Here are the things first-year PhD should heed:
1. Plan supervisions ahead, draw up a list of question you want to raise with your supervisor. Simply put, have clear goals for each meeting.
2. Start writing as soon as possible.
Talk to people in your department, not just PhDs, but the postdoc fellows, the lecturers, everyone. They know things you don't.
3. Plan for your final year and for your post-PhD life...this helps you to stay focused on finishing your research successfully, but
4. Avoid planning for the future too rigidly, enjoy the research process.
5. Remember the very privilege of being able to do research -- you'll appreciate your position (all of its highs and lows!) better.
6. The process of reaching your final PhD goal is like a downward (or upward, whatever) spiral, with you starting from one end and aiming for the other. Let's put in some visual aid:
Explanation: because your research goals are on side A, you'll feel discouraged every time you realise that you're at a point on side B (have you ever, after weeks or months of sifting through the literature and materials, found yourself back at the same place you were before? That's side B.)
The thing to remember is, no matter which side you're currently on, you are moving down the spiral, which means that you are getting closer to your research answers.
It will feel slow or stationary sometimes, but just. keep. going.
7. Read broadly, attend a variety of talks and events to keep your mind active and open and curious.
8. Establish from the start your key expectations with your supervisor.
9. Peer supervision. Get PhD colleagues and postdocs to comment on your work. Yes they're busy with their own work, but be persistent and keep asking.
10. Manage your supervisor. They are extremely busy people, do not take their time for granted, but chase them down for feedback if you need to. If they forget, remind them. Right now, in the midst of your cluelessness about your PhD, it seems like your supervisor will be the one to manage your project, BUT NO. It is your project. You manage it, and manage your supervisor's commitment to it as well.
11. Plan your learning time. Set aside time to actually read and understand and learn new skills.
12. Collaborate up. This means that, whenever possible, ask for comments on your work, seek research collaboration opportunities, and establish relationships with academics who are higher up the seniority ladder.
13. Ask for help.
14. Keep writing. One way to do is is to always write on a fresh file/document/sheet instead of writing and editing over a new one. This helps you to keep track of your progress because you can compare your older work with your more recent ones.
15. Have specialists and non-specialists look at your work.
16. On writing and note-taking: keep your literature review/broad perspective notes separate from your close analysis.
17. Consistently re-examine your voice and perspective. It needs to be critical and authentic, beware the trap of cultural imperialism, which tricks you into adapting a point of view just because it's prevalent and seems correct.
18. Take advantage of travel opportunities. Apply to all the funding available, and even if it seems remotely applicable to your research/recreational situation, ask.
There should've been 20 points, but the other two probably were repetitions of the other points so I didn't write them down. Additional advice:
19. Don't think of your PhD research as a title. Your research scope will expand and change and twist, so lower your barriers and keep an open mind.
20. Don't reference things that aren't directly relevant to your argument just so you can bulk up your footnotes.
On managing your reading (your to-read list will grow forever more):
21. You can't read everything.
22. Read book review articles. This is a lovely cheat tip, but doing this really does direct you towards the central debates of the topic and area.
I also attended the History faculty's introductory session on "Good Research Practice" for PhDs/historians, but I'll lay out the loot from that one in another post inshaAllah.