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Is that the time? How to keep on track during your PhD

PhD Experience, Uduak Ntuk

Is that the time? How to keep on track during your PhD

By Uduak Ntuk:

Previously, Olivia Kirtley and Arlene McGarty have written about the effort that goes into research and the need to be organised when undertaking a PhD. As PhD students we don’t just encounter academic problems; there are also challenges in time management, motivation and creativity.  I thought I could share some practical ways to be more productive during the PhD journey, some of which are based on my personal experience – things I should be doing and things I have done.

1. Plan your time effectively

Effective planning requires you set yourself small, manageable goals to work towards in advance and prioritising activities, so you don’t get overwhelmed with the size of the task.  Using the Stephen Covey’s time management quadrant1 as a guide, I begin with a to-do list sectioned into different categorises. I have a research ideas list, weekly, months and daily lists with deadlines to help me organise.

For this you can use a Gantt chart, an excel sheet, your outlook calendar, Google calendar or a simple word document. If you have a smart phone, the Eisenhower app is excellent for helping you manage your to-dos. Splitting up your planning can be an effective way of doing this. You can have:

Long term goals-This will be the overall overview of your PhD journey. Plan each week/month on what you should be working on which part of your PhD project,

Short term goals- This could be a check list of important work, including appointment that should be done daily and have all your appointments. You the

Set reminders on your calendar to help you manage both intended goals.

One great time management technique based on the idea of working in short sprints is the Pomodoro Technique. It can help to create your to-do-list by degree of importance so that that you can quickly identify the activities you should focus on.

2. Track your progress 

During your research, time slips away really quickly. Sometimes we are so focused on the daily tasks that we forget our general objectives, and where our efforts should lead us. It is very crucial you track how much you have done in previous weeks and months and stay on track to achieve your goals.

Don’t be discouraged if things don’t go according to plan because every little effort counts and you have often achieved more than you think you have.

3. Get to know yourself

Having a regular work routine is very important as a PhD student. To achieve this, find out what type of worker you are – do you work best in the morning or evening? Do you prefer to work in the silence or with music? This will have a high influence on your productivity of your work. Once you understand this, you can adapt your schedule to the timing/ambience you prefer and consequently, you will achieve better results. Also, find out how you procrastinate and have a strategy in place to manage that.

4. Put aside distractions

When I have a lot on my mind, I tend to click away the minutes on the internet (do you do this too?). Have designated time set aside in the day for things like Facebook, twitter, personal emails etc. If you think you aren’t self- disciplined enough to do this, installing features such as Leechblock a Firefox add-on on your computer can help block the use of social networking sites during work hours.

5. Flexibility

During the PhD, some unexpected issues and events can occur, so be adaptable in your time management- incorporating and maintaining flexibility into your schedule.

Finally, create time for fun. Add extra-curricular activities as part of your daily planning and make time for your friends and family.

People may have different patterns that work for them. What works for me does not mean it will work for everyone. So, what does your time management strategy for your PhD research look like? Do you have any strategy at all?


  1. COVEY, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: restoring the character ethic. New York, Free Press.

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