When I first started this blog (during my coursework) one of my biggest concerns was productivity; how was I going to get everything done, keep it all straight, and not end up stressing myself out about just keeping up. I put together detailed schedules, reviewed different tools, tried different ways of using tools and rearranged my systems a number of times.
What I didn’t realize as I went through these permutations was that the tools needed to manage coursework were different from the tools needed to manage the dissertation.
Even with my project management certification, the dissertation was the biggest SOLO project I have ever executed. A book is comparable. Parts of the process can translate – for example it is critical to break the dissertation into sub-parts in order to make it a workable task, which is the same for any project from a course paper to cleaning the bathroom. But the timeframe and VOLUMES of material you have to keep straight are very different.
During my coursework I could carve my day into pieces and usually cross at least one thing off by the end of a piece. I tried to do something similar with the dissertation and found it didn’t work so well. Admittedly I could “read and take notes on article X” in a chunk of allocated time. But that didn’t help me integrate article X with articles Y, Z, and A through F on the same topic. That integration time was much harder to schedule, since sometimes it came easily and other times it didn’t.
In the end, from a productivity perspective, I blocked off chunks of time (ranging from an hour to a day) and then put together a goal list at the start of each session. Planning those goals in advance didn’t work; I needed to take into account my mood, my level of energy, and most importantly what I had completed the last session.
At the same time certain planning became easier. I no longer needed to maintain a complex, detailed schedule of my days because I was no longer running from work to class to teaching to homework to somewhere else at top speed. Class was no longer in the picture, and there really was only one “homework” assignment to be worked.
When you move out of coursework and in to writing your dissertation, you need to revisit your tools and systems. Accept that the requirements have changed and therefore the system needs to change as well. For some people, that will mean setting aside a dedicated hour or two per day to work on the dissertation while for others it may be setting aside a day or two per week where you focus on that. Organizing the other elements of your life around these times will may require a different approach or it may be just a different way of using what you have. Regardless, taking that step back and revisiting your system will help you make the best use of your time.
Thank you for these posts. I’m about 1/3 of the way through my PhD and about to change from full time to part time work. It’ good to read strategies for using the time wisely.
I’m a first year PhD student, and really love the posts! Thanks for the advice!