Being Efficient

Efficiency is something that can come and go during your PhD. It’s normal to have a few weeks buzzing with productivity, and then weeks where you barely seem to cross more than one task off of your to-do list. ChengCheng talks about her struggles with maintaining efficiency in her research and the methods that have helped her to maintain a regular work pattern…

I find that it is impossible to remain efficient for an entire day in my office. However, it is also difficult for me to be productive when I am at home. I have managed to find some useful tips to get around this and I hope these will help you if you face the same difficulties as me.


Most assume that if you have a quiet office with your colleagues it’s easy to concentrate. However, this doesn’t really suit me. Instead, I love the library. When I feel I need a break, I can just walk around the shelves and always find some interesting books that expand on my current reading list. Also, I recommend working in a Café. I am a tea lover and enjoy drinking a milky tea whilst being surrounded by other people. Some might think that a ‘noisy’ environment makes you less productive, but headphones can block out the noise if this bothers you. I find that when I am amongst a crowd, it is easier to meet my daily goals. For example, one time I was at a train station waiting for friends and the efficiency of my reading and thoughts was higher than ever! For me, being alone sometimes makes me feel like I am stuck within my research. Working with friends and around other people therefore works best for me.

Time Management

Time management does not come naturally to me. I have found these following methods to be really useful. First is S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) goals. I use these principles to set my short-term goals (3-6 months) rather than long-term goals as these are more specific to what I should be doing in the immediate future. Specification is especially important to me so I write down a To-Do list every time I need to start something new. I also use Google Calendar to remind me of the events or teaching I have going on each day. This is really useful for and it can also be migrated to Apple or Microsoft calendars.

I also make sure that I record a daily timeline of what I do, when I do it and how efficient it was. This helps me to identify the most productive times of the day and places to work. I find that sleep contributes massively to how efficient I can be! I can’t work if I don’t sleep well, so keeping record of my sleeping habits is also helpful for me.

Self Management

Knowing yourself and your strengths and weaknesses can really help you excel in your research. I recommend taking the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) test and discovering which of the 16 personality types you most closely align with. Understanding who you are as a person can give you a better ability to judge how you can succeed in each of your tasks. Being able to understand myself is essential for me to be more efficient and I use this knowledge to plan my future.


Finally, I’m going to list some small extras that I find helps me to maintain efficiency:

  • Music. I love to work with music: English songs, Chinese songs, classical songs… even alpha wave brain music! Try different types of music to figure out your most efficient background sound.
  • Sports. The gym is a place I always go to feel good about myself. I love Zumba and find that I feel more productive after a workout. I’m also more motivated throughout the day when I know I have dance class to look forward to at the end.
  • Food. Treating yourself to your favorite food after a day of work is always great (for me, this is a calzone at Zizzi’s!).
  • The park. Go out! Find some beautiful parks and immerse yourself in nature whilst you study. I find the fresh air outside helps to make my thoughts clearer.


How have you manged to maintain an efficient workload during your PhD? Have you got any other efficiency advice for PhD Life readers? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Chengcheng Kang is a PhD candidate from Beijing, China in Group of Information System Management at the Warwick Business School. You may contact her on Twitter at @cckkcc29


Image: laptop-apple-macbook-computer-2562211 / StockSnap / CC0 1.0

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