At the heart of time-management lies goal-setting. Without goals managing time is pointless. Well, perhaps not completely pointless, but you know what I mean.

But all goals are not equal.

The first question you need to ask is: What is important to me and how does this reflect in my time-management?

When you’ve answered this question, it’s easier to stay motivated and start doing concrete stuff to reach your goals.

It’s important to realize, that although some of the boundaries and criteria for your PhD work are set from outside of you, it’s still YOUR PhD and YOUR life. In order for your goals to be meaningful and motivating, they should come from inside you, not only be dictated from the outside. Only you know your strengths, needs, passions and resources well enough to set meaningful and achievable goals for yourself.

One way to set effective goals is to check whether your goal is the SMARTEST* goal:

Specific – what is it exactly that will you achieve? How does it feel around you when you’ve achieved this goal?

Measurable – how will you measure your success? How do you know, when you’ve reached your goal?

Achievable – can you actually achieve this goal? What resources will you need to achieve this goal and is any part of the process in your hands?

Reflection – how do you evaluate achieving your current goals? Do you feel like you’ve achieved something?

Time-bound – what is the time-frame for achieving your goal? Have you set deadlines for yourself?

Enthusiastic – is your goal ambitious and motivating? Are you enthusiastic about reaching your goal?

Significant – why are you pursuing this particular goal? What is the meaning of reaching this goal?

Transparent – have you shared your goals with other people? Have you asked other people for help in reaching your goals?

Practice goal-setting using this framework. Choose one of your current goals or think of a new one. Then put it through the test: is it the SMARTEST goal? You can use this exercise sheet to practice.

*Corny, I know, but it does work. Adapted from Paju & Riekki (2019) Järki töihin! Tuuma-kustannus.

For more information about goal-setting:

  • Aalto’s study psychologists’ advice on time-management
  • Next scientist blogpost: 5 Simple Ways To Reach Your PhD Goals In 2020
  • Kiriakos & Svinhufvud (2015) Tohtoritakuu – Kirjoittamisen opas jatko-opiskelijalle ja tutkijalle. Art House.
  • Paju & Riekki (2019) Järki töihin! Parempien työtapojen kehittämisopas. Tuuma-kustannus.
  • Pihlaja (2018) Aikaansaamisen taika – Näin johdat itseäsi. Atena.