The greatest challenge of my PhD is the distant deadlines and the lack of immediate structure and accountability. Working on a single project for years with little extrinsic rewards is really hard for me, and most humans. This plagues long solo projects like academic research, but is less common in the normal working world. Rob Wiblin has pointed out that in normal companies weekly meetings with a line manager actually resolve this problem by giving a semiformal context for people to think through the mundane issues of productivity and planning. I have a link to the podcast below.

I'm seeking another PhD student to try out mutual line managing. We would meet once weekly for half an hour. We would each describe our progress, plan for next week, and discuss emerging problems and strategies. Taking turns sounds easiest, perhaps with timers. I'd prefer someone in the social sciences and in Eastern Standard Time. And the format is super flexible. Message me on EAForum and I'll be in touch.

Inspired by this 80k episode from 27:02 "so I like your idea of a line manager" to 43:23 "let's pivot...".

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I have a recommendation: try to get at least 3 people, so you aren't managing your manager.  I think accountability and social dynamics would be better that way, since:
- I suspect part of why line managers work for most people is because they have some position of authority that makes you feel obligated to satisfy them.  If you are in equal positions, you'd mostly lose that effect. 
- If there are only 2 of you, it's easier to have a cycle of defection where accountability and standards slip.  If you see the other person slacking, you feel more OK with slacking.  Whereas if you don't see the work of your manager, you can imagine that they are always on top of their shit. 

I strongly second this

Great to see someone giving this a crack! Let me know how it works out. :)

Cool idea! I'm not doing a PhD, so I won't partake. But I previously wrote a comment intended to summarise Wiblin and Greenberg's discussion of this sort of idea, and my own thoughts on it, which I'll copy below in case that's useful for anyone reading this post. (Obviously this overlaps somewhat with what you already say in your post.)


People would often benefit from more "line management", and could often get it just by setting up weekly meetings with someone else who's in a similar boat

A chunk of the interview is devoted to these points. From memory, some points made were:

  • It can be weirdly useful to have ~weekly meetings to just discuss what one did last week, what went well and poorly, what one's goals are, and what one plans to do next week
    • The reason the usefulness is weird/surprising is that a lot of the benefit seems to come from just having these meetings at all and being asked obvious questions like "Would that task really be the best thing to do to achieve your goals?"
      • And in theory, one could just simulate these conversations by oneself
      • But at least for many people, it seems to be more effective to have an actual conversation with another person
    • This can help with both productivity (including getting the right tasks done) and mood (e.g., reducing self-doubt or a sense of listlessness)
  • Some people don't have someone to provide that "line management" role
    • E.g., people in PhD programs might not get frequent enough meetings with their advisor, or it might be clear that their advisor doesn't care about or is terrible at management
  • Those people might benefit from just arranging to have weekly meetings with a friend, colleague, fellow student, or similar who's in a similar boat
    • Having weekly meetings with the same person allows them to have more context on one's full situation, goals, skills, etc., which seems helpful for this
    • PhD students could arrange this themselves, and it might help combat PhD programs often seeming to be unusually crushing experiences (due to a lack of guidance, feedback, etc.)
    • (Something I'm not sure they explicitly said, but which seems true: This could probably be useful even for people who do have meetings with a line manager, if the person would benefit from meeting more, or if the manager sucks.)

That first point resonated with me very much. I received basically no line management at the school I taught at, and that sucked, and I only realised how much it sucked once I moved into roles where I did have weekly line management style meetings and discovered how helpful they were (both for my productivity and for my mood). 

And that third point seemed like an obvious but great idea. I intend to apply it myself if I find myself in a future situation where it's relevant. And I intend to keep it in mind as something to maybe suggest to people, when it seems relevant.