This is something I found really useful with my PhD, and is something I encourage my MA students to do as well – and pass it on to other people starting PhDs.; I thought I’d throw it up on here too, then I can just wave people at the explanation. I use an adapted version to plan out my year, and I’m writing one for a funding bid now. Basically, this is a way of planning out a project at the proposal or planning stage – i.e. before you start – and then using that plan to keep an eye on progress and future issues. It’s based on Gantt charts – which are used in project planning – but obviously simplified.
To do your own, you will need:
One: Excel or other spreadsheet-writing software – you can also do this by hand if you prefer. Electronic copies can be amended relatively easily, which is nice.
Two: A list of your deadlines, or milestones for your project. This might be when you want to submit something to a journal, a conference you need to have sent a proposal off for by, or a meeting. The longer the project, the vaguer the deadlines towards the end – this is one of the bits you will need to update. You should also include any times you know you’ll need time off – holidays, etc. If you have kids, it might be useful to put half terms in there; I would put in hospital appointments or times when work would be particularly busy, so I knew I would have other pressures on my time.
Three: A list of the tasks you need to do. This might be “interviews” or “write draft” – break down your project into the tasks. I put “reading” on mine. These are not super-detailed breakdowns, but a rough idea of what you need to do. During my PhD, I kept a whole-project and a six-month version – the latter being a lot more detailed.
In row one, list your months – or weeks, for a shorter project. In column A, list your tasks and deadlines. Put a symbol in the corresponding month for each deadline (or a number, a letter, etc). For each task, fill the squares in on the months/weeks you expect to work on that task. You can have multiple tasks happening at once – but this will help visualise when you are particularly busy, or when you need to get things done by. Here’s an example:
The idea is to plot out dates where you have to do things – with my PhD, I started with deadlines set by the uni, and also conferences, paper deadlines and the like; obviously for a PhD some of this will be very vague, but this is a working document, not a box. This gives you an idea of your high-stress points – I use it to know when I’ve got too much on to commit to further tasks. When I was writing my PhD proposal, it was really useful to help me think three years ahead. Here’s what my proposal-point plan looked like:
Reviewing it every so often helped me keep an eye on my progress, but also helped me see where I was getting stuck. And I wrote about it right at the end of my thesis, comparing the “plan” to “what actually happened” to evaluate my method.
Here’s a file I wrote for my MA students – it has a couple of examples in it. Feel free to download it and use it for yourself!