Robin Sharma says: “Time management is life management.”
Time management is considered to be one of the most essential skills for graduate students. Almost all of those who work in academia have a long list of to-dos and tasks that must be accomplished in a short time. So, if one doesn’t look for methods to accomplish as much as possible in their 24 hours, little by little, their lives will get out of their control. These results in a cyclic trend, potentially causing anxiety and unproductivity. Tons of time management advice seems helpful for us as Ph.D. students, but we discuss two of the most practical ones that usually change the level of productivity if implemented in one’s day-to-day life.
1. Eisenhower matrix
Most of us remember the nights before exams as well as the nights before due dates we stayed up to finalize assignments. What happens in our mind and life that leads to such a situation?
According to the Eisenhower Matrix, our to-dos can be categorized into four groups: urgent and important, not urgent but important, urgent but not important, and finally, not urgent and not important. Based on this classification, the "urgent and important" tasks like finalizing an assignment in a night are those "not urgent but important" ones you have postponed for a long time. Then, they have accumulated and resulted in a crisis. The main point in time management is to define those "not urgent but important" tasks considering your long-term goals and plan to make time for them. If you do this, the "urgent and important" list will get shorter compared to today's list! However, when scheduling your time, "urgent and important" tasks should be considered top-prioritized ones to which you have to dedicate the first hours of the day.
On the other side of this matrix, you have "urgent but not important" ones like teaching a beginner how to find a research paper or responding to emails and messages that won't affect your life if you delegate or push them back. Don't bother yourself with these tasks, and make sure to avoid overshadowing your main to-dos with them.
Finally, you have "not important and not urgent" ones. Scrolling Instagram or Facebook, Watching Netflix or YouTube are of this category. Unfortunately, most of us spend the more productive hours of our days doing such things while being unconscious about ourselves! Sometimes the only thing we need is to consider is that "we are doing something" to avoid doing the main tasks, and this is why we frequently check our inbox or social media, even if we know there is nothing new!
To avoid this, you can rethink and review your fears, for you can recognize the influential factors that control your life. After discovering the obstacle, you have to look for the methods to overcome and get through the challenge! As a quick tip, you can hide your phone and put it somewhere out of your sight until you finish doing whatever you have to accomplish!
Since these tasks don’t need your concentration, you have to refuse or postpone doing them until you find free time after checking off your higher priorities on the to-do list!
2. Time Blocking on a digital calendar
After preparing your matrix, it is time to block your 24 hours considering your priorities. First, you need to scan your life hour by hour for about a week and write down the time you have spent for all you have done in a journal. After a week, it is time to review. This journaling process will give you a better insight that acts as a foundation for your daily plans and schedules; Because you will notice your good and bad habits, sleeping time, productive hours as well as the total time you waste during a day!
Now you need to pick a calendar. Based on personal preferences, one may choose a physical or digital one to organize their life; However, digital calendars have helpful features, especially when setting alarms, reminders, and trackers that make them inevitable. Also, they are user-friendly and in sync with all your digital tools that you can access your plan for the day whenever and wherever you need.
The most critical point in time blocking is to dedicate the first hours of your day to the “urgent and important” tasks. You have to block out your rest and free time as well. Also, it is necessary to set the alarm for 1 or 2 minutes before each of the blocks, then you will get a notification on your desktop, and you won’t get confused thinking “what to do next” during the day.
The other point is to set a time for unexpected work or tasks that you may receive from your professor, department, and family to feel more comfortable with your daily plan. In each of the blocks, you have to focus and avoid interruptions until you finish.
The process of time blocking your week may take two or three hours on weekends, but since you have already thought and planned the days, you will stay on top of everything. Also, you will rarely miss a meeting, class, or deadline, which is crucial in graduate school.