After reading these books and others (especially Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen), I came to realize that effective time management is a matter of aligning your every move with your long-term vision.
Before worrying too much about time management, give some thought to your long-term vision for your career. Many people, if pressed, can figure out a five-year plan for their career. However, it is much more difficult to imagine the long-term future. Despite the difficulty of doing so, it can be a great exercise.
To get an idea as to what your vision is, you must ask yourself:
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
- Where do I want to be in twenty years?
If you are currently in graduate school, it is often hard to think beyond the immediate goals of finishing coursework, passing comprehensive exams, and defending a dissertation. If you are on the tenure-track, it can be difficult to even imagine anything beyond the goal of getting tenure. I don't expect anyone to provide an immediate answer to the question of what your vision is. However, I do think that it is important to reflect on this question and to realize that there is more than one career path, even for academics.
For example, some people may have the goal of becoming University President. Others may wish to become the President of their disciplinary association. Still others may wish to lead an institute, a social justice center, or a teaching institute. Some academics may want to be head of the department. Others might want to get tenure and start a business on the side, or spend most of their time gardening. The point is that there are many potential goals an academic could have. And, there are distinct paths to each.
If your long-term goal is to be the President of your disciplinary association, your everyday decisions should be distinct from a person whose long-term goal is to be the head of a teaching institute on campus. Ideally, your vision, your five-year plan, your semester plan, your weekly plan, and what you do each day should all be aligned.
Imagine going through life knowing that each action you take is aligned with your long term vision. That would be fundamentally different from making decisions on the basis of your immediate needs, and saying yes or no to requests primarily based on feeling external or internal pressure to commit to others.
I believe academics have the power to take control of their lives. I also believe that it is remarkably empowering to take control. Taking control does not mean shunning every request for service or refusing to attend meetings. Instead, it means seeking out opportunities for service, research, and teaching that will get you closer to your long-term goals and declining opportunities that do not move you in the direction you have decided you are going.
To take control of your career, follow these five steps:
- Develop your vision for your career.
- Develop a five-year plan based on your vision. Check out Karen Kelsky's post on this as well as one here.
- Make a semester plan that will get you to your five-year plan. Check out this post as well on semester planning.
- Plan out your weeks so that you meet your semester goals. Here is another a great post on this.
- Execute your plan on a daily basis. For most of us, that means writing every day.