Move your research project forward with this micro-level planning top tip: "Next Steps for Tomorrow, Today"
You have done your long-term and short-term planning. It is now time to get micro. (Btw, if you prefer watching a video rather than reading, scroll down).
Imagine this, it is Tuesday, and you are working on your proposal. You are into the swing of things and are progressing like a machine, your list shrinks, and you feel great. It is 8 pm, and today's rocking session is coming to an end. Due to other commitments, you can't work on your proposal tomorrow and only have an hour available on Thursday. Thursday comes, and you feel tired as if someone stole a truckload of motivation from you. It’s time to work on your proposal, but now you can't remember where you ended on Tuesday, and to figure that out just feels like way too much for today… you go fiddle a bit inside your inbox and then go outside and sit in the sun; after all, you can do with some Vitamin D.
It is so easy to procrastinate if a task seems like a misty mountain and you don't know where to start climbing. Breaking up misty mountains into clear-cut pathways will make your life much easier. This brings us to the recommendation of "Next Steps for Tomorrow, Today". Here goes:
At the end of today's session, take a minute or two to jot down the next steps that need to be done. Things like creating a table for the inclusion/exclusion criteria, or describe how the sample size will be calculated or correcting the in-text citations. Knowing exactly what the next steps are will be very handy when your next session arrives tomorrow. Add them to your calendar, diary, to-do list app or sticky note.
Even if you only have 30 min available, you will know exactly which documents, browsers or programmes to open and can get going immediately. Also, when bombarded by the thought of "Ah it is only 30min, what can I do in 30min, I'm rather going to scroll through social media", you are armed with a plan.
Being ready with the next micro-steps means you procrastinate less – we commonly procrastinate when we have to figure out what to do before we can start doing it. It will also mean that we can make good use of those time slots where someone gives you the gift of time – a meeting gets cancelled, or you arrive home or at work earlier than planned.
This technique is also beneficial when there will be a few days between today's session and the next, making life easier for your future self. A friend who was doing his PhD once shared this approach with me. He said that if you are doing a PhD part-time, you have a busy week at work and only have one hour a day on four days of that week to work on your PhD. One hour does not seem like much, and one can easily argue that it's too little to achieve anything. If you don't work on your PhD during those four allocated hours, you are not four hours behind; you are a week behind. Every hour brings you closer to graduation.
Let's recap; here's how to apply the concept of "Next Steps for Tomorrow, Today":
- At the end of today's session, take 2min before you close your laptop
- Jot down the to-dos (“Next steps”) that you would have done today if you had more time to spend on this project
- Add them to your diary, calendar, to-do app, sticky note, or wherever you feel comfortable, as long as it is easily accessible when tomorrow comes
- When tomorrow's session comes – planned or through “the gift of time” – get going with your "Next Steps"
Try it out. Share this post with someone close to your heart. Let's get that knowledge created!
If watching a video is more of your thing, here it is:
Photo by Bich Tran
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