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My Everything Notebook – planning my research and writing output

My Everything NotebookI have very odd methods of doing things, I recognize this. I don’t follow anybody’s “time management system”. I adopted many of the tips that are now praised in the methodologies that “Getting Things Done“, “the Bullet Journal” and other productivity systems boast since I was a child, and I’ve faithfully kept my working habits, so it’s sometimes weird to see them called someone else’s philosophy when I learned how to do them in my childhood. To be honest, I had a homework notebook since I was in grade school (I studied with the LaSalle system).

Our daily homework agenda (”diario de tareas” in Spanish) was a little notebook with space for every day of the week, where the teacher asked us to write down every piece of homework we had to do. Like a ‘homework journal’. Because I did my schooling with very strict teachers, they would review our “Homework Journal” every single day, and we had to have our parents sign it. Every. Single. Day. So, I got used to writing down what tasks I had to complete and by when. I don’t think I still have a copy of my “Homework Journal” from when I was little, or I would totally post it. Trust me, it worked. I never missed a piece of homework because I *had* to show it to my parents and they *had* to sign off on each page.

My Everything NotebookA lot of people have seen how I work since I started publishing my “My Own Workflow” posts. Many folks ask me how I plan my days, weeks and months. Since July 1st was just a little while ago, and I’m a big believer in tracking progress (because you can’t fix what you can’t measure as per the first principle of total quality control), I decided to take stock of what I had accomplished in the first semester of the year. I also wanted to plan for the fall. I was curious to see what other people were doing for their To-Do lists, and contrast their process with mine. In a brief exchange with my graduate school friend Dr. Amanda Bittner (Memorial University of Newfoundland) and Dr. Andrea Collins (University of Waterloo), Andrea mentioned the “Bullet Journal“, a planning system that is basically a series of itemized to-do lists (monthly, weekly, daily plans).

The Bullet Journal sounds good in theory, but as Jennifer Kerner Parkin wrote on her blog, it’s not really very good for academics who usually don’t think in linear models.

I work with a very different but (in a strange way) somehow similar version of what the “Bullet Journal” seems to teach (a system which I developed completely separately from the bullet journal model throughout the years, and modeled very much after my Homeworks’ Notebook). My model is simple: I plan for the year, then semester, then month, then week. I also have just ONE notebook: It’s My Everything Notebook.

My Everything Notebook

I divide my plans in four sets of items: Student Mentorships (be it undergraduate or graduate), Research (which can be notes about journal articles, ideas I have about new papers, project tracking, research meetings notes, etc), Personal and Administrative (project management and daily stuff that doesn’t really add much value but is stuff you NEED to do anyways) and Teaching (which is usually notes about my syllabus, how I develop lesson plans, etc.).

Monthly plannerFor my writing output, the main overarching framework that organizes my papers is my Publications Planner. I draw from the general “What Remains to be Done” cell and send it to my weekly plan. I plan for journal article and book chapter submission from the same Publications Planner and put it in my 6 Months-Monthly Plan (which is a series of printed monthly calendars that I then glue together to give me a general overview of the semester. I put together a weekly plan that is drawn from the Publications Planner, the semester calendar (I teach two courses in the fall), and some meetings that I already know I will have in the fall. Now that I have a newly funded project, I am going to have to schedule time for meetings and fieldwork for that one. I also make sure to include actual personal time and items in my planner (e.g. grocery shopping, laundry, weddings, birthdays etc.)

On my campus office whiteboard I write the five days of the week and type under each the day of the week what I’m supposed to be doing that day. That information comes from my weekly plan, and it’s integrated with my daily plan (see below). I make sure that I synchronize my daily and weekly plans with my Google Calendar (because let’s face it, I can get distracted rather easily). See below for analog synchronization of daily plan in the Everything Notebook with a weekly layout on the whiteboard.

My weekly plan

Because I used to List All The Things and I wanted to Achieve All The Goals, and I suddenly realized I can’t really do that, I changed my system to simply listing the stuff that MUST BE DONE, AND IS ACTUALLY FEASIBLE OF BEING COMPLETED BY THE DATE WHEN I PLANNED IT. This is important because I am always shooting for achieving more and then realizing my body (or life) happens.

The question that I get asked All The Time: DON’T YOU SPEND MORE TIME PLANNING THAN ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK? My response to that question is always the one shown in this magnet (which is also in my campus office): I am just too lazy to look for things. So I make it super easy for me to find *everything* I do. Notes from a meeting. Research findings. My plan for a certain week. Because EVERYTHING is in my Everything Notebook, I really don’t have to look for anything. I just need to organize it once (and this July it took me about 45 minutes of one lazy Saturday).

My process is actually quite simple, and I am happy to share it because if it can help someone else organize their thoughts or life, all the better. It does help me. And reflecting on my own processes helps me think about how to improve.

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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