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Project Management in PhD: Useful Tools

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There are a smattering of tools on gradcafe related to managing your PhD work. I'm looking for project management tools for both overall PhD milestone tracking and individual projects (i.e., project plans in project management speak). 

 

In particular, I've been trying out a few gantt chart tools but have not really found one I like. I want to map out my 3-4 years of study/research/professional development all in one master view. Action item/status/deliverable/timeline/etc. 

 

What do you use to be organized and successful? 

 

A few resources I've found:

 

PhD Tools: Creating Gantt Charts - http://phdtools.blogspot.com/2011/08/creating-gantt-charts.html

PostGrad Blog: Your Dissertation Plan – 18 Free Tools - http://www.postgrad.com/blog/your-dissertation-plan/

Tom's Planner: web-based Gantt generator which is free for personal use - http://www.tomsplanner.com/

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I'm not very visual so I don't use charts very often. I much prefer lists. Generally, my setup is the following: 

 

- Google calendar for scheduling EVERYTHING, including free time, laundry/dishes/etc., meeting friends for coffee, deadlines, sleep if necessary, even. Whatever is not on there doesn't happen.

- Workflowy for keeping extensive lists. I've used it for 3 years now and I think it's great. I have lists organized in different ways - e.g. meeting notes (by year, month, person I'm meeting with, topic); weekly to-do; upcoming conference deadlines; job ads and deadlines; teaching; etc. My weekly to-do list is broken down by teaching, research, admin (emails, forms to submit, etc). I make it pretty detailed so I have a good record of how I actually spend my time during the day. I write down the small tasks that fit into a larger one so it's really a record of what I did to accomplish larger goals. While I was dissertating, I added a new list of "what I did today" that described how many pages I wrote and on what topic. It's interesting to look at, now that I'm done. Alongside my weekly to-do list, I have higher level lists for things I want to accomplish by the end of the semester/year, and very vague broader plans (like, grades submission deadline is X, decide and notify landlord about lease by date Y, etc.). I also keep lists for each project with thoughts and goals for paper writing. What I like most about this setup is that it gives me a broad view of what I've been doing which builds over time and you can use to really see where your time goes, and it's searchable so I can find all my notes easily. There is a way to cross off completed tasks without deleting them so I am able to go back to anything that I've done in the past 3 years and look at the details. This is especially useful for meeting notes when you have a vague memory of talking to someone about something a long time ago that now seems useful again (maybe)...

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I'm not sure if this suggestion hits all of your needs, but because I now find it hard to live life without it.... OmniFocus. I have it on Mac, iPad, and iPhone. It's expensive to get all three. If you can only get one, I would suggest the Mac version.

 

It is simply amazing. It can be used for individual tasks or full projects, and you can store tons of each. It takes some time to learn the program, so beware. Nevertheless, it took me about 20-30 minutes to learn the program enough for my own needs. My needs aren't crazy, but they aren't minimal, either.

 

Of course, I learned it better while using it as well, so it does take some time. It can be used rather simply, or have a moderate amount of complexity (mine). But, if you really need a powerful project manager, this is it.

 

But, I must ask... Do you mean project manager or task manager? I am assuming you want a task manager for your projects. If you want an actual project manager software, similar to the types that actual businesses use for product development, or in professional settings, Omni has something for that too, I'm pretty sure. I just can't remember the name of it right now.

 

Good luck!

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P.S. Just looked up Gantt charts. No, OmniFocus doesn't do that, but you should still check it out. Now I am also interested in these kinds of visual displays you are talking about. Neat!

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Check if your department pays for DreamSpark Premium (formely known as MSDN AA). You can get Microsoft Project for free. It's overkill for small projects, but it's a good skill to put on your resume since a lot of companies use it for project management and it shows you like to be organized.

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MS Project is a super easy way to make Gantt charts.  If you want to get more advanced then use P6. Oracle used to provide it for free to anyone with a .edu email. Not sure if they still do.

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