Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A step-by-step guide to being an organized person in academia

How can you be an academic with an organized life? How can time management be applied to academics? I have been practicing time management for about five years, and can share with you what works for me.

This post summarizes how I keep myself organized during the semester. I have learned a variety of organizational tools from participating in Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s workshops, reading David Allen and Julie Morgenstern’s books, and following blogs such as the Professor Is In, Gina Hiatt, and Meggin McIntosh. In sum, there is a lot of information out there about time management, but I thought I’d summarize what I find works for me.

Hipster PDA

Annual Goals

Each January, I take stock of what I have done the previous year, and make a list of what I would like to accomplish in the coming year. Then, I separate that list out into months.

In January 2012, I wrote out a list that began like this:

2012 Goals
- Finish Deported book
    o DRAFT: INTRO Ch 1. Ch 2. Ch 3. Ch 4. Ch 5. Ch 6. Ch 7. Ch 8.
    o Citizenship notes
    o Incorporate discussion of TRAC data
    o Revise chapters

Then, I broke that (longer) list down into months:

January Goals
- OUP Chapter 3
- Guate interviews
- Guate draft
- Submit Human Rights piece to Sociology
- Submit jokes article to ERS
- Summit speech
- Publish op-ed
- Finalize SOC 780 syllabus
- Finalize SOC 332 syllabus
- AJS review
- Paper to ASA

I took all of my 2012 goals and mapped them onto the 12 months in the year 2012. I printed out my 2012 goals and posted them on the wall in my office. I also saved the file in my Dropbox folder that I call “PLANS” so that I could access it from anywhere. Then, I took a little break, and made up my semester plan.

Semester Plan

My semester plan is a bit more detailed than my Annual Plan, as it breaks down each month into weeks. Here is the first week of January:
January Week 1 (January 2-6)
- Human Rights piece to Sociology: Read through. Send to CM.
- 6 Guate interviews
- Talk for UH
- Summit Speech
- Outline/Plan OUP Chapter 3
- Set up mentoring for SREM

Weekly Plan

Each week, at the beginning of the week, I take my weekly plan and break it down even farther – into days.

Monday: 1 Guate interview. Read through HR.
Tuesday: 1 Guate interview. Finalize HR – send to CM. Summit speech.
Wednesday: 2 Guate interviews. Summit speech. UH Talk.
Thursday: 1 Guate interview. UH Talk. SREM Mentoring.
Friday: 1 Guate interview. UH Talk. Outline/Plan OUP Ch 3

I then map each of those tasks onto my calendar, like this:
Monday: 9am-11am: revise HR. 11am-1pm: Guate interview, etc.

At the end of the week, I do a weekly review, where I cross off my list those tasks I completed, and move to the next week those tasks I did not complete. The tasks I didn’t complete get moved to the following week. I always keep my semester plan and my weekly plan in my Dropbox folder so that I can access them from anywhere to make sure I am working on the right project.

Daily Execution

Each morning, I get up and look at my weekly plan so that I know exactly where to start. I try really hard to not check email, Facebook, or Twitter before writing. Then, I try to stick to my schedule and get what I need to get done. Things never go exactly according to schedule, but it seems things go better when I plan.


  1. Great post, Tanya! On Friday, when I have a bit of flexibility in my schedule, I'm going to make a plan. I am also so motivated by your post on the 40-hour work week that after over a decade of doing this job, I'm going to work nights and weekends no more. I feel like I'm missing my kids grow up! You're lucky to have had a 40-hour role model so you learned it early. I bet these plans, and daily writing, help keep you on track. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas! You make it seem manageable, if not easy!

  2. I really love making detailed plans like that. But usually a weekly plan made on Monday just makes sense on Monday. On Tuesday there are already so many external "distractions" - students who need attention, equipment that breaks down, supervisor who wants to get something done until yesterday - that I have to start all over again.
    Does that get better with practise as well? Or with promotion? (=

    1. I leave lots of spaces in my weekly plan for distractions that come along. For example, I schedule an hour of email in the afternoons.

  3. This is a really great post. I have a five year plan, semester plan, and weekly plans. I don't have an annual plan though, which will help. I also have not be sticking to doing "Sunday meetings" as much as I should, so my weekly plans are sometimes not complete. Thanks!

    1. Sure. I know how it goes. I often slack on the planning, and then write a post to remind myself how important it is ;)

  4. Tanya - this is fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great ideas, if only i had the discipline to stick to them!