Name: Timothy O. Benedict
Field: Asian Religions
Year in Program: 5th
Dissertation Title: “Spiritual Care in the Japanese Hospice”
I find it a bit ironic when graduate students thank their children in the acknowledgements section of their dissertation. Personally, I feel my two-year-old daughter’s greatest contribution is one of distraction and helping remind me that there are far more important things in life than my research! But I will admit, writing a dissertation with a toddler in the house has allowed me to cultivate my time management skills! Here are a few ways how.
1. The day starts at the same time every day.
Fortunately, my daughter is not a very early riser but I plan on being occupied with her between 7-8:30am on most days. Since I am a morning person, if I have work to do, I need to get up before that to put in an hour or two of quiet work, usually writing.
2. Make the most of the workday.
Once I reach my study carrel, around 9am, I take some time to go through my email and write quick replies. I leave emails that require a more detailed response for later. After that, I try not to leave my desk except for lunch at noon and a coffee break around 3pm. I usually make a point of being home by around 5pm. Since I know that once I get home it will be impossible to get anything done until late at night (by which point I will be fairly tired), this helps me stay focused during my 9 to 5 “work day.”
3. Small chunks of time add up.
Since most days contain many interruptions (class, seminars, talks, etc.) I am sometimes tempted to waste the ten, twenty or even thirty minutes that falls between appointments. Once again, knowing that my day effectively ends at 5pm, I try to take advantage of every minute I have. I often draft an email, read a few pages in a book, or edit something I wrote earlier in the day whenever I have a minute or two.
I sometimes keep a special book on hand that I only read during the many chunks of time that tend to get wasted during the day.
I’m often surprised how quickly I finish that book!
4. Keep weekends free.
Because I know that my wife and daughter expect me to be available on the weekend, I find it easier to stay focused and more productive during the week. Before getting married, I often dragged my work into the weekends and took time off on weekdays. But this often made me feel restless and unproductive.
Having a family helps me keep a fairly clear line between work and personal time.
5. Stay task oriented.
I start each week by listing all the things I realistically plan to get done that week on an index card.
I keep that index card in my planner and derive great satisfaction every time I cross a task off. I try to write down even really small tasks so that I feel like I am getting a lot of work done. This also helps me keep track of how much I am getting done during the week and lets me relax on the weekend when I can see that I got everything done.
6. Enjoy the moment!
Personally, I have found graduate school the perfect time to start a family. My schedule is very flexible, I have plenty of school breaks, and a lot of work can be done from home.
I know that someday I will look back on this “stressful” period as the halcyon days of my youth.
In the end, only a handful of people will ever read my dissertation; in the meantime, I try to enjoy the freedom of sitting in the library, sipping from a nice beverage, while reading and writing about all the things that interest me.
Tim is a Ph.D. Candidate at Princeton’s Department of Religion. You can learn more about him on his website here.