Tracking my PhD


If you are a grad student and in need for something to procrastinate instead of doing real work, read on, I share with you my experiences of trying to track my time that I think will help me in the long run. 1

As an entrant into the PhD program at IISc, I discovered the use for my learning from my earlier corporate days. If at any point in your career you have worked independently you will realise the need for tracking your work.

This (I think) can be and should be extended to the academia as well. As a starting point I put together a spreadsheet (a tracker) to do the following:

SHEET1 - Work Log / Time Tracking

Track my work - log my work for the day. Each day is a row and I add in details of what I worked on and how I fared - nothing detailed, just one line with the most important stuff for the day

Then I assign a score for the day, on a scale of 1 to 5, latter being highest productivity. An SUM function to average these scores gives me a sense of how my Quarter has been in terms of work. I mark out days when I am on vacation and days on which nothing got done. These are counted with a COUNTIF function giving me the exact number of such days.

SHEET2 - Big Picture Deadlines

One of my concerns is submitting my thesis in time such that my funding doesn’t run out. This is the elephant in the room in most academic settings. By the law of averages, I may have to face this scenario as well. But just to add stress to my life I have put down the big picture deadlines for starting from deciding a research problem to submission of my thesis. I know, probably this will end up being something that I can use to wonder about my optimism in the earlier days, nonetheless, it is a good way to simply keep these deadlines in back of your head.

SHEET3 - Blueprint

A tracker for the other component of the PhD program - conferences to check out, interesting research areas and researchers to follow , a list of key skills to gain and any other planning that doesn’t fit anywhere else. This also includes my courses, grades and other information that I wish to log but don’t want to file under a separate heading.

SHEET4 - Sort of a To-Do

A spreadsheet tool is not a good to-do manager. Period. Having said that, the regular to-do managers and systems (like the GTD system) operate with a timeframe in mind - things to do today or tomorrow or next 7 days, Or maybe in months or every year. But I needed a list without a particular timeframe in mind and in one place for all items related to my PhD. Hence, this sheet.

I spend a lot of time looking for resources online - MOOCs, Lecture Notes, blogs written by academicians etc. All of the important links go into this sheet. Just having all the links at one place makes planning of the to-do’s and other goals a bit easier

A word about the tools

My tool of choice would be Google Docs. The spreadsheet functionality mostly resembles that of Excel and has the added advantage of being hosted on Google’s servers. It also is better for collaboration, but then, I also have a subscription to Microsoft’s tools via an academic licences provided by IISc. This also included OneDrive storage and hence, my tracker is made in Excel hosted on OneDrive.

A good idea would be to host the tracker on any cloud storage provider for safety and add a reminder to update the tracker daily. While all of this seems like a great idea, will it work? I don’t know. Perhaps, in due time, stuck with the task of deciding a problem and solving it, I will stop updating my tracker and conclude that it was a bad idea in the first place. Or maybe, tracking my work keeps me on track and makes things easier for me. Whatever, be the case, I will let you know.

My Tracker Template is hosted here. Feel free to make a copy and use it as it pleases you.

  1. When we all are dead of course! Can’t just give up the chance to use most cliched terms in this post.