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Getting Things Done

I haven't gotten around to buying David Allen's book of that name just yet, but I have been trying to organize my life a little better. I'm thinking long and hard about requiring all of our students, in the year before they go on the market, to subscribe to Merlin Mann's 43 Folders, if for no other reason to add a relentlessly practical voice to all the other voices they have to deal with as they write dissertations, apply for jobs, etc.

I myself have been making personal use lately of Ta-Da lists, and we're using Basecamp as a way of keeping track (keeping us on track) of what we're doing with CCC Online. I'm even thinking about trying out Backpack as a way of keeping track of the various writing projects I'm always engaged in.

The point isn't so much that there's a single answer for each person's needs, and in fact, my engagement with these various tools waxes and wanes. But I've been thinking a lot lately about how I might manage my workflow better--right now, my operative metaphor is an ice cream on a hot summer day, where I have to keep licking around the edges to keep it from dripping and running all over my hand, without ever sizably decreasing the amount of ice cream. My organizational habits have been learned tacitly, from colleagues and professors, and even then, I never really asked about them or gave mine much conscious thought. They just sort of happened, and I always figured that, as long as I didn't piss too many people off or let too much slide, I was doing fine.

That's pretty weak stuff, though, and it doesn't really put me in a position to give advice to our graduate students, most of whom would benefit from an organizational overhaul about as much as I would, I'm guessing. In fact, I'm wondering if something like Basecamp wouldn't actually be a really interesting way of organizing the various exam and dissertation committees I'm on: I could open up a project page for each student that she or he and I would have access to, and we could collaborate on to-do lists and deadlines and use it to keep notes of meetings as well as chart progress. Hmmm.

That's all for now.


My complaint about David Allen's "Getting Things Done" is his 'all or none' mentality. If you don't keep track of every single item that you might ever do then your system is not working.

However, he writes thoughtfully and has many great tips. I love the quotes sprinkled throughout his books. And I really like the concept of "psychic ram" described in his latest book: "Ready for Anything". (See my notes about this concept:http://www.successfulacademic.com/ezines/mar142005.htm )

Another book on organizing and time management that I like is "Order from Chaos" by Liz Davenport. One of her metaphors is that keeping track of your projects is like being an air traffic controller -- if you don't keep all of your planes on the screen they may collide.

Well, his point about "open loops" is well-taken...open loops indeed stress me out and impede my productivity. If everything is kept up with in the system, there are, supposedly, fewer open loops, and the productivity is stress-free. Granted, though, some open loops are more stressful than others.

Collin, my metaphor is a bunch of plates spinning on poles.

And then there's all the timesaving stuff that one would do well to pay attention to. . . .

I had a great mentor who once said something like, "The best processes come down to the people who follow them." (Yeah, if she was that great, you'd think I'd be able to remember what she said). The point is obvious, but the fact that you're concerned with this means that your work (your toil) means a lot to you. At one point, I thought that prioritizing and managing work boiled down to the lame old quality/cost/time triangle. But I've really come to hate that friggin' triangle. It's a cop-out for people who don't care enough about their work or the challenges of continuing to grow and hone their craft. Do me a favor though C, if I catch you reading Steven Covey, give me permission to hit you five or six times with my Binghamton Mets souvenir bat.