The most important PhD time-management habit

September 8, 2020

Do you ever find yourself sitting down at your computer but not knowing where to start?

If so, it's very easy to end up on autopilot, checking email and so on, letting your attention follow whatever pops up. Once you're in that loop, it can be quite difficult to get out again.

Ideally* you should never sit down at your computer without having a clear idea what you're going to do.

*You might not achieve this all the time, but it doesn't hurt to have an ideal to work towards!

The most important habit

You shouldn't wait until you arrive at your desk to decide what to focus on.

You could take 10 minutes at the start of the day to sit with pen and paper and work out what you're going to do, but it's better if you do this the day before.

Each evening, take 10-15 minutes to plan the next day. Make note of anything you have to do. Check if you have any appointments or any crucial tasks to remember to do.

Next, decide what your main priorities are. Your to-do list will be too long to deal with all at once, so the key is to prioritise. What are the two or three things you are going to focus on?

Finally, prepare everything you need for tomorrow, including laying out your clothes and packing your bag. I also check the weather forecast so I know what to prepare for.

Why this works

This habit works because it takes the pressure off your short-term memory and decision making processes first thing in the morning.

If you get up in the morning and everything is ready and you have a clear sense of purpose, you don't have to start the day in a panic. Also, by looking ahead at what you need to do, you can be prepared instead of reactive.

See also

Why is it so hard to stick to my PhD plan?

How to stay focused on your PhD work

Procrastination hack: get to zero

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