This week Laura Wood, an independent early career research, shares her planning method!
How much research time is built into my job: As an independent, I have a second career, so, in a way, none, but, in another way, I’m much freer with the time I do have. I find I have to be very intentional about carving out interrupted research time: I have to plan to accommodate it. I aim for a day a week of writing/research time, but don’t always manage that when life gets in the way.
If the next REF were held tomorrow, I would: (For UK respondents) Shrug?
I work on: Late medieval/early modern women and religion. The focus of my doctoral thesis was vowesses – women, usually widows, who took vows of chastity without becoming nuns – and I’m continuing to develop that theme whilst exploring female lay piety more broadly in the early Reformation.
Tools I use to plan my research: My bullet journal, insofar as it’s how I plan my life and my research is a part of that. [Laura mentioned my bullet journal video in a note here - in case you don't know what a bullet journal is see my video here and the official site here - Ellie] I use that for time management and setting goals, so that it’s integrated with everything else I’m also doing. This helps me to notice when I’m being unrealistic about what I can achieve and reminds me not to let other stuff encroach upon research time. The research nitty gritty goes in a separate lined notebook, divided into sections for different projects or pieces of writing. There I will write/scribble in more detail about what I’m doing and what I’m planning to do.
My approach to planning/planning philosophy is: To break everything up into very small increments/tasks. This both saves me from my own appalling short-term memory and helps with feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
My routine is: Flexible. Sometimes I don’t have childcare for whatever reason, sometimes insomnia is kicking my arse and I’m useless, sometimes I have other stuff to do which is more urgent than research… Planning helps me to identify the time I do have and to make the best use of it. I had my son half-way through the doctorate and, while that wasn’t easy, it did teach me to prioritise, to maximise the time available, and to be very comfortable with rescheduling (ie because suddenly my child is vomiting).
I think I am organised/disorganised/other (please specify): Organised. Perhaps a little too organised?
I would like to improve my… Level of detail in planning my daily tasks. (Forgive the bullet journal nerdery here.) I currently use quite a large chunk of page for each day, divided into daytime and evening, and this quickly gets full of stuff to do. It includes mundane, habitual stuff like “shower”, “empty the cat’s litter tray” - and this can be obstructive for areas like research, where I’m trying to make and measure actual progress. I’ve recently introduced a separate space for ticking off recurring daily tasks, but don’t want this too far geographically from the rest of the day’s stuff, so ended up having tiny boxes for each day, to save space, but then they were too small to be useful. I haven’t yet found the optimal size of box for a daily to-do list: too large and I fill it up with too much stuff, overburdening and exhausting myself; too small and I get frustrated because I need to write things down. Daily lists are odd because they’re where research collides with domestic life and my other work and my friend’s birthday and everything else. It’s good that I have the separate notebook for research as well!
My best piece of planning advice is: Try a bullet journal. There are no hard and fast rules to them – they’re fully customisable, so you do what works for you. The process of working out what helps you and what doesn’t will teach you so much about yourself, how you operate, and what’s really important to you. My academic writing and research skills have benefited hugely from this. The best way to look after your research is to look after yourself.