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My daily workflow: Budgeting time and scheduling projects

The fact that I have many different interests and that I am working on a broad variety of projects makes me more prone to letting things slip away. Thus, to protect my own time from others, and to stop me from procrastinating and making my life easier when working, I budget time for each thing I am supposed to do. And I guard that time jealously.

Given that one of the things that annoys me the most is when people use and appropriate (or misuse) my time, I’m very protective of my daily schedule. I hate when people schedule meetings at my post productive times (9, 10 and 11 am meetings really break into my work day). At the same time, I also hate when I see my time running away from me as I am distracted or procrastinating (yes, I’m a human being, and I, too, procrastinate).

Protecting my time is easier to do when I have a pretty specific schedule for when I do things (I no longer try to schedule my life to the very last minute, but instead I have built time buffers into my day. Also, I relaxed my rules so that I don’t feel guilty when I am not doing the work I was supposed to). Nevertheless, I do have a pretty solid structure for my day. For example, I write in the very early hours of the morning. This is the time when my brain is most ready to write and there are very few distractions. I meet with my students in the afternoons. I leave administrative stuff for those days when I can’t concentrate.

Achievable to do listAnd most importantly, I break down the work I do in manageable pieces. For each piece, I budget time. So, for example, I knew that realistically, I wouldn’t be able to do much work on the Thursday, as I would be teaching a make-up class (the last lecture of my Public Policy Analysis class), and reviewing application files for 3 tenure-track positions. I also needed to read the final thesis draft of one of my Masters’ students, and meet with another student on whose Masters’ program I’m a committee member. I also knew that I had to submit the grant proposal review by Friday, so I had to prioritize teaching, grant reviewing, and my students. Everything else had to take a second place (my students are near to graduation so I can’t delay reading their work).

So this is what my Thursday looked like:

6:30-8:00am Wake up, shower, have breakfast, read
8:00-9:00am Read Laura’s thesis
9:00-9:20am Drive to campus
9:30-11:00am Prepare class and re-read lecture notes
11:00-11:30am Deal with administrative stuff (library requests)
11:30-1:30pm Final lecture Public Policy Analysis
1:30-2:15pm Meeting with Pavel M. about his thesis
2:15-3:00pm Lunch
3:00-4:00pm Review candidate files
4:00-4:40pm Drive Mayeli home, drive myself home
4:40-6:40pm Nap (this is something I really need to keep my health)
6:40-7:00pm Drive myself to campus
7:00-9:00pm Review candidate files, summarize my choices
9:00-9:30pm Read notes for ISA 2017 paper abstract with Amanda Murdie
9:30-10:00pm Drive myself home

Thus as you can see I decided to focus on only three outcomes I could accomplish: submit my choices for job talk participants, approve Laura’s thesis and teach my last lecture of the semester. Making my to-do list too long makes me feel stressed and nervous and I feel paralysed. I worked 10 hours and only completed 3 things, if you think about it. But those were the 3 most important things I needed to do.

So, for example, for yesterday (Friday) my schedule looked as follows (you’ll notice I’m not waking up at 4:30am this week, this is because I’m having problems adjusting to the extreme hot weather we are having in Aguascalientes).

7:00-8:00am Breakfast, read
8:00-9:00am Write blog post
9:00-10:00am Read project grant proposal I’m supposed to review
10:00-11:00am Shower, get ready, head to campus
11:00am -12:00pm Meeting with Rafa (my PhD student)
12:00pm-12:30pm Social media
12:30-1:30 pm Peer review (write grant proposal review) for CONACYT
1:30pm-2:00pm Lunch
2:00-3:30pm Deal with library requests.
3:30-5:00pm Read articles for peer-reviews for International Journal of the Commons, Policy Sciences and Global Environmental Politics
5:00-5:30pm Read draft notes from meeting with Amanda Murdie
5:30-6:30pm Write draft ISA 2017 abstract.
6:30-7:00pm Clean up my office, prepare list of To-Do things for next week.
7:00-7:20pm Drive myself home
7:20-9:50pm Dinner, grocery shopping, packing for LASA 2016
10:00pm Go to sleep

In reality, I knew that I would need at least 2 hours to write the grant proposal review, and 2-3 more to read the peer review manuscripts I have to do, plus at least 1.5 hours to write a draft abstract. I accomplished everything I needed to, but I know for a fact I have outstanding work for next week. Given that I only mark (in pink ink) what I did accomplish, I have a list of what I have to prioritize for either the weekend (I’m heading to LASA 2016) or early next week.

If you check my previous post on breaking down the work in achievable tasks, you’ll notice my Friday had very specific time budgets:

7:30am-9:30 am Write 600 words on Jane Jacobs and Elinor Ostrom
9:30am-11:00am Meetings with students (undergraduate breakfast and graduate coffee)
11:00am-12:00pm Edits on my book chapter for the Kauffer book
12:00-1:00pm Meeting with Miriam
1:00-1:30 pm Provide feedback to the book chapters on polycentricity.
1:30-2:00pm Lunch with my colleagues
2:00-3:00pm Read the paper and provided comments in writing
3:00-5:00pm Seminar with Miriam Grunstein
5:00-6:00pm Brief meetings with my research assistants and students and colleagues
6:00-6:45pm Drive Miriam to the airport.
6:45pm-8:45pm Drive to Leon.

As you can see, I couldn’t do everything I would have wanted to, but at least I achieved 7 things in the entire day, including 3 writing tasks. That’s how I keep myself motivated: budgeting time, scheduling both work time and adequate buffers, and breaking down the work in achievable tasks, often focusing solely on just one thing at a time.

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