PhD Tips & Tricks pt 2: Scheduling Your Time

In the first part of this series, I talked about steps to plan the arch of your PhD. In this one, I want to talk about more specific time management. There are a lot of things to keep track of– from readings and assignments to external deadlines and things of that nature. I’ve gone through a couple of different phases of planning so I’ll just make a little list here.

1. Google Calendar

During my first year, I used Google Calendar exclusively. At the beginning of every semester, I put in my general schedule. Google Calendar allows you to “repeat” events for a set time, so you can set the time of day and for how many weeks that event will repeat. I put in when I’m teaching, my office hours, and when I’m in class. I tried to add time for reading and etc as well, but I found that I never stuck to it so I ditched it. Alternately,  you can just put due dates in (as in the screen shot below). You can also give certain events colors, so you can color code everything as well.

Google Calendar screenshot

Google Calendar is great for me because it’s also integrated with my school’s e-mail system. So, when I get e-mails about events, dissertation defenses, CFPs, and etc. it’s very easy to just add them right to the calendar. I also have it set up so these special events (not the recurring events) remind me with a text message 1 week prior and also the day-of. This is especially helpful for CFPs that are many months out. Sometimes I also have Google remind me of these 4 or 5 weeks before they happen so I have time to craft a proposal.

2. Paper planner

I didn’t really get into paper planning until the January 2016. I looked at a lot of different planners, but ultimately decided on one that broke up every day into hours so that I could plan myself a detailed schedule. I picked this brand. It’s nice because it gives you space for goals for each week and month (although I used this sparingly, it has a section to break down your goals into actionable steps, which is really helpful). It also has tabs, which was really important to me. I had to compromise on size, though. A small planner wasn’t going to give me the same hourly break down that I was looking for. This is the size of a regular spiral-bound notebook.

Although I was initially worried that I wouldn’t stick with it, planning on paper became an activity that I looked forward to.


My style closely mirrored that of Google Cal, as far as the color blocks went. Everything was color coded, including meetings with professors and the readings/activities I planned to complete each day. I took the time to plan out my readings based on length and time that it would take me to complete them, and based on the free time I had. I would try to plan my lectures during my office hours, and I scheduled readings based on the amount of free time I had. As you can see, Fridays were pretty bare so I scheduled readings for that day that were the longest, while shorter articles were scheduled for other days.

Honestly, though, I think there’s something self-sabotaging in me, because I didn’t really stick to this carefully planned schedule. But, even though I didn’t strictly adhere to the schedule, planning things out like this gave me a really solid grasp on the amount of work that I needed to complete each week. So even if I didn’t stick to everything, it was definitely a worth-while exercise.

As you can imagine, I didn’t do as much planning over the summer. While I was doing things like working on publications and teaching a summer class, my days weren’t as structured and I didn’t feel a need to carefully plan everything out. However, over this past summer entered the…

3. Bullet Journal

Over the summer, to remain social, I had occasional work dates with some lovely ladies in my program. One of them introduced me to the Bullet Journal. After learning what the bullet journal was, I was totally sold. I became obsessed and now own multiple pens, markers, multiple notebooks, and super cute washi tape. I watched lots of YouTube videos about fonts, banners, accents, handlettering, brush pen calligraphy, and bullet journal planning. Boho Berry has been enormously inspirational as far as my spreads go.

I might go into specifics of my bullet journal in another post, but for now I just want to show you a couple of spreads for planning purposes.


In my bullet journal, I have a few spreads for “future planning,” but I like to think of them more like month and semester at a glance. I use a modified version of Boho Berry’s digital/analog mashup. I do still use Google Cal, but mostly for the reminder feature I talked about earlier.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.45.13 PM

This monthly spread and habit tracker is also inspired by Boho Berry. Since I started mid-August on these spreads, they’re only one page, but they will both span 2 pages for September.

I mentioned before that I didn’t really stick to the reading schedule I made for myself before. Since this is the case, and otherwise dailys would look very repetitive, I simply have a weekly “To Read” and “To Do” list. Most of the things I do aren’t very time-sensitive, and if they are I’ll have that noted in my monthly spread.



So I’m still going through the process of curating my reading for the month, and noting the page numbers, but I’m not assigning it to days. Instead, I just note the week I need to do it and check it off once it’s done.

So far, I’m really enjoying bullet journaling. It allows me to indulge in a bit of creativity while also being productive. Plus, the beauty of it is that it’s completely customizable so you can track almost anything (like comps reading!). I also have a teaching bullet journal. But that’s for another post. 😉

I hope this was helpful! If you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments below!


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