PhD Toolkit: Daydreams, Deep Work, and Learning

Our thoughts drive everything we do. Sometime we think too much but in today’s plethora of external noise, sometimes we think too little. As a doctoral student, you’ll tools to gain an advantage. As you understand thinking, you’ll understand learning. Let’s talk about two ways of thinking: daydreaming and deep work.

Both ways of thinking will help your learning process. There’s deep thinking or deep work. It’s a process where you schedule time during your day to focus on a project without distractions. Your scheduled time is focused on writing, research, reading, and understanding.

Also, daydreaming is a form of thinking. Daydreaming is not wasting time – it’s can relax your. It helps you find the wings that let your mind fly away. Mind wandering guides your creativity, a key factor in writing your dissertation. Remember: your goal is to contribute an original idea to your field of study.  It’s a time to let your creativity shine.


One study concluded that we daydream 47% of the day. When we’re bored, our minds wander, explore connections, and think outside the box.

Solitude and daydreaming go hand in hand. Daydreaming is a normal experience and “happy daydreaming” helps us enjoy fantasy and effective planning. It’s how we amuse ourselves. Overall, daydreaming helps us think about our experiences, become self-aware and enhance our lives.

Daydreaming is tied to solitude or blocking out external distractions. But with our obsession with social media, I wonder if we daydream less and rely more on distractions to guide our inner thoughts and dreams.

Deep Work/Deep Writing

Deep work is higher order thinking. It’s when you feel like your brain hurt, even your hair hurts!!

I know how this one – I remember reading journal articles on food policies. The goal was to look for themes, contradictions, and new research. My job was to analyze. consolidate, write a literature review then apply it to my dissertation.

At first it feels overwhelming. But digging deep and thinking hard helped me massage the information so that it made sense.  Sometimes rituals (sitting at the same desk, scheduling time to write, a cup of coffee nearby) really set the stage for deep work and deep writing.


As a graduate student, it’s hard to develop new skills. As an undergrad, you could fake it till you make it. But graduate school is where the real learning happens – you have to deliver.

Graduate school was my reminder that learning is slow. You need time to learn and understand your topic. It takes time to become an expert, to really understand something.  And understanding trickles down into your DNA.

I’m spoiled and lucky – I enjoy learning and the solitude that comes from writing. For me, a PhD was a perfect fit.

Sources: ‘Deep Work’ Pioneer Cal Newport on Deep Writing

Daydreaming: Not a Useless Waste of Time


Dr. Bessie

Words are a lens to focus one’s mind.
~~~Ayn Rand~~~



Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Resilient Agriculture Advocate • Public Speaker • Public Policy Wonk • Writer • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

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