Research management for busy people

The problem I have with most methods books is they are so busy focusing on a specific approach, they don’t give much information on how to use a method within the lifespan of a project, course or similar.

This can mean the mundane but arguably more important issues of planning your time, prioritizing tasks, ensuring all involved in your work knows what to do (and by when) and how to keep yourself motivated can be missed out.

Luckily there are guides on how to manage your research and while these often come in once you’ve picked your method and are off and running with your study, I’d encourage thinking first about what you need to do, what support you may need to achieve that, what potential barriers are ahead, and what your Plan B’s might be if things (inevitably) don’t go as you expect. It might be you have a general idea of what you want to study, then think about how you’d make that work in practice, before refining or adapting your original study question, participants, method choice or ideas for analysis.

Larger projects will require more planning and attention to roles, tasks and responsibilities. However, even small-scale, pilot and student projects need to be mapped out and worked through systematically.

Here are some resources that might help you as you think about a project you’d like to do – or as a troubleshooting resource if you’re project has been blown off course.

Project Management Guides
Although focused towards doctoral studies, this guide from Vitae covers many milestones other projects of varying sizes will need to reach.

PhD Talk has some more focused ideas on what activities you’ll need to do to ensure your research stays on track. While My Consultants have a guide that takes in the needs of multiple stakeholders and others involved in your work.

York University outlines some of the common pitfalls that can befall researchers, as well as ideas on effective working. While the University of Aberdeen has specific tools to stay organized and Bristol has these tips for being a balanced researcher.

Sage and Palgrave both have dedicated study skills areas which include resources on project management, time planning, and other study skills.

Planning Tools
Better Evaluation has loads of resources, tips and ideas but their guide to using logframe analysis is well worth reading (as is this basic introduction), while the Research Whisperer explains how to make a simple Gantt chart. And Mind Tools overviews a range of project scheduling tools as does this from MIT. Over at Tools4Dev there are loads of instructional guides on diverse planning tools for hands-on projects and work programmes, also covered in depth via Research to Action.

Time management tips
Wiley have a stepwise guide on time management tips for writers and researchers, as do Great Research. In this 7 minute film Meggin McIntosh answers questions on time planning. While Leslie Josel has created a time planner that is aimed more at young students and particularly those with learning disabilities – but could be equally effective for adults in need of managing their schedule. Meanwhile Thinkwell have free planners and guides for those teaching, learning or doing research.

Take it, break it, and remake it
One thing that is noteworthy among all these guides is they generally favour Western models of thinking about time, and study planning, with many of the project management approaches mirroring business approaches to work. While using these tools it is helpful to consider who they represent, where they originated, who they include and who they leave out. Seeking diverse ideas about running and planning your work may be helpful if you are within communities, cultures or countries where these kind of approaches may not be easily transferrable or effective.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of management and planning tools and resources, so if you have your own favourites to share or methods you’ve adapted that work well for you, please add them to the comments. It’s not procrastinating if you’re sharing resources – honest!

Further Reading
Hunt A. (2005) Your research project: how to manage it. Routledge Study Guides.
Wood C, Percy C and Giles D. (2012) Your psychology project handbook. Pearson
Thomas DR and Hodges ID. (2010) Designing and managing your research project. Core skills for social and health research. Sage.
Williams K and Reid M. (2011) Time Management. Palgrave.

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