Got a Busy Week Ahead? Get Productive in 30-minutes.
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
A busy week doesn't have to mean a horrible week; get stuff done without losing your cool.
As the semester ramps up in the UK, I'm tackling end of course teaching, collaborative projects, and students queuing up for guidance as they finalise projects. Many of us are in the same boat and this is when we can take our eye off the ball on our own productivity. So here is how I am getting back on track this week and hopefully it might help you too:
If your head is swirling with information and you are not switching off, then find a quiet spot at work, grab a coffee and get everything onto paper or iCal notes. You need to avoid interruptions, so try and move away from your desk. Don't overthink here, just get everything down - your head will thank you for it.
Now that you have your master to-do list, let's get everything into your diary. Allocate some time for each task. Your diary will look like you are having lots of meetings with yourself (but these meetings are just tasks). Now not all of these time segments should be tasks - you need time for lunch, breaks, the daily commute, time for checking email and time for fun stuff (even if it's just 15minutes, it will do you the world of good). If that is quite a full-on approach then try this method as an experiment for a day or two and see how it goes.
For each day circle two or three priorities (colour code them in your digital diary). This helps you to stay focused. By the end of the day, if you have a good go at priorities 1-3, you will at least feel that you have accomplished something. On that note, if your line manager/research supervisor has given you multiple projects to focus on there is no harm in asking for some clarity in order to meet their expectations. Which one would you prefer me to focus on?
Now sitting at your desk all day isn't going to make you feel great. Make sure that you have diarised some exercise and prioritise it. I'm not saying hop out of the office and get a 10k run done (pat on the back if you do - very impressive). Just get some time in for a walk, a swim, cycle... and yes, dancing on a girls' night out does count as fitness in my book.
Delegate or Drop
Now you might not be in a position where you have someone to delegate to. But I'm taking about delegating everything - could you delegate your weekly shop and do it online? Could you take turns with your housemates to cook dinner? Is there a volunteer that could help you out with a task? Always worth asking - you'll be surprised who comes to your rescue. If you are a feeling a little more flush in the cash department can you pay a cleaner for this week to sort out your flat. Finally, in the cold light of day, take a long hard look at all of your to-do's is there anything else you can drop or cancel?
If you are mad busy tell people colleagues, friends, partners. Sometimes we just don't know what you are up against - no one is a mind reader. Let people know and they will give you a 'wider lane' if you aren't your usual cheery self in the office. No need for a tannoy announcement, a simple mention will suffice.
Get ruthless with your meetings - not to be unkind to colleagues but those extra minutes can be down time for you, your family, or time to deal with something else. If you are holding a meeting this week, halve the time of it. Plan and circulate an agenda to speed things up. In industry I wouldn't got to a meeting without an agenda. We could do with applying a few more of those rules to academic life. If it's a meeting that someone has asked you to go to ask the colleague which segments they would like your participation/feedback on. Could you pop in for that segment only, send over your contribution in advance or leave the meeting a little earlier? As long as you are not doing it every single meeting then it's not a big deal.
So how do you cope through a busy season? What are your go to tips and tools for getting the most out of your week and still stay sane. You can reach me @drsamlynch