by Stuart Falconer, Open University, CHASE Student Committee member and OU Representative
When it was suggested that I write a blog post focused around a day in my life my first thought was how?! How do I describe my ‘typical’ day – a word I would not associate with any of my days.
I have decided to share a relatively common day during my working week. If we were living in ideals, I would say here that my day starts by waking up and sitting in peaceful surroundings drinking coffee and reading a couple of academic articles. However, we don’t live in ideals, my day starts with my two small children waking me up by charging up and down the hall like elephants, then I head downstairs to be confronted by the world’s most excitable Labrador who needs feeding and letting outside.
Next, I need to sort the kids breakfast as well as making packed lunches for the family because “Tom has packed lunch, so I need it”. At this point I say goodbye to the wife and prepare for the school run and walking the dog (remembering to drop off disco consent forms and confirming son’s attendance at a birthday party) before swinging to the shops to restock on milk and bread.
Finally, home, I get the kettle on and start thinking about my day. Firstly, I think about my work; as a module leader on an Archaeology degree, I need to ensure my weekly lectures are planned (and reports are written, and assignments marked). So late morning, family sorted, work prepped, I now address that nauseating feeling in the pit of my stomach regarding neglected PhD work.
It is at this point that my priorities list bears fruit! I often find the potential for procrastination is high here, especially with the volume of administrative tasks associated with the PhD that I could ‘just quickly do whilst I have five minutes’. These include skills audits, conference abstracts, transport and accommodation for conferences and training, booking training opportunities, writing supervision notes and sorting my bibliography (I use Zotero) to name a few. Whilst necessary, it is at this point I readjust my focus and either read, annotate and critique academic articles, or I consider different methodologies and how these should mesh with theoretical approaches.
Late afternoon and I have made some PhD progress, but it is time to collect the children and prep dinner for family time. This time is one of the most significant of my day which I would not change for the world. Stepping away from research to spend time on other things is invaluable, especially when those things are friends and family – one of the best ways to relax, share your thoughts and feelings, and, remind yourself that you have a network of support around you. After dinner, kids’ baths and stories read, I sit down on the sofa with my wife and my laptop (often during this period I tackle the admin tasks). Every day is different with regard to progress, goals, priorities, responsibilities and levels of success. Some days I make incredible progress and feel a little smug, other days I feel are wasted and the all too familiar imposter syndrome kicks in.
I find prioritising and tackling manageable chunks is a good time management method, as is seeking advice of others, and things like reading an article or writing a few hundred words a day, are good working practices to adopt. What I often find is that I adjust time allowances according to my situation. There are times where life is challenging, so I throw myself into my research, a tactic I use in the other direction too, if I have just read an article that I needed a thesaurus to comprehend, I may focus on lecture planning or admin tasks as an escape. There are plenty of opportunities through CHASE and host institutions to seek advice and support on how to effectively manage your time and to organise yourself. Be selective, think carefully about your intended career and what you want from your PhD as this will guide you and your decisions and remember to strike that balance between social, work and academic life!