Time Management in a PhD

It’s 2019, we all want to get more done, get more out of our day, and feel accomplished. But getting through a never-ending to-do list can be daunting. Especially in a PhD! Your advisor wants you to do 10 experiments, mentor 8 undergraduate students, write 5 papers, while still maintaining a normal social life! Ok, I’m exaggerating, but just a little.

Developing an effective time management technique is so important in a PhD and it will get you just as far in your job post-grad. As I always say, being in a PhD is not about doing work for as long as you physically can. You can’t maintain the same high level of productivity for 12 hours that you can for 8. Especially days on end.

If you can get the same amount of work done in say, 8 hours instead of 10, then you have two extra hours to get ahead on other work or to just relax. It’s really about working smarter not harder.


As graduate students our time is flexible, but we are expected to meet certain deadlines. So it is important that we use tool to improve our time management so we can be more productive with our time!  So today I am sharing the tips that work for me to manage my time.

The Planner

I interchange between using two style of planners, a note-pad weekly planner and a traditional notebook style. There are things I like about each one. The flat lay, gives me more space to write out smaller tasks I need to accomplish a bigger goal as well as divine tasks by time. With the notebook planner I can more easily plan further ahead and mark out bigger goals.

Make a Plan

At the beginning of each week I mark out the big goals I need to accomplish as well as any meeting or events. From there I can easily see when I need to get things done. I find this useful to help me complete assignments during a busy week.

Then first thing in the morning, I write out the tasks I want to accomplish that day. Then give those tasks specific time frames I will work on them throughout the day. Additionally, I build in breaks between tasks (from 10 – 30 mins) this allows me to make up time if a task takes longer without cutting into the next as well as a needed break after a productive, focused period. I think this is a really great technique. The days I plan out, I find that I am more productive and finish more tasks off my to-do list.


Divide Each Task

To make big Tasks more manageable, I break them down into smaller manageable parts. For example, if I am writing a results section, I will break it down into task made up of subsections and figures. This way, I am crossing more off my list which help keep me motivated.

Set a Time Limit

Another tip, is to set an overall time frame for your work day. I set a time I will finish and put away my work for the day. I believe this helps create a feeling of work environment. If you aim to finish your work by a certain time, you will more likely do so. The work will weigh less on your mind, thereby be more relaxed when you are not working.

Realistic Expectations

Setting realistic expeditions and deadlines. I struggle with this so much! I always think I can get everything done in a short amount of time.  But throughout grad school I have really worked to set more realistic expectations with my time. It doesn’t always work out so well, I think it has really helped me with time management.


Don’t be a Yes Man (or Woman)

An extension from the previous tip, is don’t be a yes man or woman. It’s hard to say no. When people are coming to you for help or additional assignments for lab. But sometimes you can’t get all of them done and still do your work. It’s ok, to sometimes say no or to tell the person you will need more time to finish that task. This allows for open communication so no one gets upset.

Find a method or few that really work for you. I have included some addition methods and resources time management below.

  1. The Pomodoro Technique – setting 25 minute time intervals to improve focus
  2. ABC Method – Divide tasks into ABCD categories by most important and most urgent
  3. Eat the Frog – Completing the most difficult or important task in the morning

This website has many other tips and resources: HERE

Remember all days are not going to be perfect. You won’t always be able to get everything done. But if you work toward building a time management technique that will work for you, than overall you can improve your productivity.




One thought on “Time Management in a PhD

  1. Totally agree on work smarter rather than harder, I see loads of people spending 10 h in their office, 4 of which are spent doing useless talks and watching videos on YouTube! Such a waste of precious time!


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