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.