Dealing with stress is a natural part of completing a PhD. There are lots of deadlines to meet and exams to take. The final year of a PhD can be incredibly challenging in terms of time management.
You may be trying to cram in more and more activities into your packed academic schedule. You may want to get through your tasks faster so that you can do even more. You may have been to time management courses before, listened to YouTube videos, and read a few books on the topic. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing time effectively and being productive. In this article, I have tried and tested time management tools to help you navigate your PhD.
Many people would agree that we waste lots of time without being consciously aware of it. You may fight your way through congested traffic commuting to face-to-face coffee meetings which could easily be done via Zoom. You may set yourself some fluffy action points or goals and have vague intentions to follow up on them. You may spend hours every day catching up on the news or browsing social media sites.
Ask yourself: What are the three activities you do on a regular basis that lead to wasting time? Which one would you like to eliminate in the next seven days? What could stop you from succeeding? How would you know when you have made some significant progress?
Task batching can contribute to accomplishing more in less time. It is the opposite of multi-tasking. Batching your tasks means that you group together similar tasks within a given period of time. You may batch similar writing tasks or research, the phone calls you need to make, the e-mails to answer, etc. You will be able to focus more on the tasks and increase the quality of your work.
The key is to minimise distractions. Disable e-mail alerts, avoid regularly checking social media posts, and turn off your phone if you need to. Think of time management as focus management. When you feel disoriented, you feel out of control. When you are distracted, your mind gets cluttered.
Plan each day
At the end of each day, take a few minutes to make a plan for your next day. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and create two columns: one for the morning and one for the afternoon. List the tasks you would like to complete as well as how much time you would expect these to take. Human nature is to underestimate how long tasks would take. Build in some extra time to avoid making impossible plans.
You will save mental energy the following day because you will be able to get started straight away. Your brain will be going through your planned tasks while you sleep and it may churn out surprising solutions to problems. Your problem-solving will improve. You will feel more motivated in the morning to jump in.
Set SMART goals
Throughout your academic studies, you may have been asked to set some SMART goals. SMART will help you to become more clear on your objectives and will increase the likelihood of achieving them. If you have not used this tool for a while, you may find it helpful to revisit it.
S- Specific. Is your goal focused and clear? If it is a big goal, do you need to break it down into small segments? Have you written it down?
M – Measurable. How would you know that you have achieved it? How would you know that you are making progress? What would be the sign of success?
A – Action. What steps do you need to take to accomplish your goal? Are these steps clear and specific?
R – Realistic. How feasible is it for you to achieve this? Would you need to adjust the time frame to make it more realistic? Do you believe that you can accomplish this objective, given your skills, knowledge, and the resources available to you? How do you feel about this goal? Do you feel excitement, overwhelm, anxiety, or any other emotions?
T – Time bound. Have you set a clear deadline for accomplishing it? Do you need to set any further milestones?
Find an accountability buddy
When you talk about your goal and your intention to achieve it, you become accountable. Can you think of any other PhD students who might be interested in becoming your accountability buddy? You could agree to get in touch with each other at least for a few minutes each week to see how much progress you have made on your objectives. When you set clear goals and consistently take steps towards achieving them, you are more likely to succeed.
Try the Pomodoro technique
Many people would agree that the Pomodoro technique is a very effective tool to increase your productivity. It could help you to eliminate distractions and focus more on the task at hand. You would divide your time into a 25-minute working time and a 5-minute break. If you prefer using applications, do try the free Pomofocus app.
Project manage your time
There is a wide range of applications that could help you to structure your time more effectively. Here are some apps that you might like to try:
- Trello – this tool would help you to divide your tasks into 3 categories: to-do, doing, and done. If you prefer a kanban-style format and being able to visually track your actions, this may be an excellent option for you.
- Passion Planner – this app offers a calendar so that you will be able to schedule some of your activities and track your progress. This is a great tool for becoming more productive.
- Evernote – are you looking for a note taking app which you could use while completing research or meeting with your peers? This app will help you to keep your notes in one place and develop a more organised study approach.
Further PhD and time management tips: