Upcoming PhD afternoon by Carmen Rietdijk: Time Management for PhDs

The next PhD afternoon of the ACS will focus on time management, and will take place in June 2020. The workshop will be organized by Carmen Rietdijk, a PhD coach at CDr Coaching.

Time management is a challenge for many PhD candidates. Because research is inherently unpredictable creating a realistic planning can be hard, and sticking to that planning can be even harder. Setting the right priorities and dealing with setbacks are essential skills for successful PhD candidates. Learning and improving these skills will increase their productivity.    

The workshop will include practical tips and exercises that will be directly applied to each participant’s PhD project. As a result, spending one afternoon sharpening time management skills will pay for itself in an increase in efficiency.

The workshop is open to all PhD candidates of the ACS, because time management is a valuable skill for everyone. More information on the upcoming PhD afternoon will follow.


How PhD candidates increase their productivity in three simple steps!

Are you struggling to keep up with the demands of your PhD? Are you working around the clock, while your to do list keeps growing? Is the amount of work preventing you from taking a much needed break?

Carmen Rietdijk Ph.D

I’ve been there.

During my PhD project I did not know how to stay happy and healthy while handling all my work. It was only after my PhD that I learned how to do this using three simple steps:
- setting the right priorities
- making a realistic planning
- sticking to this planning despite setbacks

Using these three steps, you too will be able to increase your productivity and take good care of your physical and mental health! In this article I will share my insights with you.

Check out the resources at the end of the article if you want to know more about time management, dealing with PhD frustrations, and getting your PhD Unstuck!

1.      Setting priorities at work

Why?
As a PhD candidate I did not differentiate very well between ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ tasks. I was spending most of my time on urgent tasks. Unfortunately most of them were not important! If I’d only focused my efforts on those tasks that were essential to finishing my PhD, I would have graduated a lot sooner!

How to?
Do you want to graduate quickly? You will need to focus your time at work on essential tasks only! Eliminate all other tasks from your to do list. This means: everything that does not directly contribute to you finishing your PhD. The stricter you are with the allocation of your time at work the faster you will graduate.

Go through your current to do list. Ask yourself if a task is really essential? Is it more important than other tasks? Also ask yourself how urgent each task is. Is it more urgent than other tasks? Is it urgent to you, or to other people?

Divide your tasks into four categories. Reschedule your tasks based on this overview, and you are sure to put your energy, focus and time towards the most important an urgent tasks!

-          Important/Urgent tasks               At the TOP of your to do list! Plan to do as soon as possible.
-          Important/Not Urgent tasks      Plan to do when the Important/Urgent tasks are done
-          Not Important/Urgent tasks      Delegate to someone else (colleague, technician, student, etc)
-          Not Important/Not Urgent         Why is this on your list? Eliminate completely.

2.       A realistic planning

Why?
Many enthusiastic PhD candidates plan to do more than that they handle. They are always behind schedule on several tasks, always stressed out, and progress in their projects is slow. A much better way to plan tasks is to start with the end result in mind. And to focus only on the important tasks!

How to?
By working backwards from the end result you can distill the necessary daily tasks to achieve this goal. Some examples of end results are ‘Publish this article in 6 months’, ‘Start this experiment in 3 months’, ‘Finishing my thesis in 1 year’.

Using this technique you will make progress towards your goals every single day! This is how you do it.

Example. A 6 month goal.
-  Create 6 sub-goals. Break up the main goal into sub-goals, one for each of the six months
Start with the sixth month and work your way backwards to the first month.
-  Create a weekly planning for the first two months
Break up the sub-goals of the first two months into week-goals.
-  Create a day-to-day planning for the first two weeks
Divide the goals of the first two weeks into day-goals.
Divide the day goals into hourly-goals when necessary.
-   Repeat this process for all your main goals.

Now you have a rough planning for the goals that will contribute to your PhD! There are only two more steps to create a truly successful planning.
1-      Is the planning realistic? Do you have a reasonable amount of time to perform the tasks you’ve set yourself? If you frequently need to work evenings and/or weekends to reach your goal on time, this may have a negative impact your health, and therefore your performance at work. Find more time to reach this goal, instead of exhausting yourself.
2-      You need to perform planning maintenance. As time progresses you will need to update your planning. Take some time at the beginning of the day, the week and the month to break up bigger tasks into smaller ones. This way you will maintain a clear overview of your path to a successful thesis defense!

3.      Sticking to your planning

Why?
PhD projects are unpredictable. The planning of any PhD candidate can be interrupted by unexpected tasks, setbacks, and demands of other people. Not to mention the effects of procrastination… A good planning is next to worthless when distractions and practical problems are not handled well.

How to?
Different distractions require different solutions. These are solutions to three common distractions.
- Allocate a timeslot for delays in your planning. Setbacks and delays affect everyone, and can happen at any time. As a result tasks need to be rescheduled. An allocated a timeslot (at the end of the week) to catch up with these tasks will limit the delay of your overall planning.
-  Say NO and guard your planning. Your priorities are not aligned with the priorities of other people. If you do not guard your planning, nobody will. Be ready to weigh the request of others against the tasks in your planning, and be ready to say ‘NO’.
-  Overcome procrastination. Being tired, frustrated and demotivated creates nourishment for procrastination. It can make you feel you do not have the energy to do your work. A proactive approach to your mental and physical wellbeing is the best way to deal with this: rest and relax. The hours spend on self-care will win you many more hours in prevented procrastination!

You are now ready to increase your productivity and reduce your stress levels!

But wait… There’s more!

Workshop
Time Management is a challenge for many PhD candidates. Therefore the ACS has invited me to offer a workshop on this topic. During this workshop you will receive assignments that will help you go through the three steps described in this article. You will receive additional information on Time Management and Productivity, and you will implement these strategies in your own PhD. So it’s practically guaranteed that your PhD project will go more smoothly after this workshop!

Free masterclass
If you liked this article and you want to know more about overcoming frustrations in your PhD, this free online masterclass is worth checking out. Especially recommended for PhD candidates who are struggling with their PhD but do not want to give up!

Personal development
When you feel stuck in your PhD and you want to work on your personal development the online Unstuck Your PhD course is highly recommended!

The Author
Carmen Rietdijk Ph.D.  is specialized in coaching PhD candidates. She helps them to discover their qualities, overcome their frustrations, and achieve their goals. She believes the PhD experience should be an enjoyable experience.

She shares her views on the PhD experience on Twitter @CDrCoaching, and writes a blog on PhD related topics at cdrcoaching.nl.