A sense of routine can not only help us be more boundaried and focused, but can also support our wellbeing when we are feeling stressed, tired or overwhelmed. This is partly because we don’t have to expend extra mental energy on working out what to do or where we should be. Having a plan for how to organise your working day can be really effective. Many students find that the admin of research can eat up their time. Just doing emails for an hour each morning/after lunch, and not getting overly distracted by time-eaters, like forms and applications, can be really important. These are tasks that need to get done, but it’s important to keep them condensed and not laboured over. Don’t spend an hour crafting the perfect email if you should be studying!
Different people find different ways of organising their time helpful. Below we list a few different approaches, so you can try them out and see what works best for you.
This is a technique that’s very popular with research students, and involves working for 25 minutes, with real concentration and no distractions. Breaking for 5 minutes. And repeating as many times as you decide. It can work well in a group, using the break time to share your progress. Of course, you can always alter the timings to suit you and your needs.
One research student at Exeter shares his success with this technique:
I used the pomodoro technique right from the start of my PhD. Looking at a mountain of reading can be pretty daunting, but breaking it down into focused 25-minute slots throughout the day can really help you rattle through it. It’s also great if the writing angst has set in: a whole day or writing is daunting and, let’s face it, a pipe dream, but it’s amazing what you can get done in a couple of poms!
Harry McCarthy, PhD in early modern theatre
Get things done:
This is a five step process, where you capture clarify, organise, review, engage as a system for systematising the clutter in your brain. It’s based on writing everything down that’s in your head and organising a plan for how to approach it. The To Doist explains how to do it in detail here.
Eat the frog:
The ‘Eat the frog’ technique is all about starting with the hardest thing first. It is inspired by a quote from Mark Twain:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
Basically, do the worst thing first! Learn more here.
Deep work is a concept developed by Cal Newport, and the idea behind it is that focus is a resource we should nurture. He suggests that concentrated, dedicated, longer sections of time, with no distractions, are worth more than short chunks of time, broken up throughout the day. We recommend watching this video by Exeter research student and YouTube star, Tom Nicholas, if you want to learn more. ( And, whist you’re there, you could also watch his video on staying motivated in long term projects too.)