Get on track, stay on track

Get on track, stay on track


I once joked that Paperchase might make it into my thesis acknowledgements. Now, I’m seriously considering it. While the original intention of this post was to discuss my stationary staples, I’m going to veer off a little into general organisation, how I attempt to keep my work days focused, and ultimately more productive*.

*Disclaimer: I’m only human and whilst this seems fantastic in theory, it doesn’t always go to plan!

A print screen of a tweet made by Stephanie Cumberworth which says ‘ When you’re trying to wrap up lab work and move within 2 weeks ( mind blown emoji)  paperchase might just make it into my acknowledgement - thank heavens for the humble desk planner ( love heart eyes emoji)  #phdlife #I’mAPhDStudentGetMeOutOfHere’

Confession time. I have a slight love affair with lists; it’s sad, but true. The key to any good list, in my opinion, is to have multiple. I don’t mean just aimlessly scrawling the same thing over and over, but categorising based on the size of the goal. My preference is first to think big, then go small.

#1 Google calendar part 1

Big goal/timeline planning

I adore my Google calendar. Though, if I’m being 100% honest, anything I can colour code gets a big thumbs up from me.

Whenever I’m starting a project, I first like to establish a loose timeline. If there is a defined deadline, I stick that into the calendar first, then try to break it down into some self-imposed deadlines to help keep me on track. My general rule of thumb for mini-deadline setting is to take the time you think it will take to do, and multiply that by at least 1.5, if not 2. Everything always takes longer than you might think. If you give yourself wiggle room, it takes the pressure off a smidge.

A screen shot of one of my google calendars - this one in particular is meant for big writing deadlines and other writing events.

A screen shot of one of my google calendars - this one in particular is meant for big writing deadlines and other writing events.

Colour coding is your friend here if you have multiple projects on the go – it helps you visualise much more clearly what needs attention and when. I also use it to flag up fun things that are coming up, to help keep me motivated.

If you want, you can even make multiple calendars that you can toggle in or out of view.  

Photo of a weekly desk planner, it displays general tasks that need achieving on what day. The planner has days of the week in white columns and is placed on top of a boarder which is pink with beige raindrops.

#2 Weekly desk planner

General task overview

With a loose timeline in mind, I then go on to plan the week ahead. I try to use quite vague goals when it comes to planning during the week, as some things might take a little longer than others. The point of this list is more to give you an overview of what is happening than anything else. Typically, this is also a place where I put in when I have meetings.

#3 Daily task lists

Specific jobs

Does anybody else love the satisfaction that comes with ticking off something on a list? It’s fantastic! This calendar is where I break down the ‘vague’ task I have assigned that day, splitting it into very tiny, specific chunks which are begging to be ticked off. Being specific with this list is essential for top productivity.

#4 Google calendar part 2

Scheduling

So you have your daily task list done, now to organise when you are going to do each point – while trying to be as realistic with your time as possible. I like scheduling this way with Google calendar because you can schedule reminders to be sent via Gmail (if you have one), which alerts my phone – meaning if I’m on the go, I still know when something needs to be done.


I don’t use every step for every project I do, it’s usually a combination of a couple of the above. This might sound exhausting and really time consuming, but I promise it isn’t. Daily task planning at the end of the day typically only takes me 5 minutes, and weekly planning at the end of the week is no more than half an hour. Planning at the end of the day rather than the beginning also means I get to come in fresh in the morning knowing exactly what lies ahead, letting me hit the ground running.

If this post has whet your planning appetite, why not try reading our posts on bullet journaling.

Have you got any other useful planning tips? Get in touch with us via email or twitter to let us know!

Cover photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Soapbox Science

Soapbox Science

Alumni advice: from your degree to your dream career

Alumni advice: from your degree to your dream career