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  • GTD for scientists/academics?

    Dear all,

    I'm currently a research scientist in academia experimenting with GTD, and while I can see the obvious benefits for certain aspects of my everyday working/private life, I am having trouble applying GTD to other aspects specific to my profession. I use a simple circa notebook to organize by Inbox, Calendar, Project lists etc.
    For example, while the GTD philosophy seems to work great at kick-starting a new project (i.e. project planning and whats the very next thing I have to do), it doesn't seem to fit very well with actually doing experiments in the lab. Usually, there are many small things that have to be completed in the lab, either consecutively or in parallel, and often these have to be done at a particular time on a specific day. Its very difficult to write every NA down and cross reference all of this with our lab notebooks (we are usually very restricted with the kind of notebooks we can use for official lab books). Also, David Allen recommends only putting items we have to do in our calendars (such as a meeting), but a lab scientists usually has so many small tasks that have to be done at X and Y that all these next actions get thrown onto the calendar aswell.
    To summarize, I love how GTD helps identify what little actions I can get done in between doing experiments, but doesn't seem to help with planning the every day (almost routine but not quite) stuff I have to do at the lab bench every day. I understand that I have to figure out what the very next action is for each project/sub project, and I have to correctly divide all my responsibilities correctly, but this doesn't seem to help with the experiment parts.
    Does anyone else have the same issues or some advice?
    Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    re: GTD for Academics

    I wrote a little bit about the unique challenges that face academics who are trying to implement GTD. You can find that here under the sub-heading "GTD & Academics Blog."

    While paper-based systems are good, you might benefit from a more digital approach that automatically sends out your next actions when you need them. Something like Omnifocus, Ready-Set-Do!, or ThinkingRock might be a good set of approaches to try out. The first two only work on a mac. ThinkingRock is Java based and can work on both mac and pc platforms.

    You can use your paper-based calendar or physical Tickler file to schedule day- and time-specific tasks related to lab work. The rest you can just keep on printed lists organized by location contexts.

    Hope that helps.
    Last edited by Todd V; 08-08-2012, 01:26 PM.

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    • #3
      Yes, you probably need a separate checklist/project support material for your workbench work.

      Comment


      • #4
        should work

        It can definitely boost faculty productivity. A lab director I know said learning Allen's work was the single best thing pre-tenure faculty could do to ensure academic success.

        > actually doing experiments in the lab. Usually, there are many small
        > things that have to be completed in the lab, either consecutively or
        > in parallel, and often these have to be done at a particular time on
        > a specific day.

        As you point out, those items that are date- or time-specific definitely go on the calendar. Those that don't go on your actions list. If there are too many, then, if they can be done in a batch, create an experiment-specific checklist that's kicked off by the calender reminder. I suspect you've one already in your lab notebook, but perhaps not in a single place (i.e., spread out across multiple pages). Having a "command central" for your experiment helps coordination and reduces repeat work/waste.

        If you have non-experiment work to do daily at the bench, I'd wonder whether that could be another checklist.

        Thoughts?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by cornell View Post

          If you have non-experiment work to do daily at the bench, I'd wonder whether that could be another checklist.

          Thoughts?
          Let's throw my big writing projects together with the lab experiments and call them bigwoods. How does one handle daily work on the bigwoods?

          What I do is simply having a daily non-time specific event on the calendar for each one. Normaly you have quite some support material for a bigwood, so there you keep the details. When going into the wood for an hour or so it is totally reasonable to take your lab notebook/ support folder with you. After the session I do a mindsweep (kudos to Pressfield from "War of Art"), wrap it up and enter the next step into the calendar for tomorrow. That way I am sure I make headway in the bigwoods.

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          • #6
            Re:

            Thanks for all of your comments so far, they have been very helpful.
            The thing I was getting confused over was the sheer number of NA's to write down each time I do an experiment, I could have to do as many as 200 NA's in a good days work 'at the bench'.
            What Cornell et al pointed out is great, and obvious now! While I conduct many experiments each day, many are based on the same scaffold of NA's, i.e. protein purification, DNA cloning, enzyme assay etc. All I need to do is start compiling lists of NA's or a checklist of actions for each method/experiment. My calender would then trigger each project or subproject to direct to the relevant checklist.
            I think this 'standard operating procedure' method is something used often in industry labs, but not so much academic labs, but is something definitely worth pursuing.
            I think my Circa system is ideally suited to all of this also, since I can just move the relevant checklist to 'Today' in my notebook.
            This is much better than specifically writing all the NA's for an experiment in an @lab context list and much less daunting to look at.

            Again, thankyou for your comments. It is clear that GTD needs a little tweaking for scientists, but I am still confident it will work in the end.
            Gavin.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by gjwilliams2 View Post
              All I need to do is start compiling lists of NA's or a checklist of actions for each method/experiment.
              As an added bonus, checklists document the procedures for students, lab staff, and anyone else who might be performing experiments on your behalf. Given the harm that undertrained and undersupervised students can do (looks in mirror, cringes), I'm surprised that such checklists are so rare.

              Katherine

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              • #8
                Something else you might want to try is getting a Tickler file up and running. There are free directions in David's freebies area and around the Web. It is cheap, fast, and very useful. It functions like a calendar, but it holds physical things instead of just notes written in a date square. For example, you could have a folder for each experiment with your checklist stapled to the inside of the front cover. Check off as you go, scratch out those that don't apply, eliminate the tedious recopying of repetitive tasks. The Tickler file becomes useful as you are thinking you need to do the next step on another specific day. Just drop the folder in the correct day folder, and it will automatically pop up on that day. Open the folder, and pick up where you left off on the checklist.

                It also works great for birthday reminder, concert tickets, reminders to change the smoke detector batteries - just drop a note or a physical thing into the correct day or month folder, and it is out of the way and perfectly safe until the day it automatically pops up.

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