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The “Accomplish Two Things Before Anything Else” approach: Dealing with academic life under pressure

As I’ve stated before, I’m a professor at a very small university with wonderful colleagues so I enjoy the privilege of having smaller class sizes and a lower teaching load. However, I feel the same pressures to publish, teach, do service as many others because the expectation in my institution is that we behave as though we are in an R1, which puts enormous levels of pressure on our performance.

AcWri while travelling

I am currently chairing two searches for new tenure-track faculty and thus I can’t use my No Email Before Noon rule at least until the searches are completed, so I’ve been trying to find a way in which I can continue doing my research without letting down my institution and job candidates. To do this, I try to follow even more closely my “Accomplish Two Things Before Anything Else” approach. I usually do this on a regular basis, but now that I’m under more pressure to respond to emails in the morning and throughout the day, it’s become even more important that I do it.

The Accomplish Two Things Before Anything Else approach is quite simple. I set out to write SOMETHING and read SOMETHING every day. Even if it’s writing 25 words of a new memorandum, or just the first page or abstract of a new-to-me research article or book chapter, I try to write and read every day.

Every. Single. Day.

I don’t get out of the house nor do I open my email before I get *some* writing done and *some* reading done. That’s why I champion smaller goals. During crunch time, I can’t stay sitting at my computer until I crank 1,500 words. So, I set out to accomplish at least two little things. This approach liberates me from the guilt of “you’re not doing your research” and frees my mind to enable me to do the work that I need to do.

I tweeted about this approach so you can open my Twitter thread by clicking anywhere on the tweet below.

And while today I was lucky to write 787 words, other days I write 65 words and that should be enough. Today I’ll do an AIC-CSED combo, because I have enough time, but I could just as easily simply read an article’s abstract because I don’t have any more time. It’s kind of a simplified version of my Quick Wins approach. Two Quick Wins: write a few words, read ONE article. Hopefully this approach works for other people!

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Prioritizing work and the TOMs/TOTOs hierarchy – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on December 1, 2019

    […] I said on Twitter, for my #2ThingsADay I focus on TOMs, and when I get to campus, I work on the TOTOs – this may sound selfish, but […]

  2. Tomato Timers, Research Days, and Coffee with your Project: How to balance Teaching and Research | Dr Laura Varnam linked to this post on February 9, 2020

    […] and Time Management on his blog which includes lots of great suggestions, including the ‘Accomplish 2 Things Before Anything Else Happens’ approach, how to balance the TOTOs (Text that I Owe to Others) and TOMs (Text that I Owe to […]

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