I have a productivity plan. A way to get things done that I need to get done. It involves a Sunday night ritual where I go over my To-Do list, examine my weekly calendar, schedule appointments, pay the bills, look at my weekly expenses, and water the plants. It is a plan that, of course, involves numerous software applications and iphone doohickys, influenced by GTD, Clockwork Muse, The Creative Habit, and Inbox Zero. It’s tried and tested. When the plan is moving, it’s great. I get things done. I’m on top of the world. However, it has one fatal flaw.
In order for this productivity plan to work, I have to sit down and implement it. I have to make the active decision to turn off the TV, lock my office door, sit down, and put things into gear. I’ve noticed that, as time moves on, I go from weekly to bi-weekly. Sometimes a weekend trip means I miss a week, and then it becomes once a month. Next thing I know, I realize I haven’t looked at my To Do list in months.
Typically these moments occur near the end of a semester, when I’m rushing to get projects done: There are only a couple things to do, and they are big, obvious, and due soon. I manage to convince myself that looking at my To Do list isn’t going to change anything, that big thing is still due, and it takes priority over everything else. So I push the smaller things out of my mind, and forget about it. This summer, the Campus Archaeology Field School took precedent; I was barely in front of a computer for the month. And now, the stress and hubbub of moving across country has taken its toll on getting things straight. While packing, however, it occurred to me that I hadn’t sat down and taken stock of what I have to get done this coming semester.
So, this means that this week, now that I’ve settled in Williamsburg, I need to start planning. Of course, it helps that a new phase of work and life is beginning: that’s always a good time to refresh, reevaluate, and get started in new routines. It’s one of the reasons why I love being on an academic schedule; every two or three months the semester ends, and you can pick up and begin your routines from a fresh starting point. Often this gives me a chance to try a new piece of technology, or adopt a different productivity thing I read about somewhere. It also lets me ditch old ideas that haven’t worked.
This fall, however, the things I have to complete (ahem, my dissertation), are a little bit different than those things I’ve been completing over the past few years. There is no classwork due, and no regular desk/office/field job, and no boss to report to on a daily basis. I am in charge of my own time, making my own deadlines, and setting my own goals. I have to make sure that my days are spent working on my dissertation and other research. The people I report to won’t be across the hall, they’ll be across the country. This means that there are no daily reminders about what I should be working on. I’m simply cast out into sea and expected to return regularly with a chapter. This wouldn’t be a problem if, as I mentioned before, I wasn’t involved.
So, this means I’m going to have double my efforts to stay on task; I’m going to have to be my own boss. The weekly refresh may have to move to a different day or time, so that it isn’t so easily interrupted by weekend activities. Otherwise, I am just going to have to do a better, more consistent job of staying on task and sticking to the plan. We’ll see how it goes…
Do you have any tips or pointers? How do you stay on task? Also, I’m looking for any book recommendations about how best to approach this dissertation…please leave some suggestions in the comments!