The four important stages of time-management are: goal-setting, goal or task chopping, prioritization, and scheduling.
Sometimes your to do list might not do the trick for you. One of the reasons for this might be that your goals aren’t clear and achievable. Or that your goals are too big. Use some time to really think about what your goals are, how you have defined them, and chop them into smaller, more manageable pieces. When you reach a goal, commend yourself. I’m serious – do it, tap yourself on the back. It will make a difference. And if you can’t reach the goals you’ve set, go back and re-evaluate your goals. The important thing is not to get disheartened by it; some goals are not meant to be achieved and your self-worth is not defined by how many items you are able to check on your to do list. (Click on the heading to read more about goal-setting)
If your to do lists fail, you’re having trouble reaching your goals and you can’t seem to get things done even if you prioritize, the problem might lie in the sizes of your tasks. Chopping tasks into manageable pieces is as important as goal-setting and prioritizing, so start practicing it now with the help of my practice sheet.
Even if you have a great plan for managing your time and getting work done, it all might still fall apart. Often this is due to the fact that you are focusing on non-essential task instead of what you’re actually supposed to get done. When you’re planning how to allocate your time, prioritize. What do I need to get done right away, what can wait? Even though organizing your pdf’s or emptying the dishwasher are important tasks, they might not help you complete the most important task at hand. Allocate time for less important tasks, but always make sure to prioritize more important tasks, that support reaching your goal. If you need help prioritizing tasks, you could try the ABC method or the Urgency vs. Importance matrix. (Click on the heading to read more about prioritization)
Do you know what you’re going to do next? Do you know at which hour of the day you have the most chance of succeeding? Or do other tasks and obligations just appear out of the blue and mess up your plan? All these questions relate to scheduling, the fourth step in time-management. Make a weekly or monthly schedule. A good idea is to divide your work into hourly slots. How much time does a certain task take? If it takes more than 2 minutes, schedule it. If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it right away. Remember to also schedule breaks and time for recovery. (Click on the heading to read more about scheduling)
Additional time-management tips
To do lists are a quick and easy way to get on top of things. Write daily, weekly or monthly to do lists. Write them by hand on paper, or use a to do list app. The world is your oyster. To maximize the benefits of a to do list, you have to set clear and achievable goals. (Click on the heading to read more about to do lists).
When you’re allocating time and making to do lists, be sure to reserve time for recovery and breaks. Your brain can’t be effective for several hours straight, you need to take breaks. The same goes for your body. Stand up. Walk around. Sleep. Eat. Watch TV. Whatever works for you. As long as you take the time-off that you need. Because you’re worth it. (Read more about recovery by clicking on the heading)
Sometimes it might be a good idea to block your e-mail and your social media apps for a certain period of time. Or work in an environment, where you won’t be interrupted every 10 seconds. We are not built for multi-tasking even though we love to do it. Every time we get interrupted, or try to multi-task, our brain is transferring huge amounts of attention between tasks. This is a very cognitively wearing and error-prone way of working. It will only make you tired and probably not improve the end-result. Give your brain a break!
Allot time and block your calendar.
If you have trouble starting a large task, such as writing, you might benefit from allotting time in your calendar for these sorts of tasks. For example, you could make a deal with yourself that you write every morning from 8 to 10. If it’s in your schedule, then it’s what you’re supposed to do right then. Try to not book any other activities or tasks in that time-slot. Not always possible, I know, but try. If you still feel like you have trouble getting motivated for these tasks, you can try to chop them into smaller and more meaningful blocks. What are you going to write during that time? What kind of text; just flow of thoughts or the real deal? I can’t stress it enough: chopping goals and making them more attainable will make all the difference, I promise.
Have you ever thought about what kind of routines you have? Or don’t have? The ongoing pandemic made routines really important because, all of a sudden, we had to manage our work in a new environment – at home. One way to stay motivated while working from home is to have routines. They might be routines that you have used at the office, or you could create new ones at home. Go for a cup of coffee in the morning and in the afternoon. Take a walk before work and after work. Decide when you are working and when your free-time starts.
Sometimes it might just be enough to change environments. If you don’t feel motivated to work at home, you could change to an environment that tells your brain you are at work. For example a library or a coffee shop.Or a friends house (just ask the friend first). Or even just work in a different room at home, if you have the luxury to do that.
Enroll in writing retreats and co-writing events
The power of peer support is phenomenal. Enroll in co-writing events (where everyone writes together at the same time), ask your fellow doctoral students if they would like to join you for a writing retreat, or just reach out to people in your doctoral programme and suggest working together, either face-to-face or online. Co-writing doesn’t have to mean writing the same manuscript (and then being a co-author), it can mean writing separate manuscripts but doing it together in the same space. This is a great way to foster togetherness and enhance self-efficacy.
Learn to say no.
You don’t need to be involved in every project you are asked to participate in. I know they all sound so interesting but you have to put yourself and your wellbeing first. So learn to say yes to things that fit your schedule and no to things that don’t.
You’ve reach the end. Congratulations. I feel like I should give you some sort of award for having the patience to read all the way through. Or maybe you just skimmed and skipped to the end. That’s ok too. As long as you know where to find these tips and feel like they are to some use for you.
You’re gonna do great!