It’s that time of year again when I dig out my Summer To-Do List from under a messy pile of papers, notes, and binderbooks and reminisce about what might have been. I should have worked harder, done more, and gotten ahead faster. If I had, then I’d be in a much better position to submit my thesis in May, like my schedule says I should. But I haven’t done many of the things I had wanted to do, and I’ve instead opted to do things more trivial by way of procrastinating and avoiding what I really should have been doing. If only I’d done what I should have, then I wouldn’t still have those things to do in the autumn, and I could instead be doing other things.

So you can imagine my delight at discovering my ill-fated romance with listmaking is common to many a PhD student:


Apart from having a whole folder of To-Do Lists for this summer, all of which turned out to be ultimately doomed, I’ve established most of the things on them will need to be rolled over to my Autumn To-Do List. I have a little more optimism for Autumn To-Do Lists because autumn is when I go back to London, where the weather is eternally overcast, chilly, rainy, foggy and miserable. I spend the days in my dreary office and the nights in my dreary quarters. Everything is dreary. So I have nothing to do but work.

But then there are things on my Summer To-Do List that are not just things I should have done and didn’t, but things I wanted to do but didn’t have time, things I could have done but couldn’t motivate myself to do, and things I didn’t want to do, but told myself that was ok because they weren’t as important as the things I should have been doing, which I also wasn’t doing, but for other reasons, like that I didn’t make time to do them.

This is getting terribly complicated.

So you can imagine my delight at discovering the complexity of never-ending, self-perpetuating To-Do Lists is a phenomenon experienced by others too:


Well, today I’m trying to finish up data collection from a side project I’ve been working on since July which has been a little more taxing than I had originally thought (which is true about many things in PhDs, isn’t it?), and that will allow me to do stock-taking on my To-Do Lists tomorrow.

Yes. Taking stock and moving forward.

The one thing I have come to affirm over and over again in my PhD, more so now than before, is the fact that there is always so much to do, and so little time. It’s like a spring of eternal work, constantly spurting out some new project to manage, paper to write, class to teach, or rudimentary errand to run. Many a day I have arrived at the office bright and early with a great plan for the day, only to find an email or get a phone call requiring my attention be redirected to some urgent issue only remotely if at all relevant to my PhD. Then all the things in my work plan for the day have to be rolled over to the next day, and the next day to the next. Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

O, woe to us!