5 ways to minimize Stuff part I: Email

January 25, 2007

stuff.jpgWe’ve spent some time talking about the big goals for a developing academic, developing the “uber-skills” of scholarship, creativity, communication and time management. These four (and the other parts of your life) underlie your strategic vision, your basic roadmap. But while having a map is an essential part of reaching a destination, you still need a detailed set of steps to get there.

One psychological barrier, as outlined by David Allen’s Getting Things Done, is “stuff”. The central idea is that much of our day to day anxiety arises from unresolved, ambiguous list of expectations. Allen defines stuff as

anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.

In other words, only by dealing with “stuff” can you feel on top of things. Furthermore, as you proceed through graduate school you will find, without active preemption of “stuff”, this will be harder and harder to do. This is because you will accumulate projects as a natural result of being an active productive scientist. The insight of GTD is that nothing drives away the desire to tackle hard, creative, and worthwhile tasks like the nagging feeling that you should be doing something else.

Stuff comes in various flavors (and we’ll address many of them) but the kind that is easiest to deal with, and with the least effort (i.e., more “stuff for the buck”) is email. Read the rest of this entry »