Sometime in the summer of 2009, I stopped for a second and looked around. Not literally, but around my life. I was married; had a two-year-old and a three-month-old who had been born eight weeks premature; was working full-time in the president’s office at the University of Georgia, and was writing my doctoral dissertation. My wife was working full-time when she wasn’t on maternity leave, and our house was a disaster.
I needed…not a plan exactly, but a way to make sense of all of the different tasks, appointments, goals, and needs that were coming at me. I had always been able to manage, more or less, by the seat of my pants, but the needs of my family and my career were threatening to run me over. So I started to look around how other people got organized and how they managed their time. I looked online and found some good resources and eventually some tools that helped a lot. I’m a reporter by training, so I started reporting on how to get my, umm, act together. This is the closest I’ve come to writing it down as a story.
The most important thing about this is that my system probably won’t work for you as it is. Everything here helps keep me on track despite my own personal flaws: I’m impatient, easily distracted, and often am inclined to spend time looking for shortcuts rather than just getting something done. Whether those match your challenges or not, I hope you’ll see some ideas or some strategies that ring true and that you can use in your own work, whether it’s as a student, as a professional, as a researcher, as a whatever.
The first thing I discovered is that my mentors, colleagues, and friends don’t tend to be very good at explaining how they keep everything running. People will talk about the basics of keeping calendars and to-do lists, but their work process evolves unconsciously, so you’d basically have to live alongside someone to discover how they manage the projects in their lives.
When I was a reporter, my process evolved into a means of organizing notes, appointments, and to-dos by keeping everything in Word documents that matured from to-do lists to stories. I kept a calendar, albeit not very consistently. I had reams of manila folders full of things that I might use sometime, but they were all filed based on what I thought made sense on any given day.
Chief among my many problems was that I tried to keep a running to-do list in my head. Your brain is not equipped to remember lots of little details about lots of things, nor can it remember things when you are best positioned to do something about them. So you have to write stuff down. It’s the only way you can remember to keep track of a web story with interesting information, to sign your son up for soccer practice, to collate all the material you need for a lecture, to get the milk. This is why it drives me nuts when my students don’t take notes.
The second problem is distraction. If you have a bunch of different projects, and the next steps or priorities or action items are scattered among them, you don’t have a good way of making progress unless you shut everything out except for one project until you get it done. No distractions, no competition, no nothing. That isn’t realistic, certainly not for me, and it’s a particularly big problem if you’re writing or doing research. If you come back to a project once a week, it’s really hard to remember what you were doing and thinking when you last left off.
The third thing is priority. If you’re trying to manage a bunch of to-do lists or to keep everything in your head, then you don’t know what’s most important and what’s most important to do when.
The fourth problem is processing new information. I run across interesting things all day long, but if I were to stop and read every one of them, I wouldn’t be doing anything significant on the projects that I need to accomplish to stay employed. So I needed a way of hanging onto new bits of information until I needed them.
It’s important to note that I didn’t realize any of this at the time I realized I needed a plan. I was just overwhelmed. But I’d started seeing some references to a book called Getting Things Done and a process called GTD. It sounded like typical MBA or productivity crap, but as I started to get into it, I realized that it was a process that I could use to make some sense out of my life.
I also ran across a website called “The Secret Weapon,” which explained how to make GTD work using Evernote and email. These yielded a few key concepts that made me realize what my problems were and gave me some ideas on how to go about solving them.
• Mind like water: David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, talks about the ideal state of mind being when your brain is basically quiet, not reaching out to remember anything. He says you achieve this by entrusting all of these needs and priorities to a system that lives somewhere outside of your brain. I’m going to talk about this in the context of Evernote, an app designed for absorbing and organizing massive amounts of information.
• One Inbox To Rule Them All: One of the reasons I organized this seminar was a complaint from one of my students about all the different apps and inboxes she had. Try to have one singular place where everything goes for prioritizing and filing. For me, anything important goes into my Inbox notebook in Evernote. You can forward emails, record voice notes (useful in the car), take pictures of things, take pictures of notes, etc. I try to have rules automatically forwarding important emails from my various accounts into Evernote, but I’m still working on that.
• Calendars for everything: Evernote allows you to put alarms on notes, which helps, but I rely on Google Calendars for most things.
Full Inbox, Can’t Lose: You can do all this on paper, but I’m the kind of guy who will lose a pocket calendar or leave something in my office. I can’t afford this, so I use Evernote because it updates seamlessly across my computers, iPads, and phones.
• Write Everything Down: Back to the subject of notes. If I need to know something more than 30 seconds from now, it needs to be written down. So I write everything in one of a small number of notebooks. I’m trying to routinize the habit of taking pictures of my notes to put in Evernote, but it’s slow going.
Have I mastered this process? Hardly. But I have a set of tools that allow me to grapple with all the responsibilities I now have on my plate—family needs, research productivity, course planning, student work, and everything I’d really like to learn if I had time. I hope some of these tools are useful to you.
College majors like Exercise Science and General Education have long been assailed by critics as crip-course degrees, but shadow boosters see them as a vital way to perpetuate the cycle. If a player finishes out his eligibility and has no feasible future in the pros, he might return home and become a nearby high school coach. It doesn’t matter if it’s junior high or seven-on-seven camps; each means a new brand ambassador for the program.
'You win the gym teachers, and you can go a long way,' [said an anonymous booster.] 'That's why all those basket-weaving degrees are so important, because we need 'em on both ends. You need 'em to keep the kids qualified, and you need 'em to produce guys who can go back and coach and teach and help us.'
This was a well-written one-source story, but this quote was the only novel point.
I’m still speechless.
Can’t imagine the experience was good for anyone.
Here’s a full set of Prezi slides for my presentation Sunday:
This fall, I’m teaching an advanced topics class for the Grady Sports Media program on player health and performance issues, i.e. injuries and drugs. This course is designed to build your content knowledge in three ways:
As usual with most GradySports courses, there will be no tests, finals, or essays. There will be case study reports, extensive reading, group discussions and projects, and keeping up with current events through contemporary publications and social media.
At present, the course is listed as JOUR 5990. Whenever the curriculum system office adds our courses to the database, it will change to JRLC 5880. We don’t know when this will happen or how it will change given the changes in the new Banner software system, but if your name is on this list we’ll keep you in the loop. If you have any issues with taking too many JOUR 5990 courses, please let us know and we’ll work it out.
If you would like a POD for this class, please add your name and information to this form by Friday, March 21. Forty seats for this class are available. PODs will be awarded according to this priority list:
For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.