Assigning Priorities…

April 24, 2008

Being able to take all of the incoming tasks in your graduate life and accurately define the importance of them is one of the great keys to a happy & successful graduate career. I have found it is what makes the difference between those barely keeping their heads above water, and those that are not just surviving — but thriving. What one needs is a system that can be used consistantly and accurately to assign degrees of importance to incoming tasks.

The most effective means I have found to do this is by using Stephen Covey’s quadrants. Below is a simplified version of Covey’s quadrants that I made for myself in powerpoint. I have printed this off and keep a copy of this posted near my workstation.

When new information comes to an inbox, I organize that information in my to-do list (or on Todoist) and attach a corresponding value to the task based on Covey’s suggestion. So how do you exactly determine if something is a 1,2,3, or 4? What are the criteria for determining if something is important enough to be labeled “important”? For me this is simple. I have a large goal in mind, that of becoming a productive research faculty member at a research intensive university. Thus, I view my doctorate program as an apprenticeship to that goal. I attempt to take on the same obligations as faculty that hold such positions. The things that are important to me usually fall under four categories: my own coursework, research, teaching and service. By demonstrating that I have already done the things that faculty must do (research, teaching and service) — I am hoping that future employers will see me as a low risk investment compared to other new graduates. Anything else that does not fall within those goals are “interruptions” or “trivia” that I do not need to waste substantial time on.

The key to Covey’s quadrant is to spend the majority of your time on quadrant 2 (important, not urgent) activities. This allows you to gain control over important items long before they are due. If you are doing things correctly, (capturing information, organizing it, and attaching accurate priorities) quadrant 1 should be a very small portion of your week. You should have anticipated and prepared for most of your activities that go in quadrant 1 while they were still in quadrant 2. Concentrating on quadrant 2 is the most fundamental part of being successful, not only in grad school, but also in your professional career.

What about quadrants 3 & 4? Quadrant 3 is usually filled with activities that you must do, but do not have value or importance or you. For me this usually include committee meetings, favors for faculty or the department chair, and other peoples unexpected emergencies. If I have time to accomplish these things, fantastic. I go for it full-steam. This can be a worthwhile endeavor from time to time simply because it never hurts to be a helpful colleague to those around you. The bottom line is they never take precedence my work on 1’s & 2’s. Never feel pressured or hesitate to decline something you know is going to end up in quadrant 3. As for the 4’s, honestly I usually never get them done and I just check them off the list. Most of the time these are things I realize are part of my addictions or compulsions and I end up saying “to hell with that”. I prefer to tackle mountains (1’s & 2’s), not the molehills (3’s & 4’s).

So there you have it. An effective and repeatable means by which to prioritize the responsibilities that will be coming into your graduate life. Have a big goal in mind and assess things in that context. Will this help me….”get a postdoc”, “get a faculty position” “complete my dissertation?”. If the answer is YES, it belongs in a 1 or 2. If the answer is NO, do not hesitate to label it as unimportant.

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: