Getting to work right when the Professor assigns a project vs. Waiting for the last minute panic inspiration… That’s the dilemma!
I can say that I have done things following both of those “extremes”, but lately, my life has been all about making experiments and deciding what better fits my lifestyle; better yet, I have been working toward creating a lifestyle that I enjoy and which permits me to achieve my goals. I must say that I have been able to conduct all my experiments given that at this moment I am not taking any classes in my Ph.D. and all of my time is devoted to my research. In this way, I have a certain flexibility to set my own schedule.
This organizational and time management process has taken me through many, many blogs, because I am very interested in learning what works for other people and checking whether that is something that would work for me. So, here’s a summary of those things that I find the most suitable for my daily living and which have helped me in becoming more consistent with my productivity:
- Setting short-term and long-term goals: At the beginning of the semester, I set a list of goals that will let me know where I want to head and how to proceed. This has helped me structure my time and focus on the things that I consider my priorities. Setting this goals also allows me to break up big tasks into smaller ones, thus creating an action plan.
- Tracking my projects: In every project/paper/task that I start I like to break it into different sections, just as what we do when writing a paper, and decide what needs to be done to complete each section. When looking at things in this more granular manner, it is easier to define how long each task may take and allocate the appropriate time. Additionally, there are tasks which require similar type of work, or which complement each other. These tasks can be set to be done in the same day / week, thus optimizing work.
- Due dates: I am a person who needs to know what the deadline is. The moment I have a due date, I know that task is real and has to be done! This is why I consider it important for my time management to set deadlines for each of my tasks. Nevertheless, due dates should be realistic rather than just too optimistic. First of all, the frustration of not completing something is highly avoided. Second, there are always unplanned situations that we simply cannot avoid. Third, it may sound weird, but it takes away the desire to avoid doing something just because it looks like “too much”, in other words, it takes away the temptation to procastinate!
- Keeping track of what I’ve done during the day: Sometimes I just get the feeling that the day went by and I just didn’t do as much as I wanted. However, I am sure I was not sitting idle or watching some cat videos on the internet. This is why I like to write down the things I did in my agenda (therefore my agenda needs to have a lot of space for writing). Doing this helps me to keep track of my progress and decide where my next day should start. I found that this was most useful when programming. Actually, documenting the daily work helps find out where things could have gone wrong, but more importantly, if you need to stop working in a project and go back to it later in time, it can save lots of time for revisiting all the details.
- Scheduling “me-time”: Setting aside a time for myself everyday just changes my perspective. I normally devote this time for my workout, and this gives me more energy, helps me shift from the work setting and de-stress for a little bit. I have talked to several people about this, and we concurred in the fact that during this time when one just walks away from the desk, the brain decides to come up with wonderful ideas 🙂 Also, when I am working for too long in the same thing (particularly writing) I simply need to walk away and come back to be able to detect errors and then proceed.
- Family time: It is just as rewarding as me-time. As I wrote in one of my previous posts, I always try to reserve a part of my day to spend some quality-time with my fiancé. Normally this time includes preparing dinner, eating it together and just chilling for a bit. This is the best way to end the work day and something to look forward to when things get busy in school.
Regarding tools, I have read about the different apps that people use for keeping track of their projects, to-dos and so on. I personally use asana for my projects, because it lets me break down my tasks, see who is in charge of each part and write comments where needed.
Nevertheless, I find that the best general organization tool is my calendar. In my case I use the calendar app that comes with my Mac and I just squeeze in each day the things that I need to do. I recently read in a blog post that this was actually the best time management tool, and I completely agree. I like to know what my day looks like and allocate my time accordingly.
I will keep updating my ideas in this post as I continue to find things that suit my lifestyle!
Do you have any practice or tool that helps you effectively manage your time?