PhD Blog #13: Planning and the PhD (an update)

In January of this year, I shared my intention to be more organised in my approach to research (read my original post here). I purchased a notebook to use as a bullet journal and sought to plan my time more effectively and to track my working patterns. I have had mixed success with these goals.

The work log and time tracking elements of my original plan have fallen completely by the wayside. I found that keeping on top of how long I was spending on certain tasks was more of a distraction than a motivation and it was difficult to remember to update. While I would love to have the information that these logs would have produced, it wasn’t something I was able to persist with long-term.

The biggest success has been using the bullet journal system in a more general way. Writing down important tasks and appointments in one place is a vast improvement on my old system (the backs of old envelopes and scrap paper). It has also enabled me to inject some creativity into my research life. Keeping a bullet journal gives me an excuse to doodle! While this is, of course, fun, it has the added bonus of making my diary and task lists etc. seem more inviting!

My bullet journal is where I keep on top of my upcoming commitments as well as my monthly and weekly tasks. I have a year-at-a-glance calendar, a calendex, and a page detailing important dates (birthdays, holidays) at the front, then for every month, I have a log and a master tasks list before going into a weekly diary, ending with a “review” page at the end of the month where I assess the progress I’ve made and use that to set up the log and task list for the next month.

I mostly use my bullet journal as an academic diary that moves with me through the year. For serious research planning, I use my Filofax. The removable pages mean it’s easier to update and to move around pages that have a longer-term use. My Filofax contains:

  • my research pipeline, where I track the development of various works-in-progress (I took this idea–and others–from Dr Ellie Mackin Roberts who you can find sharing planning advice on her youtube channel and on her Instagram account)
  • my Gantt chart, where I break down various tasks over a period of six months
  • a list of references/footnotes to chase up from my reading
  • my 1, 3, and 5-year goals
  • An “add to CV” page
  • An application tracker (for journal submissions, funding, prizes, jobs etc.)
  • a diary broken-down into hour-by-hour slots where I can, whenever I need to, go into more detail about what I want a particular research day to look like (useful when nearing deadlines!)
  • Permanently useful notes on aspects of professional development

Taken together, this dual system has been invaluable in helping me manage my workload. While I will always be a class A procrastinator, I am more aware of my time now and my days of losing key information “I know I wrote down somewhere” are far behind me!

Let me know how you plan in the comments below!



2 thoughts on “PhD Blog #13: Planning and the PhD (an update)”

  1. Hi Victoria, thanks for sharing your blog.
    I’ve enjoyed reading through your PhD related posts. I’ve recently started a bullet journal and am playing around with it to find what helps with my efficiency and more importantly what doesn’t! I hate my handwriting and tend to use digital resources for the most part. I’m a seasoned project manager so organisation and planning goes with the territory. At the moment I’m using Trello to manage my pre-reading lists before I start my official PhD studies in January. So far so good, I’ve written a couple of blog posts that may be of interest.
    Best of luck with the studies,


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