Look at your calendar and then look at your to do list. What’s the difference? Your calendar likely has all of the things you need to do for other people, or at least that have external deadlines. If you’re a grad student, there are classes to take and/or classes to TA. If you’re faculty, there are classes to teach. Then there are meetings, often requiring you to prepare in advance (run some analyses for your adviser; read a dissertation for a defense…). And your classwork, lecture notes, grading, and meeting prep gets done, because you need to report to someone else.
What are the most important things on your to do list? They are likely things without external deadlines. You need to work on your dissertation. Finalize a manuscript. Make progress on a grant proposal. Most of these tasks that are important for your own career development do not have external deadlines, but yet are just as important as grading and classwork and meeting prep.
Now, what is important to you that doesn’t even make your to do list? Exercise? Sleep? Preparing a nice dinner occasionally? Catching up with a friend? Generally, non-work, non-mandatory things don’t even make it to on your to do list. But often, these are the things that energize us, and potentially increase our productivity by making us healthier, more focused, and/or happier.
Successful people are successful because they make time for writing/research. I used to try to use my daytime for meetings, course prep/grading, and prepping for meetings, and save nighttime for writing. But writing often requires the most mental energy, and doing so at night, even for a night owl like me, can be challenging. Instead, if you block off a chunk of time every day for writing, at night you can grade and reply to emails, things that do not require the same mental energy as writing does (for many of us, at least).
One way that people succeed in finding time to write is to block off time on their calendars every day for writing and refuse to schedule meetings during those times. Otherwise, your calendar can fill up and suddenly you have no time to write. If someone asks to meet with you then, you can try moving writing to another time that day. If you don’t have any other free time on that day, you can tell the person you aren’t free then. You don’t need to explain why. Of course, emergencies come up where you may need to use that time, but very few meeting requests are actually emergencies, and you need to value your writing time as much as you value anything else on your calendar.
Don’t stop with writing, though. If exercise is important to you but you rarely get to do it, block it off on your calendar. Again, don’t move it or schedule something else then unless it’s urgent. If you don’t have that time physically on your calendar, it’s too easy to schedule something else in that slot. If a good night’s sleep is important, schedule a bedtime on your calendar. Give yourself the visual cue that you will go to bed at midnight every night this week.
To do lists are great. I love crossing things off (checking them off in Outlook). But to do lists don’t structure our time as well as calendars. Calendars tell us where to be when, and sometimes that’s just what you need to yourself writing, or to the gym, or to bed.
“The post Put it on your calendar first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on January 20, 2014.”