Skip to content

Organization and Time Management

This page is intended to collate my posts on time management, organizational skills, and workflow design. I have written about how I organize my books, my journal articles and book chapters, how I approach digital document management, and how I plan my academic and personal lives. If you’re looking for my Everything Notebook™ posts, click here.

The “Accomplish 2 Things Before Anything Else Happens” approach to dealing with academic life under pressure.

As Dr. Sarah Cavanagh said, in times when there’s leeway, we can use the No Email Before Noon rule, but during crunch times, we can get 2 things done before we delve into the maremagnum of daily activities and things we need to get done.

Developing a structured daily routine for writing and research

My students often ask me “how can I better structure my day to be more productive?” I cannot claim that I know the answer to this, but this blog post explains how I developed my own routine and why I use a very structured and regimented process for everything I do, from reading, to writing, to researching, to preparing lectures, and to organizing my life.

Should you MEPFED or WOPED?

I am a champion of Moving Every Project Forward Every Day (MEPFED), though lately I’ve been doing Work on One Project Every Day (WOPED). In this post, I explain the difference between both of these methods and moments when I believe one works better than the other.

Prioritizing work and the TOMs/TOTOs hierarchy

A challenging aspect of managing a research career is the self-management aspect of priority setting. How do we decide when to write and who should take precedence? Here I offer two categories: Text that I Owe to Others (TOTO) and Text that I Owe to Myself (TOM). The trick is to balance TOMs and TOTOs.

Mental and physical, home and office “spring cleaning” and a conversation about habits

It’s hard for me to stay focused if I don’t follow some rigid habits. One of these is to conduct a “spring cleaning”, which is often mental (clearing my projects’ deck) and physical (donating, recycling, and dumping stuff in all my offices). I do this to have peace of mind, and this strategy may help others too.

6 strategies to focus on research and writing

I am easily distracted, and therefore I need to engage in som self-hacking where I force myself to regain focus through a few tricks. Here are some of my own strategies on how I get back on track when derailed and how I avoid spending hours in the inner depths of Twitter and Facebook and the Internet.

The Sunday night planning strategy

People often plan their week in variegated ways. Personally, I prefer to spend some time on Sunday nights planning what I will be doing the following week. This blog post explains my strategy.

My planning process for the entire year, using the Everything Notebook (and printed monthly calendars)

I always plan my entire year (beyond the academic year, I need to plan the full year from January to December). This post explains in detail how I do this process, using my Everything Notebook AND a set of printed calendars.

Taking your own time back: The No Email Before Lunch Rule

A lot of people ask me when do I start looking at my email. To force myself to work, I try to focus on writing emails and reading them after lunch, or at least, after noon. This helps me regain my focus on research and writing.

Building redundancies in your workflow.

A lot of people ask me why I have a paper-based To-Do list system, along with a combined paper-and-online calendar and scheduling system. My answer is that building redundancies helps me be more organized and ensure that I don’t forget stuff.

Simplifying your document processing: The Four Trays Method

I am always anti-clutter, and am also often worried about accumulating documents that need to be read, filed, and processed. So I decided to create a technique that would allow me to delegate some of the filing, and do some of the processing myself. I call this the Four Trays Method.

8 strategies to keep up with your reading while on a teaching semester

The long-story-made-short version of this post is: book time to read, because that’s the only way in which you’re going to be able to keep up with the literature. Make reading your priority. In this post I describe a few strategies that I use to keep up with my reading even during teaching semesters.

Granular planning and the Rule of Three

In this post I explain how I break down every single project in thirds, and how that helps me plan my research agenda and my weekly and daily To-Do lists.

A few strategies to start up your work day

In this post, I reflect on four strategies I have used (and hopefully others can use too!) to start my day off right instead of answering email and/or surfing the web.

Should you write for 2 hours or aim to do research for 2 hours every morning?

My answer to this question (in long-form inside the blog post) is – do what is best for you.

Backcasting a research project or a paper

In this post, I explain how I “reverse engineer” from the outcomes of a project backwards to the list of tasks I need to engage in to complete said project. Backcasting (that’s the name of the technique) can be applied to single papers or full-fledged, multi-year research projects.

Strategies to sustain your research during teaching-heavy semesters

One of the biggest challenges for me as a professor has always been how to sustain my research productivity during a teaching-intensive semester. Here I offer some strategies I use for my own work.

Waking up early to work (and write)

This post explains my absurdly early rising time (e.g. 4am) to write, read, and do research more generally speaking.

Synchronizing my weekly and daily planners (in digital and analog)

Preparing my To-Do lists once a week and checking on them on an everyday basis both in digital and analog allows me to maintain focus. This post explains how I do it.

The 30 minute challenge: Achieving short term goals

Inspired by Dr. Aimee Morrison and Dr. Jo VanEvery, I tested what kind of activities I could achieve in increments of 30 minutes. This post reflects this exercise. Long story made short: you can do A LOT in 30 minute increments.

KonMari your campus desk and office: The benefits of decluttering your academic life
I find that having a clean and organized work space helps me concentrate, find the tools I need for my work, and keeps me strongly motivated. In this post I explain the Marie Kondo “KonMari” method of Tidying Up, and how I apply it to my campus and home offices.

Keeping yourself motivated: The Quick Wins method

Different people have different methods of keeping track of their goals. Writing long lists of To-Do items makes my brain freeze and I am unable to get motivated to do work. To counter this I use the Quick Wins method (a simple list of “things I can quickly accomplish and feel like I have done something for the day”).

My daily workflow: On focusing on ONE task at a time

I always recommend that scholars keep a pipeline of projects at various stages and that they move each manuscript on an everyday (or every week) basis. However, when I need to finish a project, I simply zero in on it and focus solely on that task. Here I explain how I achieve this ability to focus.

My Fall 2016 schedule: building flexibility into my calendar

I used to schedule myself to the every minute. Despite my Type A personality, this did not go well. In this post I explain why I have now implemented a much looser schedule. I still prioritize self-care and writing, but I now have many more buffers for unexpected activities.

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

Before I implemented the work breakdown method (very used in the project management literature), I would write on my daily planner “finish the literature review for bottled water paper”. This isn’t helpful. What I do now is that I break down every project by task, and those tasks, I make them of a smaller size by creating accomplishable tasks. I don’t attempt to Do All The Things, I simply write down what I can accomplish in one day. This post explains the process.

My daily workflow: Budgeting time and scheduling projects

I used to believe that I was super fast for everything, and then I realized that even the smallest, most menial things take time (try to assemble all your receipts from a research trip and submit the reimbursement slip in less than an hour, for example). This post explains why now I not only break projects down into smaller tasks, but also build buffers into my schedule for “stuff that may come up“.

Working at home vs working on campus

I am lucky enough that I have a dedicated, separated work space both at home and on campus. My policy is: unless it’s a teaching day (when I have to come to campus very early) or a day when I have meetings early in the morning (which I hope never happens to me, ever again in my entire life), I only come to campus until I’ve finished something at home. In this post I explain the rationale for this policy.

Organizing PDFs of journal articles, books and book chapters

This post reflects the digital version of my organization strategy for the physical archives I have in my campus and home offices. Given that I am obsessed with organizing my stuff for easy access, I also have a pretty demanding model for how I organize my digital files. This blog post describes my strategy.

Organizing journal articles and books

This post explains the analog version of my digital file organization strategy. I organize books, reports, journal articles, grey literature in a way that allows my brain to quickly access it.

Follow your energy cycles

I recommend that people work according to their circadian rhythms.

Prioritizing tasks in academic life

The best way to move forward is to prioritize whatever you put in your To Do List. In this post I explain some strategies I use to set specific priority hierarchies.

Seven ways to procrastinate productively as an academic

Feeling like you need to procrastinate or simply feeling stuck? This post offers ways in which you can make that “non-productive time” somewhat productive.

Productivity apps for academics

This is a round-up post regarding online applications that can help academics keep track of their time and schedule their tasks and create to-do lists.

A clean slate: Moving forward in academic writing by starting over

I completely cleared my deck earlier last year, and it helped me rethink where I was going both with my research trajectory and my annual plan.

You can share this blog post on the following social networks by clicking on their icon.

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. 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

    […] (if you’re not already following him on twitter, you should be!). He has a great page on Organization and Time Management on his blog which includes lots of great suggestions, including the ‘Accomplish 2 Things Before […]

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.