A four-year doctoral study is a long journey. For me, it was like a marathon and not an easy one as a mother and a senior executive at a large French MNC company in China. How did I make it in four years? This is a question I was frequently asked when my classmates and friends heard about my graduation.
There is no free lunch in the world. For all the good things to happen, one needs to work hard toward the goal and stick to it until the finish line. I feel I ran a research marathon and continuously improved my time and energy management. At the beginning, it was quite a mess. There was all the knowledge and information about literature reviews, and quantitative and qualitative lectures and practices—all really overwhelming. I was continuously busy trying to catch all the balls with my hands. Besides the volume of work, there was also a work-life balance question and challenge. So, what did I do?
Since choosing to pursue a doctoral course as one of my life goals, I always kept the initial motivation at heart and didn’t let the volume and intensity of work drag me down. To do that, I learned to be a master of my time and energy throughout the doctoral journey.
First, I analyzed my learning habits and time spent on work, study, family, and social matters. A simple analysis revealed if I wanted to fulfill my doctorate learning objective on time within four years, it would be critical for me to have an efficient time-management plan. I put two options on the table.
One was devoting either one full day or two half days, in total 12 hours, to study each weekend, a so-called centralized way. The other was using any available time on any day, a so-called decentralized way. I stuck to the first option for the most part of my study and used the second for urgencies and flights on long business travels. Every weekend, I worked on my studies for one full day and took a break on the other day for family and social events. When it came to my stage 1 review and viva, I asked for one week’s annual leave and fully submerged myself into the thesis writing, data analysis, fine-tuning, and preparation.
Second, I put myself into a study-fitted environment for research, which lessened disruptions. A good learning environment is as important as good time management and can boost your research effectiveness. Most of the time, I studied in a room that has a comfortable desk and enough space for writing and gathering materials. Compared to studying in coffee shops full of people, I was more likely to focus on study in a quiet place.
Third, I found it also important to handle conflicting agendas with skill. There were enough occasions when my learning plans were interrupted due to urgent family arrangements, business travel, or sickness. When these came, I took deep breaths and instantly accepted the realities without questioning myself or others; this is so normal if you choose to learn while working. After the urgent matters had been dealt with, I always made up the missing learning hours by staying longer on working days. Again, I stuck to it for four years, finding persistence and agility can co-exist. For me, that is the real key to success.
As writer Alan Lakein said, “Time equals life; therefore, waste your time and waste your life, or master your time and master your life.” Go ahead and master your time. Then, you will master not only your doctoral course but also your life.