The beauty of scheduling your workday

After many life changes in the last year I ended up taking some much needed time off from blogging, social media, and most of the internet to just adjust. Since January of 2016 I’ve gone from PhD graduate to postdoc to job searching to landing the dream job I never dreamed of and moving a thousand miles across the country. With so many changes it was very easy to get off schedule and sure enough, that’s how I’ve been feeling. So that got me thinking about how important and….well…beautiful a good schedule can be!

I’ve always been a planner and a fan of scheduling things. It just works for my brain. On Saturday we do laundry and on Sunday we grocery shop. I like order and organization. So why not schedule my work day in a similar way to how I schedule the rest of my life? Sure, my life-schedule doesn’t always go exactly as planned but the structure is there to give me direction. It’s not a big deal if I don’t stick to it exactly…but the purpose is to help make sure the most important things on my list do get accomplished. I’ve always got clean clothes and food for the week thanks to my schedule….so why not apply that to my workday so I can always have things like productivity and satisfaction?

I find that if I don’t have a decent schedule outlined for the day, I tend to get off-task or spend WAY too much time on one task when two others need attention that day as well.

So how to develop a schedule for a workday that can go in a million different directions? For me, I read several things about scheduling before I even realized I wanted to create a scheduled day. For example, I read somewhere that keeping your email open all day is a huge distraction and it leads to task switching and a reduction in productivity (more on productivity in an upcoming post). The article suggested scheduling email checks at 8:30, 12:00, and 4:30. Or in general, when you get to the office, mid-day, and at the end of the day. Not a bad plan.

In order to create a schedule I outlined the things I needed to do each day. Check email is a must…and I like the idea of scheduling it so it’s less of a distraction. Then I need some organization time, I need to schedule writing time. A lot of my work is project based so “Project time” is a good catch-all. Then there’s always the possibility of meetings. I also need to be able to read for my job so reading time is important. And so is lunch. We can’t forget lunch time.

I schedule mine for 9:30, 1:00 and 4:00. I didn’t like checking email before lunch….as I would often get wrapped up in something from my email and then have to rush to eat my lunch so I could make it to the next task. I don’t want to digest my email when I’m trying to enjoy my lunch. By keeping email off and having a notification from my calendar to check it….email is not forgotten and it’s not a distraction.

After I had email on my calendar I knew writing time was important based on several things I’d read and my own experiences…so I added that from 8:30-9:30 with exceptions for the days that I have 8:00am meetings….which are a lot of days. In my perfect world, no meetings would ever be scheduled until after lunch. I’m a morning person and I’m going to do my best work in the morning. Meetings aren’t (productive) work. Meetings are talking. I can do that anytime with little to no caffeine needed. But we don’t live in my perfect world so I have to build my writing time around the people who have scheduled 8:00am meetings. So some days I get an hour to write, some days it is just a half hour…but any time is better than the large expanses of no writing time scheduled….

Now that we have email and writing down….what other job requirements do I have? For me, I have a lot of projects I work on but they vary. So I scheduled my lunch and project times in one hour increments. In the afternoon I scheduled project work OR meeting time just as a reminder that if the meeting time is up to me, it will be after 1pm.

Then I also need to do a good deal of reading for my job. I can’t write or do research if I don’t read. So I schedule writing time with coffee (BONUS) for 10:00am.

Here’s what my ideal day would look like:

Scheduling | ProjectsHalfDone.png

 

I typed this up in word and set the background to black and took a screenshot. My computer background is black and so this image pops up on my background…to help me remember how to have my best day. I find that when I can stick to this schedule or as close as possible to this schedule, I have a very productive and happy day. Who doesn’t want to make it to 5pm and feel satisfied and productive?

For me, scheduling works. Keeping the email turned off works. Scheduling writing time is how this blog post happened. I hope it’s how more continue to happen.

Do you have your ideal schedule written out? What do you do when meetings or other things get in the way of your plans? What’s one part of your day you try and keep at the same time each day? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Difficulty of Dissertating (or working) From Home

ProjectsHalfDone | Dissertating from home

 

It’s over.

Finally.

Dissertation defended. Edits done. ETD submitted. Done. (Oh, and I passed, by the way)

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working and dissertating from home. My assistantship with my department ended, and although I did secure some part-time employment, it was all computer based so I worked from home. Every day I had to find the motivation to get up and do some actual work, whether that was writing my dissertation or doing work-related items, I had to force myself to get into that mindset.

Working from home…and being motivated every day was hard.

So.

Very.

Hard.

There were days when I wanted to lay in bed all day. There were days when I wanted to binge watch all of Netflix. There were days when I didn’t want to shower or put on real pants. There were days that those things happened. But how does that help me? Aside from the fact that everyone does need some down time…doing those things didn’t move me any closer to my goal of graduating. But I pushed through, and while it wasn’t easy, I did learn a lot, and I did finish. Finally.

So I want share some of my tips on managing the work/life balance when work and life are happening in the same space. Whether you are working on your dissertation or just working from home, the struggle is very real! These tips are what got me through the last 6 months.

Tip 1: Dress the part! You’ve heard this. I know you have. We all know we should do it. Get up and get showered and get dressed like you’re going in to the office. Or at least put on jeans. Or real pants. You can do this. It will cue you to be in “work-mode”. It sets the tone for the day. Sweat pants are for watching TV and being a bum on the couch. Yoga pants are for yoga. Put on your big-girl-work-pants and do work!!

Tip 2: To-Do list your day. Write down what you want to accomplish. Use a planner or a schedule or just a piece of paper, but set some goals for the day. It will help you become focused and it will also feel really awesome when you get to check off an item. Start with little things like “Shower” if you have to. I use the Bullet Journal system (more on this in another post) and instead of putting a check in the box, I fill it in. This way, if I’ve made progress on an item I can halfway fill it in, to show that I worked on the task but didn’t complete it.

Tip 3: Have a designated work space. Again, you’ve heard this. Don’t work where you sleep. Don’t work where you relax. Don’t work where there are distractions! We know this. It’s easier said than done. Fortunately, I do have the space in my home to have a designated “office”. Technically it also serves as a craft room, but I keep the desk fairly clutter free so I have space for my laptop, books, and of course my To-Do list. Wherever your space, make sure you set it up for your work each day. Even if you are using your dining room table, make sure that you’ve got things cleared away, and your workspace defined so you can focus.

Tip 4: Time yourself! No, I don’t mean work as fast as you can. After reading a lot of news articles and blogs on productivity, I decided to try working in increments. The advice is to work for around 48 to 90 minutes, and then take a 12-17 minute break (This depends on which article you read.). Using the timer on your phone or any other timing device can help you break up your day and keep you from getting super-bored. I used the 90/15 minute ratio. It also allowed me to shift from doing my work-work to working on my dissertation. I didn’t feel guilty for watching a 5 minute funny video on youtube…because I’d scheduled that break. Find the ratio that works for you and stick to it!

Tip 5: Leave the house. Seriously. At least a few times a week, leave your house. This could be to go outside and exercise, putting on real clothes and going to the grocery store, or my favorite, going to work in a coffee shop. By nature, we are social creatures. Being home alone, by yourself, all day long, all WEEK long, is not good for the long-term. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, go outside. Switching up your environment will also refresh your brain and generate new ideas, moving you closer to your goals with work or with your degree.

For me, working from home is coming to an end as I am getting ready to start my post-doc. I’m excited to join the real world again on a daily basis, but I’m glad I did have this opportunity to work from home temporarily. I learned a lot about myself and my work habits. A lot of these I will carry over into my new job. Especially the Bullet Journaling and the timed breaks.

Do you work from home? What do you do to stay focused? What roadblocks have you found when trying to stay focused? Share your tips in the comments!

Operation Organization

So we are a little over a month in to 2015. I know a lot of people have “Get organized” as a new years resolution. Was it one of yours?
For me, I usually don’t do new years resolutions. Generally, I might have some goals i want to do for the year, but I don’t write them down and commit to them with any sort of significance at the start of a new year. However I do find this time of year to be good for revamping, cleaning out, reorganizing etc.
In particular, this new year meant a new planner for me! I had heard about the Passion Planner from New Faculty. It was a Kickstarter that grew to epic proportions. (Sidebar: I do know they have had issues filling orders, the strikes at the west coast ports have slowed them down, and a lot of people are unhappy. I ordered mine in November and it got here the last week of January. I can’t find much to complain about, she offered the printable for free, you can’t predict when something is going to go viral…or shipping issues. I still think it’s a great company.) Last year I didn’t use a planner much at all and relied mostly on Evernote and google calendar. (More on how I use Evernote here) I missed the physical list-making and planner. I like organizing my week and day.
I really love the Passion Planner’s features. It has several writing and goal-setting prompts. These aren’t available in the free printables as far as I can tell. At first I thought it was a little corny but then I went through the exercise and it’s really helpful for me right now, as I’m trying to finish my dissertation, find a job, graduate, and work on some personal goals. This systems helps me be able to sort through all the different projects and zero in on the specifics I need to attend to each month and each week.
I discovered this world of stickers, planner communities, etc. So my planner does get a little crazy looking, but it makes me happy.
Right now, my system is that on Sunday I take some time to plan out my week, then I fill in parts as I go through the rest of the week. Do I need all the stickers and washi? No. But it makes my heart happy. I actually find it fairly relaxing. It’s like painting or drawing but without all the materials and mess. It really does engage the artistic part of my brain, and I need that sometimes after hours and hours of lit review.
But mostly, taking dedicated time each Sunday to plan my week helps me to consider what’s coming up, what projects I need to focus on, weekly goals, travel, and other things.
Then Monday is when I double check my google calendar and Evernote system. I rely on these for most of the week if I’m out of the office or in a lot of meetings. Anytime I have an idea or reminder to myself, it goes in Evernote. Anytime someone asks for a meeting, I pull up google on my phone. However I have started to integrate these in to my planner, just as a secondary verification.
Why the duplication, you ask? I like having the physical planner that I can go back to and say “Oh yeah, I DID do that project with Joe Smith on Tuesday 3 weeks ago”. Accountability. Paper trail. It’s so easy to delete, change, or mislabel something on my computer. On the planner, it’s clear. Cross the meeting out if it was canceled. Check it off if it happened. On Google? It’s there or it’s not. That doesn’t tell me enough.
Let’s look at my google calendar, shall we?

ProjectsHalfDone | Getting Organized

Did I go to dads? Did I meet with Matt? Who knows?!?!
Then there’s email to sort through. All sent to Evernote.
ProjectsHalfDone | Email Sorting
And yeah, I can totally check it in my phone and sort all my emails in to their respective projects.
For me, I’m really enjoying having an integrated paper/digital system to get this year under control. I can use the digital part on the go, and the paper to sit down and really focus.
Do you set aside time to plan each week? Are you all digital or all old school? Do you love planner stickers too?! Are you using Evernote to keep track of those little thoughts throughout the day?? How do you keep it all organized? Stay tuned for a post on how I organize my dissertation literature!!

TSW to the GTD

Soooo…is everyone familiar with Getting Things Done and The Secret Weapon? Outlook? Evernote?

If you’re not, then click around and check out the awesomeness (in the order listed above).

Last week in class Tony Brainstorms stopped by again and shared with us TSW. Blew my mind. I’m still digesting all the info he gave us, but I’m trying this system. So far, I haven’t ran in to anyone else using it, but it really seems for my future career goals as a professor that it would be really useful, not to mention useful now as a PhD student.

So I’m going to tell you how I got started and the issues I’ve found so far in case you decide to try it out.

Background:

I’d been using Evernote for about a year for note taking in class. Not much more than that.

I had Outlook set up to receive my .edu address emails. I also have gmail for personal things. My .edu FWD’s to my gmail but my gmail doesn’t go to Outlook.

I have a mac and iPhone.

Setup:

So first I watched all the videos…a few times. Then I emailed some question to Tony and he was kind enough to respond. Watching of the videos is kind of a critical step.

I followed some of the steps in the videos, but since I already had both account set up, my process was a little different. The hardest part for me was reconfiguring how I had Evernote set up. I was operating on more of a Notebook system than a Tagging system.

I did not read the book, yet. I’ve asked for it for a present. Pulled the broke grad student card on my parents. (Hush. If it’s not vital to my life, I shouldn’t buy it.)

I started by creating all the tags suggested in TSW. I modified some to fit my profession and added a few like “:) Completed Task”.

Then I pulled up my notebooks and moved them into stacks. I have one for my Tasks, one for Personal, one for Coursework, and one for Other PhD work. I use the coursework one for different notebooks for different classes and the PhD one for my dissertation and assistantship notes. These notebooks are for actual, long, in-depth notes. The Tasks one is my main group.

So after I rearranged notebooks and created tags, I tagged all the things. Every note. Yes, this did take some time. I spent around 3 hours doing just these steps.

Next I imported my “To Do’s” in to my Action Pending notebook. Normally I have some To Do items in a notebook, some more long-term ones on Google Tasks, then some others in a Check List app. I consolidated. It was TERRIFYING.

I hung out with this system for a few days, just getting used to the tagging, notebooks, and training myself to do the nightly review. I found that I had huge brain dumps at night and could really get a lot of things in the list by thinking through my day.

Finally, I sat down to clear out the inbox. Since I’m using Outlook on a Mac, I DO NOT have a button in Outlook for Evernote. This is not a current option. There are some scripts out there that you can run if you are tech-savvy but that’s beyond my capability right now. So I went through my inbox and either deleted, moved or FWD’ to Evernote all of the things. I did this in Outlook AND Gmail. Again, it was terrifying. But then I realized…it works. I would keep an email from a group member about an upcoming meeting in my inbox to remind me of the meeting…even if it was on my calendar. But with it in evernote, it’s now a reminder, AND I can make notes on the meeting and when I’m done it can go to completed tasks or the notebook it belongs in. Often I would have that meeting, then FORGET to move the email to the archive…and every 3 weeks or so I would end up with 3 pages of emails I hadn’t archived or hadn’t dealt with.

Going through them in Evernote also allowed me to make a comment on what the email was about. For example I FWD’d a message that came through as “FWD UPS Tracking for Package from XYZ”. Normally I keep these emails to remind me that packages are coming in case they get lost. In this case, it’s a package that I need to get and take a picture of when it arrives. So I changed the title of that note to “Take picture upon arrival” then the rest of the note has the shipping info and everything else from the email. I can title emails to something useful. So instead of a group member emailing me “Hi there” as a title, I can change it to “You need to do X for this project”. I like this a lot. It works for my brain.

I’m also jotting blog ideas down for later use and tagging them with the tag “Blog”. Hopefully that will let me have fresh content and update more.

I have only been using this system since last Wednesday and have just integrated email last night. Right now, the inbox is still empty. I’m on top of it. I hope it stays this way…but it will take some personal discipline. I really do find it useful to merge my email and task list….because a LOT of my emails correspond to tasks I need to get done. I’m also finding it useful to tag people like my advisor in the notes, that way when I meet with her I can ask her about all these languishing projects that I had honestly forgotten about as well, but had email records of.

Merging notes is also great because if I have several emails about the same project, and one or two To Do’s for it, I can stick them together.

So for the first week…I’m liking this system. But there are some issues I’ve found

Drawbacks

As I’ve mentioned, it’s not as seamless as it could be with Macs. Hopefully that will change in the future. Other things I would like to see from the program are recurring tasks and recurring alerts. OR the ability to make multiple alerts for one item. Some tasks, like “Nightly check” need to happen every night. I have those listed in !Daily and I just keep them there as reminders.

I would also like for the tags to sort a little differently. I can nest them under each other, for example my tag “Qual Class” is under “Professional Projects” and “.Active Projects”. But I have to tag Active and Professional separately from Qual. I would like it if I could just tag it “Qual” and the other tags would also include it because it’s a nested tag. That would help with filtering for searches.

Overall the issues are minor, and I hope they can be eliminated by future program improvements.

For more info, there’s some good stuff in the Evernote Forums on the topic.

Is anyone else out there using TSW? I’d love to hear your thoughts and methods!