Two years in to juggling a PhD, work, and family life, I like to think I’ve learned a few things about managing my time, keeping on track and staying sane. I’ve been wanting to share some of these tips for a while, and what better place than here?
- Keep a notebook. Ideas come at the most inconvenient times and in the most inappropriate places. If you have somewhere to scribble (or tap) them, great ideas will never be lost. I use evernote because I can access it on my phone, but there are plenty of options out there.
- Write often. Notes, abstracts, memos, papers, chapters, blogs, tweets… it doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t even have to be clever. But you do have to get in the habit of writing. This is how you will be assessed and there’s no getting away from it.
- Keep going. Some days you will feel like you are wading through tar. Keep going. Some days it seems everyone and their dog is smarter than you. Keep going. Some days all your great ideas lead to dead ends. Keep going. Some days the mountain of reading on your desk seems insurmountable. Keep going. One book at a time. One paragraph at a time. One day at a time. Keep going. You get the message.
- Talk to others. Researchers, professors, administrative staff, students, cleaners, friends, the cat. Talk to them. About your research, your ideas, your plans for the future, your day. Talking can help you crystallise your thoughts. It can make problems seem more manageable, calm you down, lead to helpful advice and useful contacts. It’s good to talk.
- Go to events. You’ll have to choose wisely here so you don’t flout maxims 6 and 7, but you do need to put yourself out there. Be brave. Try something new. Present somewhere scary. Go where you’re invited. Good things will happen, I promise.
- Allocate working hours. And stick to them. It’s not just kids who need routine. Grown-ups do, too. If you allocate working hours, you will be more productive at work and more carefree at play.
- Look after yourself. Nothing is more important than your health. And I’m talking both mental and physical. Finishing your PhD will be all the more difficult if your mind and body are not in good working order. So don’t put off that doctor’s appointment. Make time for physical activity. Make time for you. Laugh, play, socialise. Eat well and drink plenty (and I mean water).
Of course, the beauty of a PhD is that it’s yours, to manage in a way that suits you. So feel free to flout my maxims to your heart’s content. But if you take just one piece of advice from this post, let it be number 7. There will be life after your PhD. Look after it.