Tips for Effective Time Management
There’s a time limit attached to all of our postgraduate studies and to ensure we accomplish all that we need to during this time (and finish with our sanity intact), it is vital that we manage the time we have effectively. Here are some of my top tips to help you do just that!
Make a schedule – It’s easy to find yourself buckling under the demands of a growing to-do list if you don’t take the time to schedule and plan out your workload. Take time to review everything you need to do, and then plan to address each task in order of priority and importance over a timescale that is appropriate for you and the task. This will help you spread out your workload so you’re not overburdened but still allow you to address everything that needs to be done. There are many different ways to organize your workload such as online calendars, spreadsheets, bullet journals and Gantt charts, so find one that works for you and get scheduling!
Break it down – We all like to be able to cross things off our to-do list – its rewarding and motivating. Therefore, when you have a large task to complete, make sure you break it down into smaller, manageable tasks that you can complete over a shorter timescale. For example, putting “Write Thesis” on your to-do list probably isn’t the best practice, as it’s likely to be on there for quite some time before you can cross it off. However, breaking it up into smaller manageable tasks such as “Write Introduction” and “Write results Chapter X” and even breaking these up further with “Read the literature for concept A”, “Write about concept A”, and “Put together results images” will allow you to better schedule your time and stay motivated
Are you an owl or a lark? - Understanding your sleep and activity patterns can help you prioritise specific tasks to certain times of the day to maximize your productivity. For example, if you’re a morning ‘lark’ type of person then schedule your most demanding tasks for the morning when your energy levels and ability to focus are high, while leaving some of the simpler and less demanding tasks to later on in the afternoon, when perhaps your energy and focus begin to fade.
Daily Work-Break balance - It’s generally thought that we can only focus on a specific task for a limited period of time. This has given rise to a multitude of time management methodologies aimed at increasing productivity. The most popular method is the Pomodoro technique, in which you work for a 25 minute period, then have a 5 minute break and after repeating this 4 times, you then take a longer break of 30 minutes before repeating. However, everyone is different and you may feel that a 25-minute work period is too short for you. The important principle here is that your working day should be made up of focused distraction-free work segments of a duration that is appropriate for you and these periods should be interspersed with short and longer breaks.
Identify and avoid distractions – Managing your time effectively and increasing your productivity is not all about carefully planning what to do, it’s also about planning what to avoid! In our era of social media and smartphones with their constant buzz of notifications, there is a multitude of potential distractions that can pull us away from focusing on the task at hand. Of course, the real world may be just as much a problem as the virtual one, and perhaps you find yourself getting carried away in conversations with fellow lab mates and colleagues. Now obviously I’m not advocating that you cut off all human contact and work in an isolated dark room with no WI-FI or 4G, but efficient use of your time will require you to identify your ‘vices’ and keep them in check so you can have dedicated distraction-free time to focus. The UofG does hold frequent writing bootcamps for anyone looking to spend some time focusing on their writing in a distraction-free environment.
Be wary of emails – Emails can be a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ when it comes to effective time management. On the one hand, it’s important that we keep on top of them and often it feels like we’re being productive when we do. However, adopting a practice of responding to emails as soon as they arrive can become disruptive to your work flow and hinder your ability to completely focus. Therefore, depending on the volume of traffic going to your inbox, set time aside each day to read and respond to your emails and avoid checking your inbox until then. This will ensure that time devoted to other tasks is entirely devoted and not intermittently interrupted with visits to your inbox.
If you're wanting to learn more about efficient time management, there is a project management course put on at the UofG that will definitely be worth your time! You can sign up for it through MyGlasgow. If you have any time management tips that you have found helpful please let us know in the comments below, we'd love to hear about them!