Maybe you have done one of these courses, a time management course. One that is supposed to show you how to plan your time efficiently so you will go home all happy and relaxed at the end of the day. If it works for you; great: stop reading.

In case it doesn’t work; read on.

Why doesn’t time management work?

There are a couple of reasons why time management doesn’t work voor PhD students.



First a bit of history. Time management was introduced during the industrial revolution. During that time it was very important that a large number of people in factories worked coordinated and systematically. This was hardly possible without a clock, which is basically the foundation of time management. Before the industrial revolution, when most of the people worked in agriculture, people weren’t focused on time but on nature and the tasks that came with the cycle of nature. Work was done in a natural way with a natural rhythm and time.

And now?

Nowadays we are completely obsessed with time. And that’s why your diary is filled up completely (which by the way you try to do in an efficient way) or you don’t plan at all because you don’t know where to start.

The funny thing is that planning a lot actually has as a result that you are never done. Because the more you do, the more you will have to do. For instance your mailbox, the more emails you answer, the more answers you will get back.

Another thing is that being under time pressure will result in you making bad decisions and will lower your performance.

Planning a lot also means that we are breaking up our time in even smaller bits, called time splintering. Your attention span will get shorter which will make it more difficult to think properly. And of course, focussed thinking is crucial for a PhD student. Not for every task but for the main ones. The scientist Carl Newport calls it Deep Work (see footnote). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it flow and explains it in this TED Talk.

In short: time management is not at all handy for all the creative thinking you need to do as a PhD student. What can be useful for you is to have a daily routine and to make sure you are in the flow so you can do deep work.

Or pay attention to your energy levels during the day, read this blog to find out more about this.


The link refers to an article in a Dutch newspaper. If you scroll down you will find an English podcast about Deep Work.



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