How do you do it?

Ok, so there is a lot that I don’t know about being an academic. If any of my readers would care to respond, either here, via email, or at your own place, please feel free.

As an academic, how do you organize your time?
Do you make a list? make piles?
How do you decide what to work on first? do you do what’s screaming at you first?
Do you take a long-term view? short-term?
Bottom line: how are you most productive when there are piles and piles of work to be done?
Note — I’m not, necessarily, asking where you work, but how you organize or prioritize your work.

5 thoughts on “How do you do it?

  1. collin

    I pretty much just alphabetize everything, and start either from A or Z and work to the other end.
    Okay, that’s a joke. Typically, I have any number of both short and long term projects going on at once. Short includes any email respondable in under 10 minutes, teaching prep, memos, etc. I try to split my time about 70-30 for the short term stuff, bc I like the feeling of being able to cross stuff off my list, and the 30 per cent I spend on long term then feels like I’ve earned that time (which is almost always writing or reading to write).
    A couple of quick links that might help, one short-term, one long. The short term one I recommend trying faithfully for a couple of weeks and seeing if it works: Since I do stuff both at home and office, this has been a nice way to coordinate my to-do lists. And long-term, you might take a look at Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, which has been all the rage recently…

  2. Prof Goose

    *sigh* I would like to say that I have some sort of rubric or formula…and sure I too have my lists of crap I need to do (often an overburdened sticky note on my monitor)…but is that what structures my work? Nope. I just do what screams at me when it screams at me.
    Long ago, my advisor said some magic words that I will never ever forget: “People do what they need to do in order to get tenure. If you need two books, as a rational actor, you’ll do two books. If you need one article, you’ll do one article.”
    I am a pretty firm believer that, we, the “elite” are rational actors…and know what we need to do in the back of our overstimulated minds in order to get “enough” work done. I trust my mind to do the work…and it will come out sooner or later…much like all the other biological processes we endure.

  3. Chris Geyer

    This isn’t so much a hard and fast strategy as just a tendency after years of jobs that involved multi-tasking, simultaneous projects, and varying task lengths, translated into the academic world:
    I always have a list. Sometimes two or three, which every so often get collapsed into one new list. I keep a single spiral bound notebook that I write everything in, even if it will later be transferred to another medium (like the computer). Grocery lists, to do lists, books to read, reminders to self, notes I’m taking, thoughts I have, all of it goes there. It’s crazy and messy and belies my many years of experience with time management principles, Franklin planners, Covey priorities and planners, etc., etc., etc. But it works, so I use it.
    I try to generally plan out blocks of time in a given week. My time is organized–well, no that gives me too much credit–it’s driven by appointments – meaning that whatever class is next on the calendar is the top priority, even if it’s not the most important task. Sometimes that class is for me the student, and it involves reading, which I can only do in certain places and certain states of alertness and quiet, so I factor all that in. If the course requires posting a response of some kind, the deadline for that post governs. These are all things I try to look at at the beginning of a weekend (usually Friday, so I make the most of the weekend for the week ahead) and block out a general weekly plan.
    If the next class is one I’m teaching, I take the time to be sure I’ll be prepared before I dive into my school work. That means making sure I’ve got copied whatever needs to be copied (taking into account the available hours of the office and copier), that I’ve read whatever I’ve assigned, and that I’m able to think through the hour or hour and 20 and what I need to say. Sometimes I write that up, but usually not.
    Student papers tend to come after my other responsibilities, unless they’ve been on my desk too long, in which case I set aside my reading or other writing until they are done, usually a marathon session with enough breaks to be sure the students at the bottom of the pile don’t suffer for my tired and cranky state by then.
    Long term projects that can be broken into smaller parts I break out on paper and work them in logical order as I have time (yeah, right… time…).
    Research tends to fall into the OMG I forgot! category, so I am trying to make that a specific appointment – as in “Go to library, do x tasks). This gives me yet another list of things I can cross off when finished.
    I’ve constantly got a list of books I want to read but just can’t get to this semester. This list keeps me from buying books I don’t yet have time for or checking out books I don’t have time to read before the due date. But I still have them filed, so I can go back to them. The list is broken down by category (about 8 right now).
    And for really long term stuff, like exams and dissertation, I have a separate notebook, where I am keeping everything related to that, including references, quotes, ideas, thoughts, people, articles, whatever. That way I know where it all is, and I don’t feel compelled to act on it right now.
    I don’t know how much this helps, but we can chat more about it if you want.

  4. Donna

    See, yet another reason to canonize Collin. But I like Chris’s notebook idea, too. And here’s some stuff from jill/txt that I like, including the “not to do list” idea–I’m gonna get right to making that one.

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