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My daily workflow: Breaking down the work in accomplish-able tasks

I won’t lie: I used to be the kind of guy who would write endless, long To-Do lists. I would list EVERYTHING I need to do. At first, it felt like I was being thorough. “Here is ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING I NEED TO ACCOMPLISH BY X DATE“. If you’ve ever written long To-Do lists, you probably know how this story ends (you’re exhausted by the time you’re on task 3 and just want to crawl under a rock and cry yourself to sleep).

To Do Lists and Workflow

I have been experimenting with breaking down the work in accomplish-able tasks for a while now. Instead of writing exhaustive lists of the things I need to do, I look at my month, week and day, and focus on achieving certain goals by a specific date. For example, take this week: I had specific writing goals, agreed to participate in two Masters students’ committee meetings (at CIDE and FLACSO), had a work meeting with colleagues who are also dear friends at El Colegio de Mexico, and had a guest speaker come into CIDE on Friday, plus a series of meetings with new students in the undergraduate and masters’ programmes.

To do list

Listing everything would have simply made me go beserk and I would have had nothing accomplished. So, I broke down my week in 4: Monday, which is my teaching day – although I had a guest speaker from CIDE Santa Fe; Tuesday, which I had to spend doing a variety of administrative and project tasks that I couldn’t do on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday which were days when I flew to Mexico City and had meetings, and Friday (where I had lots of meetings and a seminar). But the most important thing I did was that I PRIORITIZED TASKS, GOALS AND OUTCOMES.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to do everything I wanted this week from my extended, long To-Do List. So I prioritized. This is how I broke down my Wednesday, Thursday and Friday:

– Drive to the airport
– Fly into Mexico City
– Travel from the airport to CIDE Santa Fe
– Meeting with my division chair
– Miscellaneous meetings with colleagues at CIDE
– Meeting with Alfredo, my Masters’ student, to go over his presentation for Thursday
– Travel to El Colegio de Mexico for a book presentation
– Travel to my hotel

Presentación Libro "Cómo Gobernar la Contaminación en México"

– Read (no #AcWri because I haven’t had enough sleep) for a bit
– Travel to CIDE Santa Fe
– Attend Alfredo’s presentation – provide feedback afterwards
– Travel to FLACSO
– Attend Pavel’s committee meeting – attend a meeting on fracking and water (briefly)
– Travel to El Colegio de Mexico
– Lunch with Fernando, Veronica and Vicente
– Travel to the airport
– Fly into Aguascalientes
– Read on the plane, take notes
– Travel home
– Unpack

Seminario Presentación de Tesis MAPP #MAPP1416

Seminario Presentación de Tesis MAPP #MAPP1416


FLACSO Mayo 2016

El Colegio de México friends


Writing goals
– Write 600 words on Jane Jacobs and Elinor Ostrom for The Nature of Cities
– Provide feedback on 2 chapter abstracts for the polycentricity book
– Rewrite my book chapter abstract on bottled water and water insecurity for Edith Kauffer’s edited volume

To Do List

– Breakfast with incoming cohort at the undergraduate level (Bachelor of Public Policy)
– Meeting with incoming cohort at the Masters’ level (Masters of Environmental Economics)
– Meeting with Miriam Grunstein (our guest speaker)
– Lunch
– Seminar

Desayuno de Bienvenida Generación 2016-2020

– Read and write comments on Miriam’s paper

Seminario Dra. Miriam Grunstein en el CIDE Región Centro Mayo 20 2016

– Drive Miriam to the airport

– File away Malini Ranganadrath’s articles that I had read already.

As you can see, this week I didn’t finish any book chapters. I didn’t write a new paper. Heck, I didn’t even clean my desk before leaving for the airport. This is how my desk ended Friday evening.

To Do Lists and Workflow

BUT I accomplished EVERYTHING on my To Do List. And that made me feel empowered to come back on Monday and do all the things I want to do. Crossing EVERYTHING off of my To Do List made me feel accomplished. The list was manageable (3 writing tasks) and specific.

The great thing about breaking down the work in accomplish-able tasks is that it allows me to also BUDGET TIME. I knew that arriving into my office at 7:30am would give me about 2 hours before the breakfast meeting with students. Thus, I wrote the 600 words on Jane Jacobs and Elinor Ostrom between 7:30 and 9:30am. Then, I met with students until 11am. I made the edits on my own book chapter between 11am and 12 noon. I met with Miriam from 12 to 1pm, and then worked for 30 minutes on providing feedback to the book chapters on polycentricity. From 1:30 to 2pm, I had lunch with my colleagues, and then from 2 to 3, I read the paper and provided comments in writing that I then delivered during the seminar. From 5 to 6pm, after the seminar, I just had brief meetings with my research assistants and students and colleagues, and then at 6pm I drove Miriam to the airport.

A really busy day, but one where I felt I had accomplished A LOT.

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