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How to Work More Efficiently - 4 Tips from a Doctoral Candidate

I was recently asked the question, "how do you keep so organized with all of your projects?" And the honest answer is that it was not always this way. I am generally an organized person, but organized should not be confused with focused. It is very easy to get distracted and lose track of things, in fact, it happens to me all of the time. I would take on a number of projects and distribute my energy to all of them and then wonder why I could not meet my deadlines. Over the past few weeks I have been toying around with different techniques to get work done and I think I may have finally found what works for me. I understand everyone has different working styles, but maybe some or all of this can work for you too.

Work Smarter and More Efficiently

I recently started following this academic blogger, Scholar Culture and she has some fabulous tips for students and anyone just trying to be more productive. One of her suggestions was to start each week with a blank schedule and time block based on your tasks or projects. I took it one step further and prioritized my tasks based on level of importance and how much time I need for each project. This blog post does a great job of explaining Time Blocking 101. When you time block your schedule and single-task - work on one thing at a time - you are 80% more productive. I pair my single-task time blocking with the Pomodoro Technique - 25 minutes of work and a 5 minute break and after four rounds of 25 minutes, you take a 15 minute break. Paired with the four tips below, you'll be unstoppable.

Tip #1: Keep a List of All Your Tasks

This is where organization is so important. Keep a spreadsheet or word document with all of your projects, you can add a description and list the various stages and level of importance. Also, make sure that you include important details like deadlines and submission dates.

Tip #2: Organize Your Work Into Sections

You want to make sure that all of your to do items are visible and organized. I personally love a good Kanban board. I arrange my tasks based on what stage they are in place them in the appropriate category: To Do, In Progress, or Done.

There is no greater feeling than seeing your tasks get done and moved to the Done category. At the end of the week, I'll reassess my board and move things around accordingly.

Tip #3: Place Your Work Into Categories

If you are anything like me, you are juggling multiple projects. It seems that the pandemic made me more active than before, perhaps it is the elimination of commuting? With this extra time, I have taken on more... more time spent on my dissertation, more time working, and more time blogging and working on my podcast. With so many things on my plate, keeping everything balanced and organized is a monumental challenge. That is where my post-its come in handy. I mentioned above that I arrange my tasks based on their level of completion, but I also color code them. Create a system that works for you, but the color serves as a reminder of importance and priority. It also lets me see a visual representation of where I am expending my time and lets me know if I need to shift some things around.

Tip #4: Establish How Much Time You Want To Dedicate to Each Category Daily/Weekly

I am deep into dissertation mode, which means I am dedicating as much time as possible to the coding, analysis, and writing process. I typically work on my dissertation first thing in the morning (usually at 7am) and I dedicate at least 4 hours per day, Monday - Friday. I try and do this work earlier because I have the most mental clarity. As for work, I am fortunate to have research positions at my university, so I have some flexibility with what hours I work and as long as I am meeting my hours and completing my research I am good. But I have to be mindful of this freedom because it can make it easy to push it off to later hours. In order to avoid that, I schedule my work hours and use my Kanban board to prioritize my tasks.

Do you have any tips that you find useful in keeping your life organized and on track? Feel free to share in the comments section.

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