Planning like a Pro  0

I am a planner, an organizer, a nit-picker. I love to plan. I love to plan dinner, I love to plan vacations, I love to plan my work. OK, so I might be a bit of a controlfreak. But planning is one of the most essential things to do while conducting your PhD, so we were told last week by The Dutch PhD Coach Arjenne Louter. While I might be over-organizing things myself sometimes (illustrated by the pictures below: (1) my “Wall of Thought”, (2) my neighbour’s wall), still I found some tips to be very helpful. Especially when you are just starting out as a PhD, just like me, planning four years into the future might make you somehow scared, stressed, or leave you completely blank. What on earth will you be doing in your 4th year when you have not even been around for 6 months yet?! Do not panic, for here are some tips for planning your PhD when you have only just started.


(1) My “Wall of Thought”.
(2) My neigbour’s wall.
(2) My neigbour’s wall.


Plan your PhD: Tips for starting PhD’s


  1. Plan from end to front

While you might be feeling it would be way more relevant to first plan the upcoming months, it does not hurt to look at your planning from the other way around. What will you be doing in your last year? While you do not know this precisely, you do know that at the end of those four years, you will plan your thesis defense. You also know that +/- 6 months before the date of your defense, you have to hand in your thesis. You can already mark this in your planning. So the months before that, you will have to complete writing your thesis, so reserve some time for that. Before that, your last study needs to be conducted (data collection, analyses, writing). Make an estimation of how much time you think you will need, and mark this time in your planning. Before that… [continue]


  1. Plan stops and starts

So while you’re at it, your four year planning could maybe also use the insertion of clear starts and stops. Thinking of events you want to plan is helpful, but is might be even more helpful if you plan moments when you must absolutely START doing something, or absolutely STOP working on a certain event. These starts and stops will bring more clarity to your planning, however, always remember that in great need, these start-and-stop moments can be adjusted.


  1. Plan holidays

This is an important one that is often forgotten in the enthusiasm of a beginner. Remember: Work hard, play hard. Do not forget you might need some weeks off around Christmas and summer, and maybe also sometime in between. You need your rest to recharge that battery!


  1. Plan on a smaller scale

While having a four year planning is helpful for having a rough overview of what you want to achieve, you might actually still not have a clue of what to do tomorrow. Assuming that you have your rough four year planning now, you also sort of know what you have to do the upcoming months. Divide those tasks into smaller and smaller bits, so you know all the little parts that have to be done in order to reach your goal.

  • Plan for the week

If you can also estimate how much time certain small tasks will take, and you can also estimate the order in which they have to be done (some tasks you can do simultaneously, others you have to do sequentially), you can opt to make a planning for the week featuring week goals.

  • Plan for the day

Today, plan for the next day. What do you want to do and how much time do you have to get things done? Some people might not like to have this tight of a planning, so if it makes you nervous or stressed, by all means, do not make a day planning. It’s all about getting peace of mind.


  1. Adapt

Your planning is not a sacred document. When planning months, years, even four years in advance, you plan events based on “more-or-less” timescales. Remember you can always adapt your planning when stumbling upon unforeseen events, or when things are going slower or faster than expected. Every few months, you can revise your planning and make some adaptations. No harm done.


I also make a habit of printing out my plannings, writing them, drawing them and hanging them on my wall. Since I’m such a planner, my “Wall of Thought” is getting bigger and bigger. I am almost in need of an extra wall. As a solution, a friend advised me to think less. When I have figured out how to do that, I will write another blogpost on clearing the mind (and while I’m at it, maybe also a piece of wall).

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