How to keep on top of everything on a PhD.

I like to think one of my strong points is organisation. But at first, when I started my PhD (two whole years ago now!) I often found that I would forget everything that I had to do, when it had to be in for and it can often be difficult to prioritise.

Get a whiteboard.

Getting a whiteboard has been really useful for me, I got pretty pens that were quite thin and in different colours to use as well. I then used the whiteboard to write everything down that I needed to remember, I would draw rectangles in different colours with titles on such as:

  • Conferences
  • Teaching
  • Thesis
  • Data collection
  • Research assistant (this was something I did alongside my PhD part time in my final year)
  • Internship (something I did part time in my second year)
  • UREC (I was part of the university research ethics committee which met once a month)
  • Athena Swan (I was also part of the Athena swan committee for my school)
  • PGCert (I was also completing this during my PhD and needed to keep track of my assignments)

This makes it easier for you to break things down and see everything that you need to do, underneath the title you can write down what you need to do for each thing. For example, you might have written under teaching “Go over notes for lesson on Tuesday”, under conferences you can have dates of those you want to apply for/attend with all the deadlines for things you need to do such as writing an abstract, travel, making the poster/presentation etc. I just found it useful to have one place where I can see all my tasks, all my areas of work so I don’t forget anything or miss anything!

The other thing I decided to do was to set a day for each thing. This made it easier for me to know what my focus was going to be for each day. For example, I would say on a Monday I will write for my thesis. Obviously, sometimes, this can’t always be the case, but it helps to have a bit of a structure to your work and what you decide to work on rather than getting up each day feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to dive in!

I would also use the whiteboard, and sometimes a piece of paper, to mind map out any ideas for things I wanted to do, such as papers that I could write or a type of data collection I could do.

Everyone’s whiteboard will of course look different, but this took a long time for me to perfect and to get it to work even though I had in my head what I wanted to do. It’s definitely something that has helped me to stay focused and make sure everything gets done!

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