We are big here on the notion that there are some activities, like reading and writing, you want to do every day. This kind of repeated attention builds good habits, allows you to get big projects done by breaking them down into little chunks, and keeps those projects in the forebrain, where you can cogitate about them.
But there is a case to be made that certain more mind-numbing activities should be allowed to accrue until you have a day’s worth of emails to return, forms to fill out, and papers to grade. This is the argument made by Cal Newport in a nifty discussion of “best practices” by professors and graduate students.
The gem here is the notion of carving out one day a week (or one more likely, one morning or afternoon) for “Administrative Nonsense Day“. This can be anything from doing your monthly bills to updating your web pages. The point is you want to maximize your creative time, uninterrupted by the (oft seductive) siren call of the piddly stuff. If you know that stuff will get done soon, it’s off your radar screen and allows you to concentrate on the stuff that matters long-term.
This leads to the doppleganger of “Administrative Nonsense Day”— your “Big Idea Day” (sound of harp glissandos and angels singing). This is the day that you don’t answer your phone, hide at home and give yourself the luxury of a 15 hours of reading and sketching out the next paper, grant, or project. Nothing replaces large chunks of time to think. Nothing. You deserve them.
There is one more tactic that you may want to consider if you are one of the many grad students paying your way by being a Teaching Assistant. Say you are required to teach two (or, three) lab sections a week. Try to schedule them all on the same day. That’s right, the 9:00-12:00, the 1:00-4:00, and the 6:00-9:00 night lab. There is a good chance you will teach better (and be damned relaxed by the night lab) if you focus all your attentions on a subject in one day. If you maintain your proper balance of caffeine, water, Gatorade, and Cliff Bars, you will sail through.
Having done this myself at the ole UofA, the bonus comes with that gorgeous feeling of walking out into the cool desert air at 9:30PM, knowing that you have Big Idea Day waiting for you tomorrow and no teaching for six whole days.
Cal and I were going talking about this more today. I would LOVE to be able to have a whole day at a time but when you can’t it can still be very productive to block of large chunks of time (5-7 hours) to think the big thoughts. I talked about this more in my blog as well.
We have elected Monday’s as “Administrivia Day” – major bill paying, record, keeping, grocery shopping, laundry, trimming, cleaning, etc., with Thursday a.m. as “Pick-Up Morning” to handle anything needed to prepare for a stress-free weekend and to handle personal business tasks that have arisen since Monday and cannot wait until the next Monday (such as “get it in the mail”, etc.). This election is working well, and is subject to periodic review to assure that the correct days were chosen (for us – may differ for others) and the correct taks are “binned” together.
Thanks for the bonus tip for the TA’ing grad student. I’m going be a TA again this spring, and was worried about how best to maintain my admin/big idea day driven schedule.