By Gary D. Hutchison |

One of the greatest blessings of working on a PhD is the degree of independence we’re granted to work on the topic that we are passionate about.  The fact that our passion may be quite a niche subject which is difficult for others to relate to increases that sense of independence.  But it can also be a curse at times – although we do have supervisors and deadlines looming over us, we are largely self-motivating.  We can work when we want, where we want, and how we want as long as the output is both timely and of a high standard.  As such, personal time management is something that many of us struggle with.  I’ve found a few things that help me to overcome these obstacles (partly at least), enabling me to get my work done in the proper time.


1. Keeping a Note of Time Worked

While nobody is watching for the amount of time we work, it can pay to keep a personal note of how much time we spend each day working – I tend to jot it down in my diary.  When looking back over my working week, I often find that I feel vaguely guilty about not having done as much as I wanted.  A quick look at my diary entries, however, shows that I’ve usually done far more than I had thought.

2787653We study records, only fair that we keep them as well

2. Spare Time

University guidelines suggest that we should be working about 35 hours per week.  In reality, however, very few of us have the luxury of sticking to guidelines, especially during the busy periods of the semester.  Nevertheless, it’s a great idea to specifically set aside a day for rest and relaxation – or a half-day if one of those deadlines is looming!


Walking up Arthur’s Seat is always a good idea – weather permitting

3. Variety

Procrastination can be a time-killer.  Just a quick look at BBC News here, or a check of Twitter there, and before you know it hours have been wasted.  I find that this happens to me more often when I’m toiling away at one of the less exciting parts of academic work, such as formatting.  Instead of thinking of Twitter or BBC News as a break, I try to trick myself into doing other useful activities.  Should I get bored of compiling an appendix, I read a journal article – both a useful activity and a mental palate cleanser.


Variety is also the main attraction of smarties

4. To-Do Lists

It’s all too easy to slip into perfectionist practices.  Spending an inordinate amount of time building up a perfect body of source material, or obsessively redrafting work have caused me much stress in the past.  My to-do list, kept in my diary, is updated every day, listed in order of priority, and gives me a sense of the time that I have left to complete everything on the list.  Moreover, examining my previous lists gives me a sense of how I can improve my work ethic – they show what tasks tend I avoid at the bottom of the list, what tasks I could reasonably have skipped, and whether or not my estimations of the time needed for tasks were accurate.


First on to-do list: write to-do list


We all have different ways of working, and different ways of managing our time.  I find that there are occasions when I don’t even follow my own advice!  Nevertheless, some of these things have helped me to greatly improve my productivity and to avoid last-minute stress.  Ideally of course, there would be a few more hours in the day, but barring any change in the laws of physics we all just have to manage the time we do have in the best way for each of us.


Gary Hutchison is an editor for Pubs and Publications.  Check out our Who We Are section for his full bio!

(Images: Flickr, Wikipedia, Pixabay)