Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Time management

Posted by Lynne Forrest

I constantly worry that I’m not spending enough time on my PhD. When I hear of other people who work weekends and do 60-hour weeks then I definitely feel that I’m not putting enough hours in. I struggle with fitting a full-time PhD around all my other life-commitments. And I worry that this makes me look like I’m not taking it seriously, when I definitely am.

I’m lucky enough to be a full-time, fully-funded PhD student and I’m totally in awe of those people who are fitting in a PhD around working. I really don’t know how they do it. It’s hard enough to find enough hours in the day without having to juggle a job as well.

I presume that if my supervisors thought I was skiving off, they'd have said something by now
Prior to the PhD I worked part-time whilst my children were little. So the switch to a full-time PhD commitment was initially a bit of a culture shock to everyone. I was no longer able to attend all the school plays, concerts and sports events I used to and my children did guilt-trip me with this. Once everyone had adjusted their expectations it became manageable.

When I started the PhD I decided to give up my gym membership as I couldn’t find the time to go. However, as I spend most of my working day sitting down analysing data I found that the weight was creeping on, so this was probably not the best idea. So I’ve decided I need to fit exercise back into my life – I’m just not quite sure how I’m going to manage this. I’m currently experimenting with going running and am in the early, enthused stage of taking up an exercise regime. So when this wears off it can give me something else to feel guilty about. When I’m exercising I can worry about not doing enough hours on the PhD and when I don’t get round to exercising I can feel bad about that too….

A couple of days a week I finish at 4pm to do the school pick-up and encounter the usual guilt as I furtively sneak off early out of the office. I do a further hour or so when I get home but this can be regularly interrupted and so isn’t ideal. I actually find working from home really difficult as it’s too easy to become distracted by all the domestic drudgery that needs done. I prefer to work in the office and, even though I have to factor in travel time, I’m definitely much more productive. To maximise work time I just eat a quick lunch at my desk and do sometimes feel I’m missing out on being more sociable, but I really can’t spare the time.

I am aware how lucky I am to be able to work this flexibly and I know how much more difficult it is outside academia. In one of my (many!) previous jobs I worked as a computer programmer for a large Scottish bank. All staff had to clock in and out and, although there was some flexibility, a core 7 hour day had to be worked. All time spent on a project also had to be logged weekly under different headings and I really hated having to account for every hour in this way. I love the flexibility of academia where, within reason, you can spend as long as you need on a task without your every action being scrutinised.

Anyway, I presume that if my supervisors thought that I was skiving off then they’d have said something by now. As it is, my PhD does seem to be going pretty well. As much as possible I’ve attended conferences, done external training courses that have meant staying away for days at a time and have also tried to get involved with other aspects of the Institute where I work. But I’m aware that other people are in earlier and work later. I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s quality not quantity that counts. And that I’d be worried if I didn’t have something to worry about…

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