Saturday, October 11, 2014

Time Management III: Research and writing

Disclaimer: This is the part of time management I don’t have down yet. With research and writing, the few externally imposed deadlines are for near-complete projects, such as conference proposals. Unlike grading, which is naturally breaks down into single-assignment bites, research projects must be artificially chunked. The actual doing of the work then reveals flaws in my original estimates and plans.

No doubt it helps to be part of a research juggernaut - to have grad students looking to you for assignments, to have funders with reporting deadlines, to have senior faculty not-so-subtly pressuring you. Those of us at teaching-oriented institutions (or in teaching roles at research-oriented institutions) have nothing but our own willpower to go on, and vey few of us have much of that.

I’ve found that scheduling research and writing the way I do grading is not as successful. I’ve poked around at various kinds of scheduling and productivity software, but none of it seems to be set up in ways that I find helpful. (There are even a surprising number of sticker-chart apps for kids, but they are all premised on earning some sum of points, rather than on due dates. They are also ugly. Where is the Lisa Frank reward app?) I suspect Gantt charts might be ideal, but they don’t integrate with calendar apps well.

At the moment, I am playing with using BusyCal’s To Do list. BusyCal is much like the basic calendar that comes with the Mac OS, except it seems to work better and isn’t quite as ugly. To dos keep my calendar less cluttered than adding them to each day (they appear in a sidebar) while still being visible.

It’s been helpful thus far with tasks easily chunked down into small enough bits, such as “write blog posts.” The challenge of breaking down larger projects is still there: “Write article” is just too much, and I certainly won’t accomplish it in one afternoon. How much progress should I be satisfied with in one session? But breaking some of these projects down into tasks ignores any dependencies, bringing me back to Gantt charting …

I’m working on it. I’ll keep on trying with the to dos for a while, at least, and see if that improves my work flow and rate.

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