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Starting out in academia

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  • Starting out in academia

    Next month I am starting a new career as an assistant professor, and I feel overwhelmed with all the things I need to be working on simultaneously. I think the GTD system would be helpful, but am not sure how to start getting my system set up.

    I figure the major projects will be Course 1, Course 2, Grant application, Current research, Writing in progress (articles based on work done during my postdoc), Faculty business (committee work, etc). Under each course, subprojects would be lectures, tests, student papers; Grant application subprojects would be each section of the application. Figuring out what to list as "Next action" when many of my projects are non-linear already has me puzzled.

    What I'm looking for is some advice on how to get everything set up and ready to go before I start faculty orientation and warnings on pitfalls to avoid, so I can hit the ground running.

    Thanks,
    Rachel

  • #2
    GTD rocks Academia

    So I am a graduate student, not a professor, but started GTD in the spring, and love it already. I gave my father, who is a professor, the book for Father's Day recently and I'm not sure if he will implement it, but I gave it to him because I think it would work wonders for professors precisely because of the overwhelming nature of the job as you mentioned. Also I think a grad student's GTD system is not too far off of a professors in the sense that course1, course2, research (subdivided into project1, project 2, etc.), grants, administrative/funding, etc. still apply.

    As a new implementer of GTD I have found that the main pitfall in starting is NOT putting everything into your lists. This happens for the first few weeks, but after making a point to put every single task and idea on there, it begins to become automatic and you start trusting the lists more and more.

    In terms of getting started, I use outlook, bought the $10 outlook and gtd pdf from davidco and have a palm z22. The mobility of the lists i feel is critical because ideas strike away from the computer often, errands happen away from the computer, meetings, etc.

    I think David's mind dumping technique from the book is a good way to bite right into it. Listing all projects and all tasks/subprojects underneath them on a clean sheet (or word doc). I organize my list in terms of context then project. For a list of projects, instead of using outlook contacts (which i just didn't like) I put list them at the top of my outlook tasks list under !Project in the category field (as opposed to @_____ for actions). Then i can store all of my detailed info and make an outline, link to webpages, etc. in the notes section or each project. I like that instead of keeping my project list hidden somehwere else because I am glancing at my next actions all the time and I can constantly see my projects at the top of my list and make sure that there is always a next action for each project.

    I could go on forever, but that is how I got started. I also like gtdwannabe's blog (she is also a graduate student) she has some nice screenshots of her outlook task list and good discussion on gtd and lifehacks for academics in general: http://gtdwannabe.blogspot.com.

    Good luck and congrats on the job!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by rachel134
      I figure the major projects will be Course 1, Course 2, Grant application, Current research, Writing in progress (articles based on work done during my postdoc), Faculty business (committee work, etc). Under each course, subprojects would be lectures, tests, student papers; Grant application subprojects would be each section of the application. Figuring out what to list as "Next action" when many of my projects are non-linear already has me puzzled.
      Hi Rachel-

      Congratulations on your new position and welcome to the next level of the academic rat race. I am a physics professor at a research university in the midwest (though I am actually writing this at a conference in Tucson). I have found that making my projects too high-level is a hindrance. Rather than the scheme you have outlined, I think in terms of focus areas and projects. The simplest breakdown of focus areas is research, teaching, and administration (or service, or whever it's called where you are), but this is perhaps a bit vague. I chair two committees, so each one is a focus area. I lump my courses together with public lectures I give as one focus area called teaching. Research pretty much is just one focus area now. Projects are things with beginnings and ends as real as I can make them. For the graduate studies committee, a project might be "GSC makes recommendation on qualifying exam changes by August 20th." For teaching, I might have "Prepare for Physics and Society Course" before the semester starts. I might have a research project that changes its character as the work progresses, but I just change the title and desired outcome as needed.

      I have no projects called "current research" or "writing." These are just ways people use to categorize what they are doing, but they don't seem to help with the doing. Suppose you are writing up your work, and find out you need to do more research. Do you really want to move that project from "writing" back to "current research" and feel like you are moving backwards? I don't think so- you are actually moving forwards towards the desired outcome of finishing the research. Taking this attitude seriously will also help with admin duties: you may be on a committee looking into left-handed stump warmers, but as long as you don't have to do the looking into, your job is just to show up for meetings (calendar item) and listen to somebody else's report. This will save your time and energy for those things you actually need/want to do. You certainly don't want a desired outcome like "participate in stump warmer decision" although your service on the stump warmer committee does go into your tenure dossier (or whatever you want to call it).

      Admin stuff is usually pretty linear, as is the teaching part of teaching. I find that my syllabus is really the key document for most courses. The type of course determines the level of detail in the syllabus. The part of teaching that will give you trouble are mostly the human issues, such as make-up exams. I find that these are best treated as projects in their own right. Really, the course is going to go on even though two students missed the midterm. By decoupling these issues, you free yourself from thinking about them when you need to prepare a lecture. Research is non-linear, of course, and there's not much to be done about it. I find that it is important to keep my project material separate from my lists so that I am not burdening the system by trying to systematize things in inappropriate ways. Although the temptation is there to make sub-projects, and sub-sub-projects, it doesn't really help me. Some people do seem to derive value from lists like
      Write Ch. 1
      Write Ch. 2
      ....
      but perhaps not as much as they think. I do use mind maps and outlines, but at some point the actual ms becomes the best description of the state of the project (or at least part of it).

      Hope this helps,
      Mike

      Comment


      • #4
        Projects as Desired Outcomes

        Rachel,

        Congratulations on the job! I'm currently finishing my Ph.D. and will be on the job market this fall. Here's hoping that GTD gives me a competitive advantage!

        If I remember correctly, David Allen's book defines projects as "any desired outcome that requires 2 or more steps." I've found the phrase "desired outcome" to be the key to defining projects. Thus, instead of naming a project "Course X," one might think in terms of desired outcomes for the course: "Produce syllabus for Course X," "Write midterm exam," "Write lecture on Topic Y," "Prepare for Week 2 of Course X." The key is to imagine what successfully completing the project would look like. Once this outcome is clearly stated, the next actions start flowing naturally. Handling projects in this way also makes it easier to adapt to new demands as they come in.

        David Allen also makes a helpful distinction between projects and "areas of responsibility," the latter occupying a higher level of planning. Thus "Course X" or "Committee Y" might be areas of responsibility. Each of these areas would then have several active projects, defined as concrete outcomes (e.g., "organize meeting on academic honesty").

        Hope this helps!

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks for the suggestions

          Mike,

          Your suggestions not only fit into the GTD framework, they make intuitive sense. If I understand you correctly, you say don't label the overall project by what you are doing (writing or research, for example), label it by subject matter so when the focus shifts you don't have to shift the project from one folder or area to another. So instead of making obesity a subtopic under writing, I call the project obesity, and then "revise article" or "collect more data" goes under it.

          The non-linearity of the whole thing would then fit in one place instead of being spread out across several folders. Doing it this way, I could then code for context with symbols in front of each action. When at the office, I could quickly scan the list for the "office" symbol to choose what to do, and if looking for a quick item to handle in the 10 minutes between class and lunch meeting, I could find the "speed" icon. I can envision this on an Excell sheet, because it has columns to keep everything in order.

          Or am I complicating the system up again?

          Rachel

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by rachel134

            So instead of making obesity a subtopic under writing, I call the project obesity, and then "revise article" or "collect more data" goes under it.

            Rachel
            In GTD, "obesity" would not be a project because it is not a concretely defined outcome. "Revise article on obesity" would be a project because you know exactly what "done" looks like. I found that David Allen's book really helped to clarify difference between projects and more amorphous "stuff." You might think of your various areas of research as ongoing interests or areas of responsibilities (what Mike nicely calls "focus areas"). Beneath these would then be several projects (desired outcomes). And beneath these would be several specific next actions.

            For instance, if "revise article on obesity" is a project, then you would have several next actions (or steps) related to the project (print draft, verify reference x, do websearch for more evidence on subject y, etc.). Next actions should be things you can do immediately. They should ideally be as small and discrete as possible. You can't revise an article all at once; rather, you need to take several smaller steps. From my experience, the real payoff of GTD is in clarifying these immediate steps towards a desired outcome: "What's the next action?"

            Maybe all that's at issue here is terminology. You just need to shift everything up one level. What you're defining as projects ("obesity") would then become areas of responsibility or "focus areas." And what you're defining as actions ("revise article") would become projects.
            Last edited by madalu; 07-25-2006, 02:34 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by rachel134
              If I understand you correctly, you say don't label the overall project by what you are doing (writing or research, for example), label it by subject matter so when the focus shifts you don't have to shift the project from one folder or area to another. So instead of making obesity a subtopic under writing, I call the project obesity, and then "revise article" or "collect more data" goes under it.
              Right, and "revise ms" or "collect more data" stays with other project material, and never goes on the project list or a next action list. I use several tools to store project material, including transparent project folders, mind maps, outlines, whatever seems to be working for that project at that point. Ideally, the next action for "revise ms" would be something like "mark problem areas in section III" or "look up reference on XXX" that are small and will get me going.

              Originally posted by rachel134
              The non-linearity of the whole thing would then fit in one place instead of being spread out across several folders. Doing it this way, I could then code for context with symbols in front of each action. When at the office, I could quickly scan the list for the "office" symbol to choose what to do, and if looking for a quick item to handle in the 10 minutes between class and lunch meeting, I could find the "speed" icon. I can envision this on an Excell sheet, because it has columns to keep everything in order.

              Or am I complicating the system up again?

              Rachel
              The choice of a list tool is fundamentally a personal one, but I don't know of too many people who have stuck with Excel. What do you use now to tract appointments and tasks? Is it working for you? Do you like paper? Or digital? Need portability? I have been using a Palm for years, long before I heard of David Allen, and I have switched from PC's to Macs over the last year or so. If you use a computer that has Outlook (PC) or Entourage (Mac), you might consider either of the Davidco white papers on setting those programs up for GTD. Either is $10, and they are very practical.

              Comment

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