I’m not some kind of time management guru, and I don’t generally advise people to try to optimize themselves to better conform to our insane system of fast capitalism in academia. And I’m not the most amazing always on time person…but I’ve gotten better and this method of curating a single to do list has helped. And I get asked about it occasionally, so I decided to punch out 15 minutes to explain the process.
If I don’t put something on a list then I don’t do it. I tried apps, the bullet method of journaling, all of them seemed to take away time from actually doing things. With a baby in my life, I have even less time to mess around. A lot of people have various “lifehacks” and productivity schemes and I might have picked this method up from one of those, I honestly don’t remember. The best lifehack is to stop reading lifehacks and get shit done. Importantly, I also manage my google calendar heavily and automatically. A lot of my schedule is timetabled automatically by my institution, so I rely on it to tell me where to go and when.
I have a document that hangs out on my desktop. It is almost always open. Title it something fun. Mine is “TO DO LIST…FOR THE AGES.” I separate this list out into time chunks and then I break down tasks I need to do into chunks that will fit into these time slots.
Urgent/TODAY – this category has the things that need to be done over everything else. This is ONLY for hard deadlines. Letters of recommendation, things that will genuinely screw you (or someone else) up if you don’t do them that day. Nothing stays in this category for longer than a day, because obviously you get it done.
15 minutes – this is where a lot of admin lurks, things like booking hotels, flights, invoices, but also securing permissions for images for publications, emailing students with literature for their dissertations, etc. If you find yourself with a free 15 minutes, open the list and do one of these things. This is the “survival mode” category where you have way too many things to do all the time.
An hour – This is where I have things that take more thought, like teaching, writing, reading, etc. The trick is, if you have an hour, do NOT do anything on your 15 minute list, because then you get caught up in an endless cycle of admin and you never do research. An hour is sacred, enough time to write 500-1000 words or read a few research articles. I used to have a 2+ hour category pre-baby. Now, not so much. If you have longer than an hour, keep going, or switch to another hour task. Mine that gorgeous brain time all you can.
Writing – This is a list of in progress publications & grants. They are usually sorted in order of importance and deadline.
Things to Think about – This is a long, slightly insane list of one-offs, potential blog posts, digital projects and ideas. This slush file keeps me focused when, inevitably, in the middle of some task I find something OH SO SHINY and instead of burrowing down into a marginalia K-hole about Tessa Wheeler’s personal field notebooks, I write a quick note to myself to look through this later. This category is great for inspiration when everything starts to look a bit gray.
This to do list incorporates both personal tasks and professional tasks–managing two different lists is another time sink. So that’s it. Just a document on my desktop. In theory I could do something fancy and sync it to my phone, but honestly when I need to remember something from it…I just take a photo of the relevant part of my to do list. Saves messing with version control and internet connectivity.
Right, now to catch a plane. Hope this helps!