Almost two years into my PhD, you would imagine that I have now mastered the concept of ‘time management’, but unfortunately, I can’t say that’s true! Being self-funded throughout my PhD has brought with it an additional element of stress, responsibility and the need to balance time more effectively. Although I haven’t fully mastered it just yet (but then again, who has?), here are some tips that I have found very helpful in making that balance a little bit easier.
Plan, Plan, Plan: I know that most people have a diary anyway, but I like to take it to another level. Invest in a diary with enough room for a ‘To-Do List’ section and plan each day of the week on the Friday before. Planning your work a week in advance can sound a little excessive, but it helps structure your week so that you don’t end up taking on too many things at once or forgetting a deadline that might be looming later in the week. And also, if you do it on a Friday it can help avoid the hour-long coffee trip on a Monday morning, avoidance coping mechanisms never work in the long run!
Don’t underestimate time: The age-old saying of ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ can be applied to many situations, including those we might sometimes not consider fun! If you think it will take an hour, it will probably take three. Factor this in when making deadlines and arranging meetings- worst case scenario you get it done in half the time and can actually use that time to have a guilt-free coffee break.
Set ‘Work Time’ separate: As I said, being self-funded has the additional stress of having to work part-time alongside the PhD. I teach three nights per week to earn money and it is very easy for the prep work to eat into my PhD time. As a rule of thumb, I have tried to allocate Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 to PhD work only, and anything outside of that for additional work- so for example, if I need to prepare slides or grade assignments, I allocate time for that either at the weekends or the evenings I don’t teach. I can’t say that this is always the case and there are days where it is impossible to avoid, but by having it as a general rule, I don’t allow it to take over.
‘Me Time’: With all of the talk so far about balancing your PhD and additional work, we can’t forget about what is most important at the end of the day: your mental health. Don’t forget to have time for yourself, to spend time with your friends and family, and to relax.