Doing a PhD or Masters and feel like you can't get organised? Mike Hanski gives us his top advice to stay focused, with the help of PhD students.
Looking for actionable techniques to enhance your academic productivity?
No one knows these better than Ph.D. students. Tons upon tons of research and academic work mean they actively seek out lifehacks on time management, boosting motivation, and enhancing writing performance, all in order to successfully secure a better work-life balance.
Many start blogs to track results and share their Ph.D. journey with peers. With tips and personal stories on academic life, these resources could help you a lot when it comes to organizing your academic productivity, so why not consider their advice? Here are a few ideas:
1) Plan everything and use productivity apps
Sounds obvious, but let's be honest: how often do you actually manage to organize your working day in a task-efficient manner? Dissertation issues, work-related projects, everyday routine – they all need rigorous planning.
As Susan from My Digital PhD says, "What I really need in my planner is a lot of space for to-do lists. I have tried so many different ways to organize my calendar and my time, and I still end up back with a good old-fashioned paper day planner."
Productivity apps work for organizing time, too. You might consider those for scheduling, taking notes, or planning your daily routine, but be sure to try apps that help to avoid distractions.
"Top of my list are apps to block you from social media websites while you're trying to be productive. If you are like me, steering clear of Twitter has been especially challenging in the past few weeks. More importantly though, I was looking for an app that would keep me from checking my e-mail every five minutes while I'm trying to write," Susan adds.
2) Schedule smart, not hard
The #1 statement for you to remember: multi-tasking never works! The more academic tasks you schedule for one day, the less productive you become.
That's the recommendation Joanne Lehrer shares at her blog, Research Tales: "My strategy is not to schedule more (to include thinking and other 'slow' or 'unproductive' tasks in my agenda), but to schedule less. To be loose with my time, to include more time than I think tasks will take in the schedule, and to be kind to myself when I just can’t concentrate on the task I had planned."
3) Read and research a lot
Do you ever wonder how reading can influence your academic productivity? Simple as this: read research papers to save time and stay on top of the game when it comes to listing references.
"It is significant for a Ph.D. student to develop a habit of reading research papers of their respective field on a daily basis. Reading is essential to get yourself acquainted with your area of research. After a while, you don’t just read a research paper, you try to critically analyze its experimental findings. Always remember, the most important job of a scientist is that of a critical thinker." (Ph.D. Musings)
4) Write for yourself, not committees
Another factor influencing your academic performance is constantly overthinking ways to impress committees with your Ph.D. endeavors. For example, when working on the draft of your dissertation, you might worry a lot about which words to use to convey to examiners that you are sufficiently serious and professional.
"It doesn't make you a productive graduate but does mean you stumble across writer's blocks every time you start a new paragraph," says Lesley Vos, a writing expert behind On College Life and Writing. "What you need is to find time to write just for yourself, every day. It will change your mind about writing as a process that kills your precious Ph.D. time. You'll think of it as a useful tool to express thoughts in a clear and concise manner."
5) Let your writing flow
"How do I start? What do I write first? How do I get this right? The first thing I have told myself, firmly but in a kind tone of voice, is that I must actually stop being such a faff and write something, anything."
That's what Sherran Clarence from Ph.D. in a Hundred Steps suggests on enhancing academic productivity. It's okay to worry about the quality of your writings, but what often happens is that your perfectionism impedes you from getting on with work.
"Just start, and try not to edit, and some words will come. They probably won't be right, but they don’t have to be for now. They just have to be written, and once I start, like a tap being turned on, the ideas will start to come from the swirly depths of my mind where they have been percolating and find their way out, and slowly be formed into a logical story," Sherran suggests.
6) Track your achievements
"I started this blog to help me keep track of what I was doing during my Ph.D. – it’s easy to forget that you’ve made any progress when you’re stuck in a mire of deadlines and failed lines of thought," confesses Emma Hutson from PhDanger. "Writing things down, keeping track of my weekly word count and holding myself accountable to the blog gave me the motivation I was lacking at the time."
So, why not go online and track your achievements there? It seems this tactic positively impacts academic productivity, otherwise, why do so many Ph.D. students blog nowadays?
7) Slow down
"Academic work often feels like a race. You get credit for the number of publications you have and the impact factors of those publications," admits Rose Hendricks, a Ph.D. student behind What's in a Brain?
"But since I already have good research, and I’m not running out of funding, maybe it is time to take a step back. Now I need to think about bigger ideas: What important answers do we still not have? And how can I work on those?"
Your academic research and references are crucial for better performance and productivity. But make sure you don't sacrifice the depth and quality of your dissertation due to grinding tons of data as quickly as possible.
Organize your academic time wisely, think about your work, rather than worrying what your supervisors will think of it, and don't forget the dozens of tools and writing services that can support your endeavors. Choose those that meet your academic needs best, and consider the experience of your peers when looking for actionable tips on productivity. After all, they know it inside out, don't they?
About the writer: Mike Hanski spent the last 3 years writing for various online publications. His favorite advice for Ph.D. students is “Consider your reader at all times,” and the one from Stephen King on adverbs.