Planning not too much, not too little, but just enough

I have a little bit of a problem with time management and simultaneously over and under planning.

Sometimes I do very little planning and then just faff around aimlessly not really knowing what I should focus on, for example, I may want to plan my day’s work but for some reason get paralysed and can’t do it or make unrealistic plans.  Then at the other extreme I plan all details and well too far in advance. For example I have been planning my PhD graduation outfit and hairstyle that would suit a beret. Although now we have merged to UCL I will have to see what their gown colours are and re-adjust all my plans.

I love this hairstyle and dresses! A PhD beret would set it off perfectly! Photo by Cangaway on Flickr

I love this hairstyle and dresses! A PhD beret would set it off perfectly!
Photo by Cangaway on Flickr

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I passed the upgrade from MPhil to PhD (yay!) and this have given me the boost I need to really get down to serious PhD business.

So for the first supervisory meeting after the upgrade, I thought I’d make a plan or the next two years to see me through to the submission day. I have planned all my training for the year and all the conferences I want to go on and/or present at. Now, there is nothing wrong with this as such, but when I showed my supervisors, Alison and Sam, my time line, ghant chart and schedule, they looked at me a bit funny and suggested perhaps I have spent a little too much time planning (I’m so glad I did not present my 7ft 3D timeline landscape poster with milestones and stickers and glitter).

My supervisors are so kind and, Alison, hit the nail on the head when she explained why I keep leaping to the future. It is because I need security, stability and I like to do things robustly and make sure everything is perfect and thought through. There is nothing wrong with this of course, however, it does mean that perhaps because of this need to lay out everything perfectly I never get started or when I do I worry that it is not right. And this is causing me huge anxiety. It is over a year in, I have passed my Upgrade, I am doing OK, I just need to keep going but break it all down into chunks. Now, I know this. It is not the first time I have been told, but I don’t know why I keep slipping. Alison says it is perhaps because we all naturally revert back to type, so I just have to try to break the habit.

So they suggested I should put my blinkers on and just focus on the next three months as I can do all the planing in the world, but once I start analysing my data, these plans will have to be adjusted or even thrown out as I do not know what issues and problems I will come up against. That’s part of the PhD fun. So in these three months I will complete chapter 2 which is about the social context of cohort member’s schooling, and chapter 3 which is about lifelong learning and the changing nature of universities between the 1980s and 2008 (I have planned these using Murray’s outlining as mentioned in previous post. This level of planning is healthy).  I will also have completed some descriptive statistics on the new variable I have created (well, I need to re-do it as it went a bit wrong – will write another post on this). I will present this at a university seminar in May and perhaps make a poster out of it for a university conference in March. So nice, neat and manageable with planned dissemination activities and what not.

I like to summarise their nice well thought through advice to myself in a simple straight forward sentence which I will put on my wall: “Annika, stop planning your perfect graduation outfit and doing elaborate timelines and get on with this one task up until March, FFS!”

  1. llordllama said:

    Planning the next two years? Wow, impressive. Even my “required by NTU regs” 6 month plans start to look crazy after after about 6 weeks (and yet so reasonable at the time of writing). i know what you mean about wanting stability; it’s the one thing I feel in my own PhD journey to be lacking – I just want to be able to sign off on some things, consider them done and dusted…not endlessly open for revisitation in 6 months/a year/some uncertain point in the future.

    Impressed you’re writing your chapters in sequence – my sequence has been 3-5-4-2, which might make a decent PIN number but not a logical sequence 🙂 Or maybe it does in some anti-positivistic kinda way…

    For the record I’d look terrible in a beret…


    • Well these two chapters go naturally in sequence. Naturally given my ability to leap ahead in time, I started off initially doing analysis before I’d even done the literature review… I’m topsy turvy too…. but need to resist sometimes!


  2. llordllama said:

    No that sounds about the same as me – I started off with a critique of neo-liberal HE before moving onto some field work and data analysis. Now writing the theory. To my supervisors this all seems terribly logical. To me…much less so!


  3. I was like this before..trying to plan well ahead of time. Mind maps, sticky notes – the whole works. The truth is I now only plan the first three months. Anything after that seems to give me a headache!!


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