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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Lim

Atomic habits for Ph.D. student


In my recent experience, obtaining a second-hand car granted me the gift of 20 minutes of serene solitude on my daily commute. Seizing this opportunity, I opted to utilize this valuable time by engaging with the 'Atomic Habits' audiobook, penned by the insightful James Clear and conveniently accessible through audible.com. Remarkably, this modest adjustment has resulted in me absorbing the book's wisdom thrice over, yielding a subtle yet significant transformation in my life as a Ph.D. student.


Key concepts and recommendations from the book that can be effectively applied by Ph.D. students like myself are as follows:

  1. Embrace the 1% improvement approach: Strive to make small daily advancements, even if seemingly insignificant, which accumulate to a remarkable ~38-fold progress compared to the previous year. -> It is crucial to measure progress only against my personal achievements from the past, not in comparison to others.

  2. Adopt a system-oriented mindset: Instead of fixating solely on achieving specific goals like getting published in a particular journal within a set timeframe, concentrate on developing a well-structured 'system' for conducting better research. This could involve establishing daily habits, such as writing a paragraph before lunch, dedicating 30 minutes to a literature review each day, or conducting small experiments regularly.

  3. Implement the 2-minute rule: Tackle tasks that have been lingering in procrastination mode by breaking them down into manageable components that take less than 2 minutes to complete. For instance, tasks like learning machine learning or fixing my personal website, or writing a blog post like this can be initiated and gradually progressed using this rule.

  4. Harness the cue-craving-response-reward loop: Optimize your work routine by establishing a cue that triggers a craving for productivity, followed by a well-defined response to the cue, and finally, rewarding yourself upon completion. For example, before starting any writing task, create a ritual of turning on your laptop, iPad, and notebook, accompanied by playing Pomodoro music through your headphones.

  5. Shift focus from Identity to Process to Outcome: Reframe your perspective by transitioning away from defining yourself solely by ambitious outcomes like publishing in high-impact journals. Instead, direct your attention towards embracing the identity of a dedicated researcher committed to continuous improvement and mastery of your craft.

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