Have clear objectives. Knowing the aims of your research will clarify your objectives
Make and stick to deadlines
Don’t confuse urgency with importance
Devote time to planning
Use a diary and timetable key activities
Don’t get bogged down by others. Manage other people’s expectations and make your priorities clear to them
Do one thing at a time
Review an activity before you leave it
Reward yourself, i.e. I’ll check my email after I find this reference, or once I finish the draft of this chapter, I’m taking the evening off!
How do you make and keep deadlines?
Most people find it difficult to manage their time, but it is easier if you have clear deadlines and find mechanisms to help you stick to them. Promising to give your supervisor updates on your progress, speaking at conferences or having strict dates to submit work by are all good deadlines!
Set goals in each of your key areas as a research student: for example, producing results, understanding the literature, developing skills, disseminating your work. Make sure these are SMARTE.
Agree a general timeline with your supervisor. What do they expect after:
6 months: survey literature and learn to use relevant tools?
12 months: deepen understanding of the 'problem' and devise solutions?
18 months: HALFWAY! engrossed in research
24 months: begin to wind up data collection?
30 months: complete solution and review recent literature?
36 months: written thesis, ready for viva?
It is important to also remember that there may be specific deadlines for reports or presentations that you should make yourself aware of.
Break large tasks down into manageable activities. Set specific milestones to measure your progress against. These can be daily, weekly or monthly. Review them.
Use your supervisor to review your progress. Plan meetings to discuss progress or agree to submit work at specific times.
What if things go wrong?
Remember that you are TRAINING to be a researcher and things will go wrong. Learn to improve by reviewing what happened.
Did you try to achieve too much?
Were you ready to do the task?
Was the task clear?
Was it difficult to decide what to do?
Did you have all the information you needed to do the task?
Did you plan the task badly because of pressure?
Did you fail because it was boring or too difficult?
Identify what went wrong and plan to do things differently next time. Your time management will improve as you learn to prioritise and to set achievable goals, and review progress.