“I have so much work to do! Where do I start”
“I have so much work to do, there’s no way I am going to finish”
As a PhD student I am regularly saying both these phrases and often hear my PhD colleagues saying the same. However, you can do this and you WILL get it done… And here’s how I do it in two simple(ish) steps:
1. Believe it’s doable
Be positive! I can do it, YOU can do it. Deep down, I know, and you know, we wouldn’t have gotten onto a PhD programme if you and your supervisors didn’t think you could do it. Every now and then I just take a moment to tell myself “I can do it!”. Other people have done it, YOU can do it too!
2. Time management
I know, these two words are said so many times but it’s a big one, and here are some actual real-life examples of how I manage my time.
If it’s getting too overwhelming I revisit that good old Gantt chart and look at it realistically! How much time do I have left and what do I need to do. Also, its nice to see what I have accomplished already.
I know they can be a bore to do and take so much time, but it is really useful to be able to see if I am on track and keep an eye on my progress – plus supervisors always ask to see at some point so it’s good to keep updating it (with finished tasks, obviously). I use Gantt Project software and if you are lucky enough to be a student at Coventry University this is available on myLaunch, alternatively I hear Microsoft Project is good. I found it really easy to add all my tasks and dates, link them up and colour code them.
Small tasks – not big ones
Breaking down bigger tasks into smaller ones. So, I need to write my introduction chapter (ahhh!). This is going to take forever, so I break it down:
- Read and make notes on 1 or two papers
- Write 500 words
- Read through feedback from supervisors
- Make the simple changes on English or grammar from supervisor’s feedback
I love my to-do lists
I have a day by day, week by week, and month by month to do list. This sounds like a lot, but it helps me to plan each day to be as efficient as it can. It is a similar style to a bullet journal which uses a coding system, I can’t be bothered to make it look pretty.
I roughly work 9am – 6pm and depending on what meetings or workshops I have. I can work out how much time and concentration I can fit around it. Sometimes I add how much time I think each task will take. But the most satisfying part is ticking it off when I’ve have done it (well I put a little cross next to it). Also, if I did something and it wasn’t on my list, I add it and cross it off straight away. I like keep my to do lists in my note book so I can see exactly what I have achieved that week or month, I did try blocking out time on my outlook calendar in a similar sort of way but I prefer a physical notebook where I can cross things off.
At the moment I am managing all different stages of my systematic review (double screening, data extraction, coding and a poster presentation) and planning my next study (protocol, ethics). When things are overlapping like this and I have lots of big tasks – all that wanted to be done yesterday – I break it down and allocate time to that overall task:
- Tuesday morning: systematic review – code 5 papers
- Tuesday afternoon: systematic review – work on poster draft
- Wednesday morning: ethics application and protocol – proof read and send to supervisors
- Wednesday afternoon: systematic review – code 5 papers
Slowly they will get done and my planning will pay off.
When I have a deadline coming up quicker than I thought I work backwards from the deadline to work out when is the lastest I can get it all done for. So, thinking about my poster presentation on my preliminary systematic review results on 3rd June:
- Travel time: leaving 1st June
- Time for printing, say a week before leaving to be on the safe side: 25th May
- A week for my supervisors to give feedback: sending on 18th May
- Final proof read, an hour: 18th May
- Getting it to look prettier, a day: 17th May
- Getting it to look pretty, half a day: 16th May
- First draft of it looking like a poster, a day: 15th May
- First draft of text, a day: 14th May
- Analysis, so I have some results to put on the poster, luckily this was my job last week…
I planned this out as soon as I found out about the presentation so I knew roughly when I needed to finish it and start it. Every deadline, I work backwards so I can always try to give it enough time.
But, why bother spending time planning when you can just do it?
I am a bit biased, as I am just a super organised person anyway, but I really think it helps in the long run and to manage the PhD when everything is happening at once. If we could do one study after the other in perfect order and have time to write up – everyone would do a PhD, right?
I love organising and planning so much that I need to make sure that I actually do something. So, I don’t use my productive time to plan. I get most of my work done between 10am and 12pm and then after lunch, about 1pm to 4pm. I don’t start to plan or write a to-do list at 10am, I do it before, over lunch or in the mid-afternoon slog.
I find my planning really helps to just know what I am doing straight away when I sit down at my desk. I can use my time more efficiently and prevent procrastination. It’s one thing planning and organising, but you have to actually do it, so make your plans SMART (S – specific, M – meaningful, A – achievable, R – realistic, T – timely)!
I will also cover procrastination in another blog so watch this space!
Thank you for reading, I hope you have found it interesting and useful. Please do get in touch if you have any questions!
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