Organizing Information…

April 20, 2008

Last time I spoke about using means allow you to capture all of the incoming responsibilities you have. This time, I want to talk about organizing that information.

1. A Calender.

It is essential to have a calender of some sort in your life. As a graduate student you have meetings, talks, deadlines, lab schedules, projects, papers, and conferences that need to be managed. Most people use a calender as a to do list, and this is not at all its intended function. A calender should only be used to schedule where you MUST be at a specific time and place. It is an adjunct to your to-do list.

Some people prefer using a paper based calender or day planner which is fine, I however prefer Google calender for several reasons. First, I can access from anywhere I have a computer. If I don’t have a computer with me I can record information into my to-do book and enter it later. Second, it allows you to have several calenders whose agendas may be added or removed with the click of a button. I have six calenders listed: Teaching, Research, Service, Meetings/Deadlines, Personal and my wifes work schedule. This allows me to highly organize my schedule not only by date and time, but category. Third, you can invite people to get access to one of your calenders. Take for examples my wifes work schedule. She plans out her schedule via her account, invited me to have access and now we can share this information between us. I do the same thing for my research schedule so that other labmates know when and what equipment I will be using in our lab. Lastly, you can have reminders sent to your email or mobile phone.

2. Weekly To-do lists.

Everyday I organize my captures from my inboxes (email, to-do notebook, and physical inbox) into the online program todoist. Todoist is a simple online program that allows me to create categories (and even subcategories) of important areas in my life. I have 6 main categories: Teaching, Research, Service, Personal, People I Must contact and People I Waiting To Here From. Under each I have several subcatogories. Under research for example, I have five subcategories of my five ongoing research projects. This allows me not only to capture and categorize important details, but also to assign due dates and rank things by importance. Further, Todoist has a simple interface and allows you to sort you lists by due date, importance and category. This allows me to ID projects that need to be completed for the week, and prioritize how/when I will accomplish them. Other online software is available like Orchestrate and Remember the Milk, but I prefer the streamline nature of todoist. This takes about 5-10 minutes each day.

3. Daily To-do lists (Moutains and Molehills).

Before I leave work, I add all the captures I made that day from my inboxes and place them into todoist. Later that night, I review my calender to get an estimate of how much time I have available during that day. I use todoist to review my due dates and ranked importance of my list. I pick 2-3 “Moutians” and 2-3 “molehills” I want to accomplish the following day and write them on a post it pad. Identifying which tasks I need to perform is easy, as I have already placed them into categories and ranked them by order of importance. When I arrive at work the following morning, the post it note gets placed on my computer monitor and I immediately get to work on the first task of the day. After I finish my first mountain, I cross it off my list, and delete if from todoist.

It’s amazing how much of a difference having a plan of attack makes to actually accomplishing things in the day. You feel more organized, less stressed, and always know what to do next. Also I have found great motivation to get tasks done simply because I get to cross items off of my list. It steamrolls your productivity.

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