Becoming more productive


Managing your time as a PhD student is exhausting. I often find myself blinking at the sheer number of tasks that need to be completed.  Since the start of this academic year, I have juggled revisions on my parts of my dissertation, learning Swahili, attending research skills workshops, writing conference presentations, teaching, and managing my three non-dissertation research projects. Even though I have experience in these areas, they still take lots of time.  I dream about having a research assistant.  LOL.

I know that there are two types of people in my PhD world:  (1) those who are productive by nature; and (2) everyone else.    This post is for that second group.  

Here, I offer some tips that help me stay focused.

Manage internet access.

The Internet is the devil. I can easily waste an entire afternoon on Facebook or reading blogs. The ideal solution is to disconnect completely.  However, I’ve never been able to successfully do that.  Instead, turn off those services that will distract you.  Block email, chat programs, and social media notifications and revoke access to those time-sucking sites.  Or at a minimum, set some time limits.  10 mins for every 60 mins of work has helped me.  More tips here.

Set SMART goals

Lack of productivity is often the result of poor planning and lack of structure.  As a dissertating student, I cannot stress the importance of maintaining some semblance of a schedule and a workplan that includes SMART goals.  SMART goals are:

  • Specific: Have you set out what exactly it is that you need to do?
  • Measurable: How do you know when you have achieved the goal?
  • Attainable: Is your goal achievable within the set time frame?
  • Realistic: Are you being practical about the required time and resources?
  • Timely: Is the goal appropriate for the current level you are working at? Is that what you are really supposed to be working on?

Try writing a daily or weekly plan and prioritize the tasks that need to be completed.

Clean off your desk.

Remove the stacks of papers and books cluttering your desk. Clean up your desktop/laptop and organize your files and references.  If you share an office, come up with a signal that shouts to your officemates “DO NOT DISTURB.”  Try headphones.  You can even use them without playing music.  No one has to know.

 Have a life outside of school.

Earning a PhD is a journey completing with highs and lows.  Staying positive is the key to finishing (or so I have been told).  Have a support team for those low periods.  Spend time with friends and family.  Write it into your schedule.  Make it a priority.

The PhD grind is real…hopefully, these tips will make it a bit more productive and pleasant.  If you are a glutton for punishment and want to read about other PhD problems, click over to Buzzfeed, where there is list of 25 other PhD problems.