As a postgraduate, I have found that life moves at 100 miles per hour. Without a proper structure to my day, I do not use my time efficiently to balance academics and life. But it is not a one size fits all, and hopefully, some of these ideas will inspire you for your own lives.
Firstly, here are two methods which I have found helpful for structuring my day overall as a postgraduate student!
- Creating a to do list
This cliché method is often discussed, but I have found it is all about making it personal for you. For me, that means a lot of colours in my written list and identifying my “one daily priority”. This is the urgent task that I need to complete and is put at the top of my list. So even if I just complete that task, it makes the day feel worthwhile and successful. You can do this written as I do or on app too.
- Make a daily schedule
Making a daily schedule is my favourite thing to do. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it must have flexibility, like life. I create a table on my laptop each evening for the next day with the rows dictating 9am -18:00pm. I then input the order of my day appropriately such as lectures, meetings, and appointments. It encourages me to see my day as a whole and add some structure to it of when I plan to do revision and assignments. From this I have identified my most productive hours and now utilise them.
Both above methods are useful but relatively general. But do not fret below are some productivity methods which have been super helpful in bringing structure particularly to my academics!
Eat the frog
Eat the frog is the idea of identifying the ‘one’ most important task for the day and completing that first. This is, of course, easier said than done, and takes practice. But I promise you it is worthwhile as I have found that coupled with the idea of making a daily schedule (mentioned above) it generates a daily feeling of ‘completing something’ which certainly for me keeps me things feeling like they are moving along when it gets stressful.
List all of the tasks that need to be accomplished or begun, and include their likely duration. You should also include all fixed events, such as dentist appointments, in this list. The aim is to dictate tasks into appropriate time blocks (I suggest initially allowing x2 the amount of time you think) surrounding pre-existing tasks. Splitting the day allows dedicated specific work to occur in each block.
The Pomodoro technique breaks up focusing and time management into bite-sized chunks that the user can choose. For example, I can only concentrate for 45 minutes before drifting. Therefore, in conjunction with time blocking (above), I organise my dedicated blocks of time for a task further into 45-minute chunks separated by breaks, thus providing my brain time to work, relax and refocus effectively. This method is undoubtedly adaptable to how you work and your needs.
The aim of this method is to force the user to consider the urgency and importance of each task over a set period. It does this by encouraging you to split the tasks into 4 quadrants created by the axis titles as shown to the right and then act accordingly based on the criteria in the box. This is useful particularly when considering tasks over a longer period such as a dissertation as it prioritises them.
Structuring your day for you
Overall, you have to try and find what works for you. My advice is to be proactive and dedicate time to trying these methods out because you will benefit from them when you need them most. Also, don’t feel disheartened or overwhelmed if the methods for structuring your day don’t go as planned. Just re-evaluate and check in with yourself and what you need right now. Remember, a reliable system can help prioritise crucial things when life feels overwhelming. And most importantly, postgraduate life is intense; remember, little and often is all you need.
Rachael is currently studying Applied Meteorology and Climatology MSc at the University of Birmingham.