As usual Cal over at Study Hacks has made a post that got me thinking.  Specifically, he talks about how he has to take “productivity-free” days in order to get the big projects done that cannot be broken up any smaller.  On those days he checks his calendar for appointments, keeps a capture device handy, but that’s it; he ignore the rest of his system in order to focus on the bigger problems that face a scholar.

I do something similar, although not identical.  If you take a look at my updated student work day you’ll notice that there are several really big chunks of time marked “PhD Work”.  3 of these are REALLY big (7 hours).  I try to allocate those big chunks to work that involves what I call “thinking the big thoughts”; the real meat of being a creative scholar.  There are also lots of small time frames during which I try to handle paperwork, reading articles, returning calls, etc. 

I don’t actually EXPECT to never look at my lists during those big sessions; sometimes I do it just for a break or to feel like I accomplished something that day.  But if I work the week correctly there will be very few of those little things left at the end and I can work on the big ideas during my longer windows.

One other thing I tend to do is to put deadlines on things.  I know that Getting Things Done in it’s strictest sense advises only putting dates on things that REALLY have dates; i.e. a fellowship application that must be submitted by November 1st.  However I have found that little stuff gets put off indefinitely if I don’t create a target for myself.  Then I am left with a huge list that I feel needs tackling on the days that I wanted to try to think big.  So for me it is more productive to put a target date on most activities.  That helps me go into big thoughts with a clearer head and fewer distractions.

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