Set a year planner

One of the advantage of a PhD, and perhaps also other academic jobs, is its flexibility. You do your own project and you can work at your own pace. But it doesn’t mean you can completely ignore time and just work on whatever that comes up or simply on a whim. Instead, it is important to “manage your time” (as if not everybody knows it).

At the beginning of my second year, Louise said to me, “However your time management was like last year, you need to bring it to your whole new level.” She was right. Doing a PhD means that you need to work on several things in parallel, such as data collection, reading, writing up. That already excludes the time you spend on teaching, marking, meetings … and also, your life if you have any. If you don’t plan ahead and prioritise, it’s easy to feel swamped and depressed because you’re not making any progress.

I’ve tried my share of “time-management tricks” in these couple of years, both to do with long-term planning and also daily work. It by no means suggests that I have mastered the art or myself, but I pursue. I am going to review on these tricks, in the hope that I can find out a system that actually works for me.

In this post, I will only share one trick that I feel definitely have worked for me. That is to set a year planner like this:

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This was the one I made for my 3rd year. In the left-hand column, I listed all the experiments I needed to do to finish my thesis and the tasks within each experiment. Then in the first and second rows, I put down months and weeks. The cells that were coloured grey were the weeks I planned to work on the task. I printed out the whole year’s plan and that used 8 pieces of A4 paper.

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I posted the the planner on my wall like above and embarked on a new year. As each week went by, I would colour what I have done this week and check what needs to be done for the next week. You can see that by the end of the year, my progress has been way off. It should be expected any way.

There are several advantage to a year planner like this, especially because you already have a clear idea of what to do. It helps you see the end of your PhD and celebrate every little progress that you make. It also helps you prioritise so that you won’t leave out anything important. Furthermore, you can keep a track record and know how fast can you work. It can be very useful next time when you need to make a long-term plan like this.

Another great thing about a year planner is that it’s highly cost-effective. Unlike many other fancy tricks that takes hours to prepare and requires constant update, you only need an hour at most on excel to make the timeline and then it takes literally 5 seconds every week. I am not saying that I can persistently colour the cells once a week, and I did miss a couple of weeks and forgot what I’ve done. But in generally, this is one of the time-management methods that I can keep up regularly.

Ratings:

Useful: 5 / 5

Efficient: 5 / 5

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