Tips and tricks to reach your PhD related targets from our fabulous committee!

When you first start a PhD, the 3 or 4 years ahead of you can seem like a daunting amount of time. How on earth are you going to fill all those days with 1 project? But you soon learn that the PhD process is made up of hundreds of little smaller steps that all need accomplished. But how can we best set (and reach) our targets, in the relatively unstructured process of postgraduate research? Here are some words of wisdom from the Pubs and Publications committee members on what works for them!

‘Keyword: visualisation’ by Giovanna Pasquariello, Contributions Editor

This is the mantra I keep in mind when I’m approaching a new section of my research, a topic for study or – in general – a small or big organisational challenge in life. Visualising the goal, the evidence, and the plan. And I mean it in a very practical way because I write and draft a lot: highlighting, underlining, listing, noting, and scheduling, every method, which physically puts the issues under my eyes, is good.

First of all, it’s important to define the final goal: it should be clear and achievable. I therefore find useful to organise and order the evidence i.e. papers, sources or images, namely all the information I need in pursuit of my objective. I make an effort to extract the main arguments I have to focus on. And finally, the most satisfying step for all of us who are kind of obsessed with scheduling: making a plan of the things to do to reach the goal, from the literature reviewing to the layout organization. At the end of the day, even if I’m still far from the objective, at least I can practically have a look at the effort I made to achieve it!

Complete one task (have a victory dance), then move on to the next

‘Plan for distractions’ by Rachel Wilson-Lowe, Topical Editor

I’m great at setting deadlines and targets…meeting them, however, can be a different story. One of the tricks I’ve learned in the 1st year of my PhD is to not overschedule yourself (sounds counterintuitive, I know). For example, say I have a deadline in a week, but I could feasibly finish the work in 3 days if everything goes exactly according to plan, I now will block out 4 days in my schedule. Because inevitably something will go awry: my dog will get sick, or my computer will betray me, or I may just need a mental health day!

Give yourself slightly more time to complete things than you think you’ll need. Because if you do manage to get it done earlier, without any hiccups, then great! But if something doesn’t go your way, you won’t be as stressed out about missing your deadline. Basically, setting goals for me means being realistic about the complexities of balancing life and the PhD!

‘Organization is key’ by Timothy Galsworthy, Topical Editor

Deadlines and – more importantly, meeting them – are a key component of the PhD. At times it feels like we have demands on our time from all directions – supervisions, funding deadlines, conference abstracts, the list goes on. The best piece of advice I can give for setting and meeting deadlines is to get an academic diary and use it extensively. I religiously organize my work in my diary. I write down all my key deadlines, I plan out my weeks, and I decide on which specific pieces of work I’m going to do each day. All this gives a clear structure to my day-to-day PhD life and also allows me to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

There is an incredible sense of satisfaction and a massive feeling of achievement each time you tick something off or cross something out. I would also suggest everyone use a notes function on their phone or computer to keep a list of all their deadlines, so they are all in one place which you can edit as you go along.

Keep calm, try not to overdo it!

‘Being realistic’ by Claire Aubin, Contributions Editor

Historically, I am excellent at setting goals. Meeting them? Less excellent. One major takeaway from the PhD thus far for me is the realization that I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish, and in what time frame I can accomplish it. As soon as I started extending timeframes and making my goals a bit more reasonable, it became immediately clear that I actually could achieve them. I have since become a fan of the little-and-often approach to goal-setting – more small goals means more small victories, which can snowball into major achievements over time.


Scrivener across all devices

Technology and apps can help you keep on top of things

‘Using tech to meet your goals’, by Laura Harrison, Publicity Editor

Figuring out how to manage this was definitely one of the most important parts of my PhD. I work best to a deadline and missed that structure. At first I leaned on arbitrary deadlines that I had my supervisor set. Unfortunately, I soon realized the sky wouldn’t fall if I did not meet these deadlines. Instead I’ve come to rely on technology. I originally used Wunderlist to keep track of my various projects and goals, though I am now transitioning to Trello. I find that not only have these helped me keep track of things better but also they are motivating in terms of wanting to check things off. Would recommend!

What are your tactics for managing the PhD workload? We would love to have the views of our readers in the comments section or via or social media platforms.