Managing your time

Managing your time as a doctoral research student is an important skill, particularly as a large portion of your learning will be conducted through independent study. Good time management is not just about organising your time, but also making sure you are working as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Planning your time well can not only help you to visualise your goals but also helps you to keep a healthy work-life balance while enjoying your learning. There is no ‘right’ way to plan and how effective planning techniques are often depends on the individual, however it’s good to be aware of the following tips:

Time Management

Take a step back

Reflect regularly on whether your research techniques are effective and be aware of the best times in the day for you to work. It may be the case that you work better in the mornings but have planned lots of evening work therefore you will have to adjust your schedule.

Visualise your goals

What is your overall goal? This can sometimes be a daunting question, especially when you are starting out in your degree, so it may help to divide your goals into manageable tasks. Establishing the difference between your short-term and long-term goals is a good start and can help you to visualise the steps to achieving them.

Know your key milestones

How is your degree structured and what are the key requirements you must meet? All PhD students are required to submit an Early Stage Assessment (ESA) and a Late Stage Review (LSR), however some departments may have additional requirements. Discuss the key milestones you will be expected to achieve during your research programme with your supervisor at an early stage.

Reward yourself

If you’ve made progress towards your goals then it’s important to reward yourself for your achievements. Remember that looking forward to something can motivate you and help you to stay on track.

Take action

Once you have made a note of all your important deadlines, it may be helpful to develop an action plan. First, write a list of all the tasks that you need to complete. Next, develop an action plan by assessing how long each task will take and giving each task (or stage) a deadline for completion.

Be flexible

It’s important to know your limits and be realistic in the goals you set for yourself. Don’t take on too much at once and be prepared to try a different approach if things aren’t going to plan.

Find your system

Everyone works differently but having a system (e.g. diary on your phone, wall chart, reminders) to keep everything under control will enable you to keep track of coursework deadlines, revision priorities and additional reading you need to do. You may find the following apps useful for structuring your workload:

Prioritise

When you have many tasks on your plate, you will have to prioritise your work. Dividing individual tasks into the following categories may help with this:

  • Urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not urgent and not important

Take a break

While your academic work should be the main focus of your time at Imperial, you shouldn't feel that you have to work all the time. Use the research time you’ve allocated effectively and you won't need to feel guilty when you do something else at other times. Make sure that you have factored regular breaks into your planning. Depending on what you choose to do, taking a break may help lift your mood, improve your sleep, and help you to think clearer. 

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can be as simple as changing your scenery, practising yoga or talking to a friend, Young Minds offers some further advice on how to take time out and recharge your batteries.

The Chaplaincy also offers a quiet space for reflection, mindfulness and meditation.