Time management tips for PhDs

I think each of us are, to some degree, we all have similar needs, to some degree, as academics we have certain projects that run similar pathways, so to speak. I would definitely look at how it’s been done before.

Don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel. Consider looking at historical evidence, look at project templates, talk to peers, talk to (potentially) supervisors, etc, that have done this before. What we call that in the proejct management world is expert judgement.

Look towards our peer group or look outside of ourselves when we’re planning. And my other methodology is to think about building a plan. If you’re working with the thesis or you’re working towards a goal, maybe it’s a doctorat. I would maybe backward engineer that a little

Look at what my end deliverable is. And for some people it’s different, for some people it’s “I want to walk across that stage and receive that diploma in my hand.” And for some other people it’s “I really would like to change the world and I see how I am going to change the world.” Whatever that is for you, I’d say look at that first, and then take that beautiful mountain of a vision and turn it into little, smaller visions, and break it down into what we call mole hills. So take the mountain, break it down to a mole hill.

And for those of us working towards a particular long term goal, I like to at least backward engineer it a little bit. Because We don’t have enough information to be planning maybe two years in advance, but just to have some tentative milestones in place. And then forward-looking, between two weeks, a month to three months in terms of an actual real world concrete plan.

So in terms of a methodology for building that, we use what’s called a Work Breakdown Structure to help us build that. But we also, and it sounds so complicated, but really, you’re just taking a project and categorizing it into different compartaments of mini projects that you can tackle one at a time. And this also gets through some of that state of overwhelm we can sometimes feel when we are looking at that big mountain that we’re going to be climbing.

The other methodology I would use would be learn how to estimate duration properly. Really take into account your physical start point, your physical end point for the activity at hand. Not just the work effort related to doing that activity. And how I explain that is if you have to paint a room, and maybe its only one wall. Well, paint typically needs a few hours to dry. So if I said to myself, “I’m going to paint this entire wall here, and its going to take me one day”.

That duration estimate is going to be a little on the lean side. Whereas if I give myself two days, I’m taking into account more than just my work effort. I’m actually taking into account the fact that the paint has to dry. So there are all these little things in our day to day that add up. And a lot of people feel like, when they’re using the methodology of planning, they’re not staying on top of their plan either because their durations are a little lean, so I would say 10 to 20 percent more than what you thought you were going to do, especially if its a project that you’ve never been involved in before.

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