Forum

  • If you are new to these Forums, please take a moment to register using the fields above.

Announcement

Announcement Module
Collapse
No announcement yet.

Academic/researcher needs advice

Page Title Module
Move Remove Collapse
X
Conversation Detail Module
Collapse
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Academic/researcher needs advice

    I've been easing my way into applying GTD principles, and now I need some help. It seems like my projects are "messy." For example, my two (parallel) next actions for a course are to 1. finish grading weekly assignments and 2. write the final exam. Each of these will take 2-3 hours to do, and they both need to be completed by Wednesday. At the same time, for my research I need to 1. revise the consent form (by Tuesday) and 2. have a certain person a half hour away sign a form (also by Tuesday). Of course, I also have to start reading for next semester's course and contact equipment vendors to get prices, and then order it so it is ready to use in early January.

    One of my problems is that every time I get everything in order, something happens to mess up my neat schedule--a student in crisis uses up the time I set aside for writing an exam, or something I finished needs unexpected revisions.

    So....my question is, how to you organize this sort of mess, so that everything gets done at the appropriate time, while still having enough flexibility to handle sudden demands and crises?

    Rachel
    Last edited by rachel134; 11-30-2006, 04:41 PM.

  • #2
    Hi Rachel!

    My second (and final) exam is in one week! A wise older colleague said he always looked forward to the start of the semester, he always looked forward to the end, and he figured that was about the way it should be.

    Here's how I grade: I grade one problem at a time, going through all the exams if I have the time. I keep a next action for the appropriate context (@HomeOffice) that says "Grade Question #3 of 10 DUE 12-18" and just keep at it. Your brain will keep track of it, and get it done for you. Scheduling office time for grading can make your brain dumb and your butt numb if you get the time, but you probably won't because somebody will knock on your door. Personally, I like to grade exams while watching football (if you miss something important, they show a replay) with a little scotch at hand (to ease the pain).

    I try to write exams by giving myself a little time to think up topics, which I record in a note for the project "Write exam." I then do a little brainstorming/rough draft, and then I do a final draft, followed by a final check. I may be writing ideas down as soon as I have the first one, but the last three steps are usually done over 2-3 days. I would guess I spend from 2 to 4 hours total on this, depending on the course. I try not to do it all at once. There is a lot of satisfaction in saying "I've done enough for now- on to something else."

    Make the research next actions your top priority, even if the next actions do not seem that important in themselves. You have to keep pushing on research, but administrative stuff will stay with you like an albatross at a fish market. I admire a younger colleague who said in a statement about his teaching (in his tenure folder) that he "wanted to be an excellent teacher, spending no more than 15 hours a week on his course." (He is an excellent teacher, and I am very confident that he will get tenure.) With teaching, I find rhythm is much more important than scheduling; it can eat as much time as you give it. Oddly, constraining the scarce resource (your time) can make you a better teacher.

    My best advice is to break down administrative and research tasks ruthlessly to crankable widgets, get into a rhythm with teaching, and schedule as little as you can. Try to leave room in your life for serendipity, and always try to capture promptly the ideas that come to you.

    Best,
    Mike
    Last edited by mcogilvie; 11-30-2006, 06:21 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      Mike, what a great reply!

      Wow, was that helpful and I didn't even ask the question. Maybe you can help me some more. I teach too and I totally get what you are saying as to your classes, and lectures, but here's my other problem: I am writing a novel. It is very long. I have to get this done. With my first book, I just plowed through the thing never even having heard of David Allen. It was exhausting but I got the job done. But how do I work on a huge project like a book without blocking off giant (or small) blocks of time?? You were so good with your other reply, I would just love to hear your advice on handling this one.

      I have tried the 2 hours every morning routine, the 30 minute at a crack routine, and the just not doing anything routine. And Yes!! I want to write this novel. It's time. So there's no question if I want to do it or not. But the sheer length (I am a short story writer so to me this is longggg) and I work on it all at once, meaning I am writing all over the place, it's like a sculpture, so it's not like I can work on the first chapter and go on neatly to the second etc. I do have a draft--the kind of writing I do is all in the re-writing.

      ---Trish

      Comment


      • #4
        It's not GTD-oriented, but the best place I know for advice about writing a novel is http://www.fmwriters.com. Lots of technical advice, lots of supportive people (with all sorts of different writing styles), lots of opportunities for friendly competition if that's what works for you, and lots of people willing to comment once you have something for them to look at.

        Good luck!

        Katherine

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Trish View Post
          You were so good with your other reply, I would just love to hear your advice on handling this one.
          ...
          But the sheer length (I am a short story writer so to me this is longggg) and I work on it all at once, meaning I am writing all over the place, it's like a sculpture, so it's not like I can work on the first chapter and go on neatly to the second etc. I do have a draft--the kind of writing I do is all in the re-writing.

          ---Trish
          Thanks Trish! I'm not sure I have good advice for you. I'm a physicist, and my writing is all technical. I have "write a science book for laypeople" (I have a topic in mind) on my someday/maybe list, but I haven't written anything really long, well, in a long time.

          I have sometimes had luck with the "one good hour of writing every morning" routine, but if it's too early in the research it doesn't work for me. It works best for me when it really is serious writing, how to describe the physics in words rather than how to do the physics. My wife is a biology professor, and I think her experience with "one good hour" is similar. She is also in a "XX writing group" which meets weekly, and provides some friendly support.

          From your desciption of where you are, it sounds like your manuscript is in the mid-phase, with lots of tweaking and some where-do-I-put-this-if-I-use-it-at-all stuff to do. A mind map might help you see connections, or it might not work for you. What I have found in this middle phase is that it is helpful to have a list of stuff you want to do with the ms., really a list of options for your next action. I put them in the note for the project. Ideally these are really concrete next actions. Some of them will come out all mushy, and not do-able. For me, these are really the things I am not sure about, and I usually need to separate these out, articulate as clearly as I can what the issues are, and let them simmer. I haven't found a way to force a resolution, but when ideas surface, I try to grab them and turn them into real next actions. When these big uncertainties are dealt with, then I know I am ready to start the real writing part of the writing, where paragraphs are made to make sense, and connect to the material before and after.

          Good Luck!

          Comment


          • #6
            Who says you can't block off large or small chunks of time?

            Comment


            • #7
              I don't know how your creative writing process works but if you're even a little bit like me you need some "getting into it" time. To write one hour I need, say, one-and-a-half hour of time, at least.

              That's why I like the "write in the morning" routine (or afternoon or whatever works for you). I have a part of the day to write. It gets things done. It also preps my brain: it know this is what's coming up.

              Comment


              • #8
                This might really be a 'gear' question, but I thought I'd ask it in this thread:
                I think that in order for GTD to work, to keep my brain from holding onto information, I need to be confident I can retrieve it efficiently. I'm having a difficult time with this in my research, however:
                My question is how do you store lists of ideas etc. in big, long-term project folders so that they can easily be found? For example, I might have a project 'prove Riemann hyphothesis'. I work on this everyday for years, each day generating ideas and lemmas which might half prove, or want to prove but can't etc. After 10 years, I have a folder several feet thick with calculations observations, doodles etc. What I'd like is some way to check that the approaches I'm trying today are not ones I've already tried. It seems this demands some kind of consistent system, but, well... I don't know how one would go creating an effecient one. Any ideas?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by moomoo View Post
                  This might really be a 'gear' question, but I thought I'd ask it in this thread:
                  I think that in order for GTD to work, to keep my brain from holding onto information, I need to be confident I can retrieve it efficiently. I'm having a difficult time with this in my research, however:
                  My question is how do you store lists of ideas etc. in big, long-term project folders so that they can easily be found?
                  I don't think it is a gear question at all, because it speaks to the transformative nature of research. In research, we rarely completely abandon a line of inquiry, because there is always the possibility of further progress along that line. As we explore more and more of the related branches, we build up a mental map of the terrain explored. Experts are, by definition, "expert systems" that encapsulate a domain of expertise. GTD says to let go of remembering that you need batteries, not your understanding of cohomology: you are freeing your brain for the most important stuff. Three caveats: 1) You still need to write ideas down so you don't lose them; 2) You do end up going over and over the same material until you have a deep understanding; 3) Reference material is still valuable, but it is just a tool, and tools change. The easy availability of physics manuscripts on the arXiv since 1992 has completely changed my approach to reference material.

                  There is a story I have heard told about several well-known researchers in several fields. It's probably even true, as least for some of the time. A young researcher is giving a seminar, and famous person promptly falls asleep in the front row. As the seminar is coming to its conclusion, famous person wakes up, looks at what it being discussed, and asks young researcher an incredibly insightful question. That's what it means to be an expert.

                  Originally posted by moomoo View Post
                  For example, I might have a project 'prove Riemann hyphothesis'. I work on this everyday for years, each day generating ideas and lemmas which might half prove, or want to prove but can't etc. After 10 years, I have a folder several feet thick with calculations observations, doodles etc. What I'd like is some way to check that the approaches I'm trying today are not ones I've already tried. It seems this demands some kind of consistent system, but, well... I don't know how one would go creating an effecient one. Any ideas?
                  When I was new at research, and reading scientific papers, I kept folders of notes and notebooks as I worked through papers and my own ideas. Now I use paper pads for quick calculations and sketching approaches. Serious work goes electronic pretty quickly. I know one person, a superb theoretical physicist, who keeps meticulous paper notebooks of his work, but I don't know if there are "rough drafts" that I don't know about.

                  However, this is not really what the issue you are asking about. As I explained above, the knowledge is not in foot-thick folders. However, if you need some smaller scale technical writing tool for capturing your understanding, then you are probably using TeX for its superb handling of mathematics. There are a number of editors that allow easy navigation of TeX/LaTeX documents. I am currently using Lyx, an open-source, free WYSIWYG front end which allows easy navigation to sections and subsections.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                    However, this is not really what the issue you are asking about. As I explained above, the knowledge is not in foot-thick folders. However, if you need some smaller scale technical writing tool for capturing your understanding, then you are probably using TeX for its superb handling of mathematics. There are a number of editors that allow easy navigation of TeX/LaTeX documents. I am currently using Lyx, an open-source, free WYSIWYG front end which allows easy navigation to sections and subsections.
                    For mathematics specifically, I would also look at Mathematica. It combines a pretty sophisticated calculation engine (both symbolic and numeric) with a good mathematical publishing and presentation system. Moreover, its "notebooks" are plain text files, meaning they are accessible to whatever search engine you want to use. It was developed by a professional physicist, Stephen Wolfram, for use in his own research. (Wolfram's research is somewhat controversial, but that doesn't undermine the merit of his tools.)

                    Commercial licenses are astoundingly expensive, but the academic discount prices are more reasonable.

                    Katherine
                    Last edited by kewms; 12-03-2006, 08:35 AM. Reason: typo

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      [QUOTE=mcogilvie;43890]Hi Rachel!

                      "A wise older colleague said he always looked forward to the start of the semester, he always looked forward to the end, and he figured that was about the way it should be."

                      I can certainly agree with that--it's exciting to start with new students, and new (or revised) material, but by the end of the term I always feel bogged down.

                      "You have to keep pushing on research"

                      I'm really trying to push ahead on my research, but when I got going this term, I had to resubmit my protocol to the Institutional Review Board, and it has languished there for the last month. Now my research assistant's schedule is changing, so I have to take time and orient a new RA, losing the momentum I had built up. I just have to learn how to work better with this stop & go rhythm. I have found that the GTD system helps me here, because my lists of NAs and Everything to Be Done keeps me from forgetting where I ws and what I still need to do.

                      "get into a rhythm with teaching, and schedule as little as you can."

                      The idea of a rhythm makes sense. I assume you mean finding a pattern for the day, and repeating it? I aften start the day with some class prep, and then devote time to Today's Priority. Early evening, when I'm almost the only one on my floor, is devoted to the heavy duty (not easily interrupted) stuff like writing for publication or a grant application.

                      "always try to capture promptly the ideas that come to you."

                      For years, I've kept a page in my agenda of "questions"--research ideas that occur to me when I'm reading or have spent an eveining batting ideas around with friends. These should now go into my "Someday/Maybe" file, but on a separate page from the list that starts "learn Beethoven violin concerto."

                      Some of the ideas suggested above for organizing notes and ideas sound interesting--I'm going to check them out to see if work for biology & nursing as well as they work for physics & math.

                      Rachel

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                        Here's how I grade: I grade one problem at a time, going through all the exams if I have the time. I keep a next action for the appropriate context (@HomeOffice) that says "Grade Question #3 of 10 DUE 12-18" and just keep at it.
                        Yes! The most efficient way.

                        Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                        Personally, I like to grade exams while watching football (if you miss something important, they show a replay) with a little scotch at hand (to ease the pain).
                        I had to laugh about easing the pain. So true!

                        Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                        I admire a younger colleague who said in a statement about his teaching (in his tenure folder) that he "wanted to be an excellent teacher, spending no more than 15 hours a week on his course." (He is an excellent teacher, and I am very confident that he will get tenure.) With teaching, I find rhythm is much more important than scheduling; it can eat as much time as you give it. Oddly, constraining the scarce resource (your time) can make you a better teacher.
                        Yes. With grading, I set a timer for each problem or paper draft or whatever and push myself to complete grading it in that time limit I set. Push, push, push.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by rachel134 View Post
                          The idea of a rhythm makes sense. I assume you mean finding a pattern for the day, and repeating it? I aften start the day with some class prep, and then devote time to Today's Priority. Early evening, when I'm almost the only one on my floor, is devoted to the heavy duty (not easily interrupted) stuff like writing for publication or a grant application.
                          Rachel
                          I actually meant a rhythm for the week. Although I most often work at home in the mornings, and stay at work until 6 PM 4 nights a week, what I do each day changes. I find the week viewed as a whole is a more tractable unit. I teach this semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so the goal Mondays and Wednesdays is to have lectures and assignments prepared. After lectures, it takes me a little bit to unwind. I have meetings and seminars some afternoons as well. I prefer to do class prep in the evening, so I can focus on research in the mornings, but I can't always do that. I don't set weekly goals, because I find research doesn't lend itself to that, the teaching has to be done anyway, and weekly administrative stuff is most often reactive. I do use the standard GTD 20K-50K for larger goals.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                            Here's how I grade: I grade one problem at a time, going through all the exams if I have the time.
                            I teach in my spare time one course per semester, one day a week. I never graded this way before but I tried this yesterday and I'm sold. Thanks for suggesting it and thanks to andersons for highlighting it later in the thread! It may or may not be faster. But it is definitely better. It's like the difference between working at a desk with one item on it or working at a desk cluttered with many items. When I grade one question at a time I am much more focused. I can't say I had fun grading exams yesterday morning but I can say that it was less painful. Thanks again.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              problems are projects

                              Originally posted by rachel134 View Post
                              I've been easing my way into applying GTD principles, and now I need some help. It seems like my projects are "messy." For example, my two (parallel) next actions for a course are to 1. finish grading weekly assignments and 2. write the final exam. Each of these will take 2-3 hours to do, and they both need to be completed by Wednesday. At the same time, for my research I need to 1. revise the consent form (by Tuesday) and 2. have a certain person a half hour away sign a form (also by Tuesday). Of course, I also have to start reading for next semester's course and contact equipment vendors to get prices, and then order it so it is ready to use in early January.

                              One of my problems is that every time I get everything in order, something happens to mess up my neat schedule--a student in crisis uses up the time I set aside for writing an exam, or something I finished needs unexpected revisions.

                              So....my question is, how to you organize this sort of mess, so that everything gets done at the appropriate time, while still having enough flexibility to handle sudden demands and crises?

                              Rachel
                              To me it looks like many of the things you think of as actions are too long and too complex to be actions at all. Look at them as projects. By the way, I know there are tasks that cannot really be broken down because dropping them and picking them up takes more time compared to starting at zero.
                              Basically you say there are problems that the rest-of-the-world imposes on you and that this not only slows you down but the problems shut you down. From the GTD perspective you should look at any problem like a project.
                              Here's the strategic approach:
                              Come up with a list of you top-three problems!
                              Turn every problem into a project according to:
                              project: Control problemA in order to proceed with my work.
                              Naturally you need to think about what you can really DO to deal with each of these problems.
                              Assuming you make some progress sometimes try to remember how that really happened.
                              action: Identify events of successful work!
                              make a project of each pattern you can identify. If for example you recall reading 2hours without anyone disturbing you in the zoo, then make an action to read in the zoo next time.

                              By the way, if there are deadlines you feel you cannot meet I believe there are three options: move the deadline, ask for help or less responsibilities, 3 say no. Sometimes I have to go for 3 because I drive a long distance on friday evening. If I had a car crash with maybe fatal injuries all these deadlines are not worth it.

                              I understand that for you the number of things you have to take care of at the same time is more of a burden than the total workload. As I understand GTD this is a matter of confidence in your own system.

                              Comment

                              Working...
                              X