Since I finished the coursework for my PhD degree requirement, I’ve been slowly and persistently developing and going through my comprehensive exam reading lists. If everything had gone as I planned, I should have finished much more readings than I have actually finished so far, but hey that’s life. The obvious reason why I’m not making as much progress as I want is procrastination. I may be googling something continuously, checking books and some other interesting items on amazon, or watching some cooking shows on the Food Network website. Moderate procrastination may be a good way to relax during short breaks, but I definitely need a means to control the amount of procrastination.
Then, I thought that I need to have a system that makes me accountable for my (lack of) progress in the reading lists. I can do this by making to-do lists on a sheet or paper, or using to-do apps, but I wanted to have something visible but unobtrusive all the time for this.
I was initially searching for a regular whiteboard that I can hang on the wall, but then I eventually found Wall Pops! White Dry-Erase Board. It is basically a sheet of film that you can stick to (and peel off from) almost any surfaces, and you can write on it as you do on a regular whiteboard. (I bought mine at a local Home Depot store but you can easily buy one online as well.) As some of the online reviews were pointing out, it was not easy to stick the film on the wall nicely; after several tries, I gave it up and ended up putting in the side of my bookshelf.
Several Positive Outcomes from Tracking Weekly Progress
Since I was little, I always loved making daily, weekly, and monthly plans, but I barely stuck to them—I just felt I had accomplished a lot just by making such plans. For the past few years, I still plan my study in my head but have stopped writing/typing down the actual plans. After I started tracking my weekly progress, I’ve re-realized that what I need to do for these plans is to keep tracking the progress of my work and re-evaluate my working patterns and habits. I have noticed some positive outcomes from tracking weekly progress so far:
- The visible indicator of progress encourages me to keep working.
- This allows me to see how much work I can usually handle in a week.
- Lack of progress on a specific day makes me really accountable for that.
- It reminds me that I am making progress!
I think that the last point is particularly encouraging and crucial for PhD students since we often feel that we are not making enough progress at all.
On the top of this weekly progress section, I’ve written major deadlines such as an upcoming conference and conference abstracts, but I still need to add a section for monthly goals. I do not have much extra space on this whiteboard, so I may need to write my monthly goals somewhere else, like in my lovely Moleskine. I hope that this way of tracking progress will encourage me to work more and make me forget to procrastinate!