I’ve got a date with a tropical rain forest for the next 12 days or so, so posting will be light. What follows is my basic system for deciding what to do, day by day. It is accrued, accreted, and amalgamated from GTD, 7 Habits, and lots of trial and error.
The basic idea: combine strategic planning with a simple rule that guarantees you do stuff daily that promotes your long-term academic fitness. Its simple and professor-proof. Here’s the gist:
Step 1. Use a To Do List. I said it was simple. You need a file where you link your schedule to your goals, your tactics to your stratigery. I used to call this Trajectory, but that name was too dorky even for me. Now it’s called +Calender. It used to be an MS Word file, but now I use Omni Outliner (the check boxes are a great feature, and it doesn’t swallow up all my CPU). Any outliner with headers and subheaders will do.
Step 2. Divide it into a planning section… This is your strategic part, where you lay out the things you want to get done. I break it into my
remember–aphorisms that help me through my day. Private aphorisms…
habit of the month–if you do something for one month, it becomes a habit, right?
current writing tasks–writing is important enough that I highlight manuscripts at the top of my must get done list. These often overlap with my…
big goals–this is a laundry list of currently most important Group 2 activities (things that are not urgent but contribute to my long-term academic fitness). Group 2 activities require a sustained effort over days/months/years, but lead to successes that are truly important to you. As an academic scientist, this list tends toward papers and research, but also includes things like improving my running speed and endurance. Your list will inevitably be much longer than anything you can reasonably accomplish in a month. Get used to that. Finally, there is...
service– tasks like letters of recommendation and manuscript reviews that I’ve promised folks. These are my social contracts, which often can slip below the radar unless they’re staring me in the face every day.
Step 3…and a Weekly To Do list section. The second part of +Calender is the traditional To Do list. These are organized on a weekly basis. It also allows me to cut and paste each week’s events into a separate Archive file. Think of your Archive as your academic diary. I’ve been keeping yearly archive files now for about ten years. You never know when you need to reconstruct what you were doing 4 months or 4 years ago.
Step 4. Identify two items each day from your big goals, bold them, and put them at the top of the day’s list of things to do. Now here’s the critical thing: Do these Group 2 activities as early in the day as you can, before other crap gets in the way. These two items are the activities that, when completed, will let you fall asleep at night, serene in the fact that you’ve done something important that day. The earlier you do these each day, the better you’ll sleep, and the more productive you will become.
Step 5. Once a week, swap out your Weekly To Do List. Once a month, revisit your Big Goals. GTD and 7 Habits both emphasize the importance of regular review. This is where you look back on the week’s events, smile serenely as you check off one of those big goals, copy the week’s To Do List to your archive, and plan out the next week. The monthly review is a good opportunity to sip a cup of coffee or your favorite frosty beverage and think expansively: add to (or prune) your Big Goals list, change your habit of the month.
So there it is: two files, +Calender and Archive, keeping strategic separate from tactical, making sure that two Group 2 activities are bolded and done early each day, plus weekly and monthly reviews. That’s my system. What’s yours? Share the love, people.