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Prioritizing tasks in academic life

Given my physical and personality traits (I get tired incredibly fast, have enormous amounts of energy, love focusing on a broad variety of tasks and projects), I have designed my days in such a way that I can focus on doing the stuff I need to get done and still maintain some degree of sanity and balance. As you may notice in my weekly schedule, I prioritize writing above almost everything else with the exception of napping, taking time off and exercising. and before I do anything else during the day, I write (by hand, as you can notice in the photo) my to-do list.

Every morning, I write from 4:30am to 6:30am religiously. I often combine this writing with reading journal articles, books and book chapters. I don’t actually take the 2 hours to read. What I do is I write notes as I read, and then, during my writing time, I use my notes to fill up paragraphs in the paper I am currently writing. I have also recently taken to write down my successes on an every day basis. That is, I write what I have accomplished during the day. This helps me stay focused on my work.

Writing down my To Do lists by hand, and at the end of the day (and end of the month) summarizing my achievements and accomplishments lets me see the overall picture of where I am going and what I am doing. There is a reason why I do this: I am well aware of how easily bored I can get, and how fragile my body can be sometimes. I know I can accomplish a lot if I work on a broad variety of projects, and if I can see how much progress I am making. Be it doing fieldwork, creating new datasets, reading about new concepts and ideas, or doing service to my institution and the discipline, I need variety.

I also know that I can work long hours only if I also take breaks during my day. I also require time off and being settled, which is hard to do when you travel as much as I do. Last year, when I travelled for conferences and fieldwork extensively (9 countries in 6 months), and for family visits (Calgary in Canada, and Los Angeles in the USA), I realized I was getting more and more tired. I started 2014 sick with a cold, and I quickly fell sick again in less than two weeks because I travelled from Aguascalientes to Mexico City each week of the month of January.

I have found that reading articles on productivity tips actually helps me gain focus and learn some tips that I may integrate into my own tool-kit. The 8 tips for highly productive people that are linked in the list attached have actually proven quite useful for me. There is a lot to be gained by self-examining and adopting techniques and strategies from people who are highly productive and successful. One striking similarity in all productivity tips I have read is the concept of focus and the idea of prioritizing. You need to prioritize what will bring you the most success, or what will sustain you in the long run. For me, success is measured in many ways, but one of the ways in which I want to be successful is publishing more, in both languages (English and Spanish). Therefore, I stay focused and prioritize writing.

I make sure I make time for writing before I make time for just about everything else. I have been saying NO to so many events, conferences, talks, seminars, workshops, I have actually lost count. I feel bad, of course, but my own academic success is my priority, above anybody else’s excitement about having me come and give a talk or present a seminar. I am sticking with whatever commitments I made last year, but working really hard at prioritizing travel for conferences and fieldwork, and not accepting invitations that will yield very little in terms of productive writing or bringing new ideas.

Prioritizing is something that I struggle with on a regular basis, but I am disciplined at doing. There is no other way to be successful in academia, I believe, other than actually being disciplined. 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration, someone said!

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