In this edition of Calendar Heroes, we sat down to chat with Elisa, a PhD scholar currently completing her dissertation on self-marketing in early modern England. When she is not busy researching, writing, or teaching at her university -- Elisa also spends her time producing productivity content on Instagram, where she shares tips and advice for students on how to best manage their time.
Our Calendar Heroes series features very busy professionals across all types of roles and industries to learn more about how they manage to make time where there is none. We're highlighting these stories to help share tips and ideas for working effectively, improving your time management skills, and boosting your productivity.
I am a PhD student at the University of Konstanz where I also have been trained in media, literature, and art studies. I am currently writing my doctoral thesis on forms of self-representation in the modern English era, where I concentrate on paintings. On the side, I am a content creator on Instagram where I share methods and tips on how to be productive and work efficiently as a student.
My work is mainly done in front of a computer, so I spend most of my time sitting at a desk reading articles or writing on my manuscript. The rest of my workweek is devoted to research meetings, conferences, or teaching. I generally like to work in my office at the University, but I also enjoy working from home some days. Fortunately, my job allows me to be very flexible on that part.
Since I'm sitting a lot, I always have some form of exercise scheduled in my week to stay healthy. I start every day with a yoga session, and do longer sessions in the evenings when I have the time. On the weekends, I like to go for runs or long walks. That helps me to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
I've used many different techniques over the years, but found that time blocking and timers work best for me. I started with the Pomodoro timer, but I realized that the default 25 minutes are not enough for me to stay in the flow, so now I mostly work in 2-hour sessions. I have a timer app running on my tablet, which helps me to visualize my progress and stay motivated to finish my work.
To structure my day, I always make a plan the night before, or even earlier, and block time in my calendar for specific tasks that are due. I've learned that grouping similar tasks and working through them in one sitting is very efficient for me and that works very well with my time blocking routine.
I am also very much a creature of habit, so I work best by working off of a set routine to manage my time. I always start my mornings in the same order to get into work-mode, and I always do something fun in the evenings before I go to bed.
Here's what a productive day in my week looks like as a student.
- I wake up after at least 8 hours of sleep, which I am strict about because I focus best when I am well rested and don't experience energy lows.
- Begin the morning with some kind of stretching or yoga.
- Drink (a lot of) tea.
- Cycle to university to get fresh air and get the blood pumping.
- Start the workday with administrative to-dos like emails to get them out of my head.
- Have lunch.
- In the afternoon, I do two 2-hour sessions of deep work -- one for reading, and one for writing. I track the time on my tablet.
- Some days, afternoons are taken up by lectures or research meetings when I don't have the time to get a lot of work done. On those days, I add a reading session later in the evening.
- I am more of a night owl, as I personally start being productive in the afternoon. I usually finish my "workday" around 11pm after a reading session.
- If I don't have a plan set for the following day, I time block my calendar with priority tasks the night before.
- Then I spend 1-1.5 hours watching something light hearted on Netflix or playing video games to get my head away from my work session.
- Head to bed to make sure I am getting the sleep I need to perform at my best.
On the weekends, I try to go for a longer walk or a run to keep up with exercise since I spend a lot of my day sitting in front of the computer.
I use a lot of different tools for different purposes. As a PhD Student, the most important tool is, of course, my reference manager. But in general, I mainly use Google Workspace to be more efficient. I use Google Calendar for my schedule, Google Tasks to keep track of all the different things that I have to do, and Google Keep for short notes or reminders. For longer and more complex notes, I use Notion. For example, I have a list on Notion for all the literature I ordered and why I ordered them in the first place.
Additionally, I like to do a hand-written to-do list every day - since I enjoy the part where you can cross off a task and see what you've achieved. But these handwritten lists are only for short-term planning, my long-term planning is online. My latest addition to that productivity system is Reclaim.ai. It's helped me a lot to improve my planning and time-blocking.
Since I work on multiple projects at the same time, it can be tough to actually find time to sit down and write on my manuscript, which is the most important thing in my job at the moment. Reclaim helps me to find this time: I've defined two Habits in Reclaim for each day, one for reading articles, and another for writing. Reclaim schedules these Habits for me around all the other appointments that come up during a week. I also plan all my Tasks with Reclaim now, and let it automatically block the time I need for each to-do in my calendar. I really like that I don't have to make the decision myself anymore on which task to take on next - this prevents me from overthinking and to just do it.
This advice I think of in both my personal and professional life. Whatever successes or losses other people have, it does not affect my situation. Comparison is healthy, to some extent, but we should keep in mind that we are on our own journey. We should support and help each other instead of being jealous or envious of what others have.
If you're new to Reclaim.ai -- it is a smart calendar tool for Google Calendar that automatically finds the best time in your busy schedule for all your priority tasks, habits, meetings, and more, through flexible and intelligent time blocking.
- Start time blocking your week with classes, Task work, and meetings so you know what you're going to be working on when, and boost productivity up to 80% by focusing on a single task at a time.
- Uplevel your time blocking by letting Reclaim automatically reshuffle your schedule when something comes up, so you don't have to waste time playing calendar tetris.
- Make time for deep workon important projects to maximize your focus in a flow state.
- Stay on top of your habits and routines by letting Reclaim block time for exercising, meditating, or making time to read like Elisa!
- Auto-schedule recurring one-on-one meetings with your professors, students, or supervisors based on both attendees availability, and reschedule for the next best time with a single click if there's a meeting conflict.
If you know a Calendar Hero who has awesome productivity hacks that you'd like to recommend we interview or want to be interviewed yourself, let us know! You don't have to be a Reclaim user to be featured as a Calendar Hero: these stories are about anyone with an interesting approach to managing a complex schedule.