July 28, 2007

How the organized people live

Ever wonder how those highly-organized people do it? Here is a post from the message board of one of the writing clubs, from a person in the sciences who has to coordinate many things including patients appointments for various studies. She manages to find time to write every day, and gets a tremendous amount done in general. Other people in the group noticed this and asked her to write down how she does it. Reprinted with her permission and names of study trials changed.
If only I could be more like her.... (sigh)...

General organisation
  • I have a white board in my office that is divided into 7 sections, each one representing an aspect of my work. (“Writing” in one, the others are related to projects, and a miscellaneous box.) I use this to keep a global track of things that need doing.

Specific planning and organising

  • At the end of each week (or over the weekend), I list the highest priority tasks (across projects and writing tasks), which become my goals for the next week. I write the goals on my weekly overview planner and on ‘Monday’ in my diary. I have a weekly planner (one sheet of paper, adapted from something that someone posted in one of the clubs last year) that I use to organise my time in advance.

  • I think of all of my work in terms of 4 main categories: writing, reading, projects, training & development.

  • On my planner I list the week’s goals in each of these 4 categories. (Depending on how busy the week is, there isn’t always a goal for training.)

  • Then, on the bottom part of the page is each week day broken up into 1.5 hr blocks of time. I start by filling in the lab hours, patient appointments, and meetings etc. for the week (which are not flexible). Then I block out time for the project tasks (I’ve worked out roughly how much time each week I need to spend on each of the projects to stay on top of them.) Having the project time blocked out in advance for the week has really helped me to not get distracted by responding to emails that come in all the time. For example, if an email comes in about the X trial (I get lots of email about the X trial), I don’t spend time responding until the time I’ve blocked out to work on that project.

  • Then, last, I fill in the writing blocks and reading blocks for the week, based on what I’ve determined are my highest priorities.

  • Not all the blocks are for 1.5 hrs, sometimes for a 1.5 hour block on the chart I have planned to do 30 mins writing & 40 mins reading. The remaining time ends up being “free”, but I start the next block on time (eg. “at 3.30pm I have to start the Y study work and do it for 1 hr”)

  • I also have the day detailed in my diary that sits on my desk. I’ve always liked a large page diary on which I can keep running ‘to do’ lists each day.

I’ve learned never to plan for every minute — the schedule has to have some flexibility for when things arise unexpectedly and “free time” for just doing all the things that you can’t plan ahead of time. But at least this way, I know that the things I really need to do will get done.

I hope this is helpful! It might sound over the top, but organisation is the best way for me to avoid anxiety, and I have a lot to keep track of. I get a lot of satisfaction out of organising my time. I don’t know how I’d ever stay on top of things without this structure.

July 17, 2007

CASBAT: The Campaign Against Screaming Babies at Talks

This blog post by Scott Aaronson on crying babies at conferences, and the comments to the post, are both hilarious and thoughtful (not necessarily at the same time.) Scott and his readers discuss topics ranging from suggestions about funding childcare during conferences, the difficulty involved in getting tenure during the childbearing years, to the fact that 'academia has the “trifecta” of low pay, long hours, and tenure pressure."