I recently started looking into various options to try try to improve my productivity. I have been an Evernote user for a while and I also use the 2Do app, and keep my calendar appointments electronically. I’m a Mac user so I like the way my calendar is synced across my devices, which feels like I’m not doubling up effort. It is also handy when you find yourself at a meeting and everyone gets their paper diaries out but you don’t need to worry as you can check on the phone, iPad or laptop – whatever you have with you at the meeting. Despite all this, I felt I could improve on what I’d been doing. I mostly wanted to feel sure I was being productive, but also efficient with my time. If I can’t get a whole day to write then when do I? If I have a 2 hour window then what do I do with it?
I tried the Getting Things Done (here is a Lifehacker post about it) and the 12 week year approaches but they never really stuck. I’ve no criticisms of them, but as many others who write, blog and vlog on these matters say, it’s really down to what suits you. These didn’t really suit. I then tried the Bullet Journal and perhaps because it appeals to the stationary geek in me (!) I really liked it. Not only that, having used it for a few months now I really do feel that it has helped me to be more productive. The grants and the papers were written. One aspect of the GTD approach I liked was putting everything down on paper so that it is not clogging up inside your head and possibly leading to stress. I feel this way about the Bullet Journal. If you’ve never heard of this then have look on YouTube – there are LOADS of videos about it. But here is the webpage to find out more. I also liked the 12 week year’s argument that if you try to plan for a whole year you may end up panicking at the 3 months to go mark, whereas if you break it down you keep momentum. As an academic, it can be easy to fall into planning a year (Sept/Oct – Aug/Sept), but by the time you reach May have you enough time to get your yearly goals done? I have a yearly PDAR (Personal and Development Review) roughly every September, so I want to make sure that the goals I set at the start of the academic year are being met.
So I’ve used my bullet journal to get as much out of my head and on to paper, and I’ve also broken my year (12 months) down into 3 month goals. The bullet journal approach suggests you have a future log, which is for the whole year. I do this, but I added 3 monthly plans too: Oct-Dec; Jan-Mar; Apr-Jun; Jul-Sept. Where many bullet journals have a monthly plan followed by weekly, I have a 3 month plan followed by my month, then weeks, then month then weeks then month then weeks then back to 3 month plan and so on.
Is this just procrastination? Some may think so, especially if you’re really great with your time management without using any of these approaches. But I do feel I am liable to drift: I’ll take time to read before committing to writing that grant or paper, but I’m likely to take too long unless I have something to keep me on track. I am also easily distracted with stuff that I can do and set aside the difficult (it just looms in the background, building stress). Focusing on small manageable tasks has helped me move away from taking too long and from feeling stressed by my own body swerve to the difficult or lets say not very enjoyable tasks. Breaking tasks down is something I advise my doctoral students to do. I’ll suggest they don’t write on their to do list “write chapter”, instead break it all down into small tasks, and see the daily, weekly and monthly achievements much more clearly. It may take 6 weeks to draft a chapter, but in those 6 weeks they can see they are making progress and at 5pm each day they can stop and engage with their personal life with reduced stress (hopefully!)
Lots of great folk have been blogging about these approaches, and indeed their own, so I’ll go into a bit more detail, and link to them, in another post. For now, I wanted to get down my appreciation of thinking about what you do and to finding an approach that works for you. I echo what many others have said, so if you’re new to all this then do have a search for what may work for you. (And if you’re a stationary geek like me, then have fun!)