Post Academic

Reading Getting Things Done So You Don’t Have To: The Basic Principles

Posted in Crib Notes,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on September 27, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension“So You Don’t Have To” is a series inspired by financial blog The Simple Dollar, in which author Trent Hamm reads books on finance, reviews them and sums up their most helpful points. I’m reading books that are useful to academics and post academics in particular. You guys already have enough to read, anyway.

I’ll cover Getting Things Done over a few posts, but I recommend buying the book, not because I don’t think I can cover everything but because this book is valuable and worth the money. The Simple Dollar also goes into GTD in great detail. For Post Academic, I’m covering the main concepts and not the exact items you need to purchase or methods to follow because you’ll need to adapt GTD to your own work day.

Now, on to the overall principles of GTD and how they relate to academics and post academics. Author David Allen offers many examples of how to implement GTD, but his strong suit is boiling everything down into three points that thread their way throughout the book:

Point #1: First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.

In academia, it seems as if everything is unfinished. That paper can always be revised. You could always add more comments to student papers. You could read that book that doesn’t really relate to your research … but if you don’t, someone will ask you a question about it at a conference, and you won’t get a tenure-track job PANIC PANIC PANIC … and so forth. Nothing seems to finish, but you can trick the system if you trick yourself into gathering up all the tasks you need to do (that means all of them, even the ones that don’t seem important) and getting tasks out of your head so you aren’t gnawing on them. Then you can focus on the tasks at hand and get them done faster.

More after the jump! Image of an old-school electronic organizer from Wikimedia Commons, by Satmap under a Free Art License.

Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.

Why are you in grad school? Seriously. Are you there to teach? Are you there because you see yourself as a professor in seven or eight years? Are you in grad school because you really love a certain writer or genre? I loved studying the history of the novel and why narrative has such a powerful cultural impact … but I couldn’t see myself teaching, nor could I see myself putting up with being told what a crappy teacher I was all the time. If you can’t see yourself as an academic a few years down the line, you might want to switch from academic to post academic.

Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.

So you do see yourself as an academic after all. You’ve jumped through the low hoops. Now it gets tough. You can reach your goal a whole lot faster if you get organized. People assume all academics are absent-minded and disorganized because they are too brilliant to deal with ordinary matters, but the truth is that academics have far more job duties than hamsters. Each job duty, from teaching to service to writing, is so different that gear-shifting takes time. In the Hamster World, many daily tasks are similar and just apply to different projects.

The only way to juggle these tasks is to get organized. Organization gives you a sense of control over your life. Even if that sense of control is illusory (and it likely is), you will relieve your stress by getting a bunch of worries off your mind. And there is no reason for professors to be seen as “absent-minded.” It’s just a cultural trope (see The Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor Stereotype on Film series for proof), and you don’t have to buy into it.

On Wednesday, David Allen’s tips on how to make organization a little less annoying …

2 Responses to 'Reading Getting Things Done So You Don’t Have To: The Basic Principles'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Reading Getting Things Done So You Don’t Have To: The Basic Principles'.

  1. Mackie Blanton said,

    I suggest you not send anything more for at least a month so that we can go through this post together as a discourse community. What a treasure we have here: Getting Things Done, The Simple Dollar, Crib Notes, Surviving Grad School. I don’t know where to begin. Ah -ha! — there’s another book for you: Where to Begin When You Don’t Know Where to Begin. Think you so very much.

  2. Dan said,

    For implementing GTD you can use this web application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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