Undergrad degrees, masters, PhDs – they’re some of the most exciting and important things you’ll ever do. But they’re also a demanding pain in the ass.
The similarities to parenting can't be ignored. Your research is like an inanimate, high-functioning child (with weirdly specific interests); You brought it into the world, you’re responsible for its development, and it often keeps you up at night.
If you’re having teething problems starting your research, remember these basic laws of study time management:
Know thyself (and thy terrible habits)
Understand how you work to create the best study environment. Start a study routine based around when you’re most productive. Shut out people and distractions, and acknowledge your worst disruptive habits. Choose music or silence. Find a comfy, clean workspace separate from where you unwind. Don’t compare yourself to how others study – there is no single right way to do it. Find your style.
Make a plan
Study is completely unstructured by nature, so you need to create a plan that actually works. Consider the deadline you’re working towards, arrange your priorities and plan work realistically to meet it. You need to balance your research baby alongside your personal life (often including real human babies), and possibly on top of a job – so make sure your plan represents everything you need to do. Assign time blocks and set yourself personal deadlines.
Track your progress against your plan and see if you’re actually being productive. You’ll constantly need to refine and rework it, often to add in something unexpected. Assessing yourself like this can also show you where you’re wasting time, so you can control disruptive habits that screw up your schedule. Reward yourself often.
Talking about your research with others is a great way of understanding where you actually are with it. Obviously, it helps to talk to people in the same field as you. But explaining concepts to people who aren’t as technically minded is also a great way of processing and reflecting on information. It’s a super stress reliever too.
Remember you are a human with complex emotional, spiritual and physical needs. You are not just a slave to research. Plan time for your favourite activities and people, and make sure you stick to them. Getting quality rest and personal satisfaction is essential to your wellbeing – eat, exercise and sleep well. Take breaks.
Don’t waste time managing any of the above
Making study calendars, estimating time, setting a work pattern, structuring your study, understanding how you work, reviewing productivity, identifying disruptive behaviours, managing different research projects, setting reminders, reviewing your progress, saving space for downtime… ALL of these can all be done painlessly in one simple app.
Timely lets you plan, automatically track and make sense of your study time. Try the whole app free for 14 days, knowing that that there are serious discounts for students if it's a perfect match. Alternatively, ask your institution to buy a subscription for you; rumour has it time management is a pretty big deal for professors and postdocs too…