While it can feel almost impossible to do everything we need to do, good time management can help to maintain or regain control over work. It can help us focus on doing the things that will have the most impact.
What should I be spending my time on?
First, clarify your priorities.
Speak to your line manager or supervisor about their priorities in relation to your research. Make sure you know which areas are your responsibility, and which are someone else’s. Let the ‘someone else’ deal with areas which are not down to you.
Don’t forget long-term priorities, as well as more immediate ones. A good line manager will help you find the time to address longer term aims such as career development.
How can I plan my time?
Have a look at the Planning Table below. Make a list of all the things you have to do, and put each in one of the boxes.
Note the difference between ‘important’ and ‘urgent’. To decide if a task is important, ask yourself questions such as:
- Is it moving me towards my research aims?
- Is it helping me achieve my goals for the future?
With good time management, you can reach the point where you are doing the important things BEFORE they become urgent. The dump box can take some willpower. There may be jobs here that you have to set aside, even if you really want to do them.
Time wasting activities
Try keeping a log of your activities during the course of a day, or a week. Note how long you spend on each activity. This will help you to identify where you may be ‘losing’ time, e.g. through:
- Putting low priority activity before important tasks
- Reacting to jobs that come along rather than planning how and when to tackle them
- Not having the information to do the job properly
- Lack of focus through failure to set objectives and deadlines
Spending more of your working day focused on your research will free up more time for outside interests or for your family and friends.
Time management checklist
- Identify your priorities
- Set clear objectives for each area of your work
- Devote time to planning as well as doing
- Work backwards from deadlines. Identify key stages and split large tasks into manageable sections
- Record your daily/ weekly plan on a calendar that’s easy to access
- Don’t let other activities get in the way of your priorities
- Develop a good filing system so that you don’t waste time looking for information. Keep your working area tidy
- Don’t respond to email as soon as it arrives. Check email at set times of the day and accommodate any incoming tasks into your plan
- Manage other people’s expectations of you. Learn to say ‘no’
- Do one thing at a time
- Reserve activities that require most brainpower for your best time of day. If you are not a morning person, use the morning for more routine or physical activity
- If motivation is a problem, give yourself small incentives to help you tackle important tasks