Here I wanted to share 2 tips which I was given in a project management for researcher workshop during my PhD studies. The kinds of tips that don’t sound like much, but which I could directly apply and which helped me a lot. Tips which work as much for time management than for project management.
The first one is to think in terms of “nice to have” versus “need to have”. When we are updating our To Do list for the week, when we are listing all the experiments which we want in a paper, or in our thesis, when we discuss with our supervisor about all the things which need to be done for project x, and in any similar situation, let’s try to define what we truly need to have. Taking this habit can really help being more realistic plus it can promote clearer discussion as supervisors may not see the same things as a need or a nice to have than us. Also, as I experienced for myself, it can protect from giving ourselves impossible goal which then makes us feel like a failure.
Don’t get me wrong, while I was recommended this technique 4 years ago, I still put too many things in “need to have” even today, things which later often reveal to be only “nice to have”. Being over optimist (or over demanding toward ourselves) can backfire, using this “need versus nice to have” rule can help.
The second one is to plan only 60% of your time in a week. To tell the truth, when the teacher said this my first thought was “wait what? only 60%?! you’re crazy?”. But while I didn’t agree with the specific number 60%, I understood that being aware of how much time I could truly plan in my week would be great. In my case, as a PhD student, I would often plan about 80% of my time for the coming week. Sometimes it worked out well, sometimes I experienced what the teacher warned us about: the unexpected, the emergency, and all those distractions which take more time than one could ever plan for and which bring a lot of frustration because we didn’t let space for them.
I think that especially for a PI, or anyone who supervise/manage other people, planning maximum 60% of your time is a brilliant thing to do. You know the “do you have 1 minute?” from your student/colleague to ask a quick question or to show you a cool result on the microscope? Yes, this 1 minute way too soon became 30, and with a few like this in the day, it’s already night outside and you barely got to do what you wanted to.
Putting these 2 tips in one take-home message: plan only 60% of your week and clarify what you truly need to have done this week versus the nice to have.
These 2 rules work well in combination with the retro-planning technique which I was describing in the previous article to help plan for the final steps of PhD graduation.
One more tip just for you: write down “nice versus need to have” and “plan 60%” on a Post-it and stick it somewhere on your desk. Reading one article online is cool, testing for yourself if the suggested tips are useful is one more step! And when I mean “you”, I really mean you, you who’s reading this, now, stop reading and take a pen :)
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