As most of you know by now I have a PhD, I have worked multiple jobs at the same time, studied full-time while also working full-time all whilst doing a PhD. How did I do it? Well I had to get the most out of my time. I needed to be focused, on-point with what I was doing and most of all be bold. I subscribed to the mantra which I wrote about below 'Done is better than perfect' in the blog post 'Done is better than perfect - Lessons I have learnt from my PhD'. Apart from that it was a case of implementing some strategies that I had learnt already too.
I had accumulated some experience working between degrees and went to several different time management seminars sponsored by companies that I was working at at the time. One of which was Ocean Consulting in Dublin and he said that the first thing you do in the morning when you get to work is to continue what you were working on the evening previously. DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR EMAILS. They can wait for an hour while you get into a work frame of mind. I took this into the PhD. I also learnt and used some apps to help me focus my mind and concentrate in what was a high-pressured environment. These were the following:
The Pomodoro method: This is a method for writing/doing/creating/programming/focusing on a task you want to or maybe even don't want to do for 25 minutes without any distractions. You set the timer and once that 'one pomodoro' is completed you get up, move, reset and take a 5-10 minute break. I had the timer set on my computer and it would flash up when it was finished. I would advise not using this app if you are in a PhD room as it can be distracting for others. I used the app on my phone at home. Your motivation will increase if you concentrate on telling yourself that you can do 1 of these per day without stopping. I know it seems like a tiny amount but once you realise how distracted you are with things then you can start to accumulate those pomodoros. In the height of the PhD I would concentrate on accumulating these in the 10s - again without distractions. In a workplace environment this can be challenging as people walk over to people's desk and I found going to a separate area to concentrate far more beneficial. I set my timer and then I concentrate on my task. It can be quite meditative.
Blocking Internet: I used an app on my computer called Freedom, it blocks websites, apps and the Internet for up to 8 hours. Now be careful with this one, if you are doing research and development, you may need the Internet. It is only good when you have a solid base knowledge. You may develop strategies that you learn like writing things down that you do need to look up afterwards while your mind goes to what you can do while you wait for the time to expire on the Freedom app. It is definitely something that you need to think about before implementing for a full day, I started with two or three hours at first and it was a case of forming the right habits. It really does give you a sense of freedom once you can work away on something without interruptions. Most things can wait an hour or even longer if you are concentrating.
Writing: Another app that I used was for the write-up phase of the PhD. I used an app called FocusWriter to remove all of the other apps on the screen and only show the page in front of me. It was excellent for writing-up the thesis. Now you can enable this function within word, if your thesis can function within Microsoft Word. Although it is tempting to touch a button and revert to full-screen. FocusWriter had settings to lock other apps while you were writing.
All in all these were supportive in terms of forming the right habits. I needed social media like twitter and this blog to keep track of some research that I had started and to keep in contact with some conference attendees but I didn't want them to be a distraction or to pull my time into different directions. I also wanted to optimise my time to the best I could. I was usually blocking time in the morning for game development until lunch, after lunch scheduled or supervisor meetings, giving tutorials, correcting anything and back to the reading and summarising theory in the afternoon to support my thesis.
It was also a case of being flexible and allowing myself to come back to what I was working on if I had an interruption. This is where some self-compassion can work wonders. If you get distracted allow yourself to take a minute and gently bring yourself back to what you were working on. It will be both encouraging and supportive and you will feel great about going back to the task. I can't say that this was the perfect solution, however, it was transformative in terms of my work practices. I can only speak from my own perspective when I say that it influenced my life for the better in terms of habits and discipline of mind. Like with all disciplines it takes practice and falling out of these practices allows us to remember why these are important to keep practicing them. We all need a bit of contrast in our lives to appreciate that. See post on we all need a bit of contrast in our lives.
Disclaimer: This isn't to say that I didn't work very long hours, I did, but I enjoyed teaching part-time while working full-time. I love my students and the free-time that I do have I enjoy teaching. It's not a remedy for reducing time, it's a remedy I found to be more efficient and focused with my time. These allow me to get the jobs done that I need to in a shorter time frame than most.