how I work, and that helps me to plan. If I get to set my own deadlines, I set them early just in case I miss the deadline and need to extend it. I build in my own safety nets. By knowing how you work, you can create a working schedule that maximizes your success and minimizes your stress.

Ask a Friend

I’m one of those people where letting somebody else down is worse than letting myself down. I mean, I don’t like letting myself down by any means, but knowing that somebody else is also upset is somehow way more upsetting to me. So often, when I have some sort of goal (like my thesis), I tell as many people as I can. When it comes to goals and projects, I complete overshare. And I do that so I’m not just stuck in my own bubble of deadlines and goalposts.

You could also find somebody else who is working on a similar project and be accountable to each other. I’m not taking classes in the spring, but I know that anytime I need to just sit down and get a chapter done, I will call up a friend and ask if they want to come over to work on stuff with me. When writing, I’ve always been told to “take a step back,” and having somebody else there is the perfect way to do that, but to also keep on track.

Paper or Virtual

I was one of those kids that never used their school-provided planner. Even when I tried writing things down in it, I would never open it up to look in it. Or, I would get so hung up on how to write things in it: do I write things down for the day when they’re due, or do I write it down when it’s assigned? How often should I look at it? And then there’s color coding, personal versus school versus job. It all gets a bit overwhelming for me. In school, I got around all this by just writing down assignments and appointments on my palm, that way I was forced to look at it.

Virtual calendars and reminder systems are so much easier for me. I always have my phone or my computer on it, and it’s easy to automate reminders and things like that. I’ve even found systems for optimizing my virtual calendars, such as the Get Things Done system.

But I know people for whom physical journals and planners, like bullet journals, are lifesavers. And I know I’m not one of those people. Sort of like with my first point, find what works for you and stick with it.

Know Your Priorities

I got a little behind this month and last month because of finals and other school assignments. In my mind, my thesis doesn’t need to be finished until April, but my assignments are due now. That made my thesis drop down on the priorities list. But now that I’m done with classes, and I’m not taking any next semester, the only thing to distract me from my thesis is job applications, so it’s back at the top of the list.

So know where your project or goal lands in your priorities. And know when it needs to change priority levels. If something is higher priority, you are more likely to stay on top of it (and you’ll probably feel worse if you miss a deadline or something).


Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you need to do what you need to do in order make sure you get things done. This is what works for me, but it might be different for you. I know most people would get very anxious and irritable trying to write something at the last minute. I know some people are very private about what they’re working on.

And of course, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. If you do screw up, stewing on what has passed and what caused it and what you could have done differently won’t change that it happened. But you can learn from it so you don’t do it again. And it’s okay to be upset! It means you care, and sometimes it can be easy to forget that we care. Am I upset that I haven’t stuck to my timeline as strictly as I planned? Of course. But there’s nothing I can do to change that. I can only move forward and improve, and these tips are what make that easy for me.

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