Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My time management system

Previously, I have been writing about different tools and approaches I use to manage my time. Today's post aims at bringing this information together, and showing you the system I use. Hopefully, you can find some elements in here to help you better manage your time.

 1. Tools for planning

As a PhD research project requires 4 years of time to plan, I have geared most of my efforts towards optimizing my planning tools. I split up my planning from the general overview, down to the daily task lists:

- The general overview
Now that I'm writing up my thesis, I need the right tools to plan for this.
I am keeping the general overview in a Google Calender document which I titled "Roadmap to thesis defense", marking in which week I should be working on which chapter.

- To Do lists
I keep different lists: a list with research ideas, a list with deadlines, and monthly and weekly to dos. All these are saved in Word documents. Every Friday, I plan out the next week (and month, when the time is there). That precise moment also serves as a moment to reflect on my progress and to ask myself why or why not I met my goals for this week; a method inspired by the monthly progress monitor.

- Daily appointments
Rather old-fashioned, but I keep my day-to-day appointments in a paper-and-pen type of planner. (It's bound in red leather with a pattern of roses on it, if that explains why I can't switch to a digital version). I write down my most important task(s) for the day, and have all my appointments written down and planned. Also, I write down my To Do list for the evening at the very bottom of the day page.

2. Tools for tracking

In the first months of my research, I was surprised to discover how much time was slipping away and how little net worth can be left of the 40 hours I'm supposed to have allotted for research. Therefore, I started tracking, and I discovered that -in the days when I was working on my experiments- I would easily spend an hour to go help a hand in the lab, or to arrange things or move around objectives in my planning. Also, I started tracking how I spend my time on the computer, confirming that I was not spending my time optimally. The tools I use for this are ManicTime and RescueTime.
When I have a lot on my mind, I tend to click away the minutes on the internet - nowadays, I have Leechblock on my office computer to keep me from social networking sites during 8:30am and 5pm (I still use my phone for these though).

3. Tools for reminding

This part still needs some improvement. I keep an overview of paper deadlines in a simple Word file, and I write these down in my paper planner. If I need to remind myself of something small, I just place a reminder in my phone. Even though I don't really need reminders (I typically remember things naturally), I do think that improving this part of my system would free some space in my head.

What does your time management system look like? Do you use a system at all, or do you prefer to work randomly?

9 comments:

  1. i used Evernote for my 'to do list'

    It works for both computer and handphone

    what i like about Evernote, it can synchronize the 'to do list' between computer & mobile phone..
    make it easy for me to monitor my progress

    sometimes idea comes at weird place :p

    to be able to type it down on my mobile phone is awesome! :)

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  2. I heard a lot of positive feedback on Evernote - I'm still getting used to having a smartphone though, so I should go and try it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  3. Now I find a good way of using Google Tasks to manage my time. I also use a Astrid Task/To-do List to help me to view Google Taks via my mobile.

    It work perfectly fine for me.

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  4. I haven't tried Google Tasks yet - I'll play around with it some time to see what it gives :)

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  5. Boomerang - an add-on for gmail - is brilliant for scheduling emails to yourself with reminders.

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  6. Thanks for the article. Imho, calendars and to-do-lists are tedious and unintuitive for most people to use. Over 2B people use email but a tiny fraction use calendars and to-do-lists. Lot of things we need to get done come through email and get buried under other email - e.g. a meeting request, spouse's reminder. Or they may pop in our heads at a random times. It is not convenient to pull out a calendar or to-do-list to put it on there. Just the # of clicks it takes to enter an appointment is arduous.

    It is much more natural to "tell" it to someone to get reminded about it - e.g. text it, send an email. Probably, why busy (and rich) people hire personal assistants.

    We have created a service: https://www.joggleme.com to do exactly that. It makes calendars, to-do-lists and time management as simple as sending an email or a text message to your free personal assistant.

    Please check it out and give us feedback.

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  7. That might be the case if your tasks come in from others, but -I think- for the case of PhD students and researchers, most of our tasks are created from within ourselves. In that case, making to-dos helps to break down a large project into the small tasks that lead to its completion, and to plan the time for these tasks.

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  8. Time management is certainly important while writing thesis or dissertation paper. With it, it will help thesis to be properly written. It can also save time on fixing mistake that you can avoid by properly writing it. Anyway, this would certainly help a lot of student who are writing papers.

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  9. I put my projects divded to small tasks with deadlines in Trello. Than I simply integrate it with TimeCamp and it track time of tasks. This is very comfortable system as I combine "to-do list with time tracker and I don't have to operate this too much, I can focus on my work.

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