This summer offers me an important opportunity to reshape some of my work habits and systems: I'm not teaching summer school, so I have more flexible work time right now, and I'm at the beginning of two large projects (each of which is/will spawn various sub projects). Although this work is in some loose ways connected to the work I've been doing for the past 12 years, it feels like a fresh start, cut loose finally from the dissertation research that then shaped my pre-tenure years.

I'm always interested in self-improvement (I've got plenty of room to grow!) and particularly in effective work habits, time management, and spatial organization. I've made plenty of changes over the years, but there are also some things I started doing in graduate school that are still useful and that I want to retain in any new system I create.

I want to work this summer on improving my productivity systems at two very different levels -- at the ground level, I've got several big organizational overhauls to accomplish, like weeding out my paper files and systematizing my teaching files (which are mostly digital). At the sky level (to borrow David Allen's flying metaphor), I want to create work habits and organizational systems that will maximize my strengths and help me in the areas that are difficult. To do this, I'm revisiting some of my favorite books on these topics (David Allen, Julie Morganstern, Robert Boice, Neil Fiore, etc -- all the same books you've read too) and I'm also setting aside some time to write and reflect about what has worked for me already and what I'd like to change.

A few minutes in the productivity/GTD blogosphere shows you that lots of other people are also thinking about their work habits and how to improve them. I enjoy reading these blogs not only for the practical suggestions I've gleaned from them, but also to know that other people struggle with some of the same things I do. I draw the line at message boards, however -- an oft-reiterated plaint/critique is that people can spend way too much time reading about productivity or tweaking their software or their calendar systems, rather than actually getting things done. And certainly that danger is always there -- like with anything else online that can suck you in. But for myself, I've actually found the productivity blogs to be helpful when I'm feeling stuck. It's a break from work, but it's easy work-related reading that is usually inspiring or useful.

One of the challenges I've always found in reading books on time or work management is that many of them assume certain things about the workplace that aren't always true for academics. Many academics are not required to be in an office from 8 to 6 every weekday; some don't choose to work on campus every day; and most may have blocks of time (like the summer) with very few meetings or obligations, and other blocks of time (like the last month of the semester) when teaching and committee work takes up almost all time. Academic work is cyclical and fluid, and can offer tremendous flexibility. That same flexibility can also make it difficult to adhere to one's priorities or accomplish all of one's goals.

Lots of the productivity blogs I've come across are written by people in computer-related fields, whose interest in efficient systems or logical routines for completing tasks integrates well with the actual work that they do. That integration of work action/content and work structure is less clear and maybe less feasible for my own work areas, but it raises a set of questions I think are worth pursuing for anyone working in academe who's trying to improve their work habits through GTD or any other workflow system.
  • Where in your workflow do you need to complete discrete tasks? What kinds of tasks are they? Are they best grouped by type of action, content area, or work location?
  • Where in your workflow do you need to make space for creativity? How is your creativity expressed, channeled, or encouraged?
  • What balance of creativity and routine would be ideal for you? What balance do you currently have?
  • What external constraints shape your time and space? What personal and professional commitments do you have on a daily or weekly basis? What equipment do you need to do your work? Where do you do your best work and why?
  • What internal rhythms shape your time and space? When is your energy high or low? What setting is best for you to do which kinds of work?
  • What calendars shape your work -- personal, institutional, professional? How much control do you have over your schedule? How predictable is your workload from week to week or month to month?
  • What would consitute a productive day for you? Is that vision a realistic and attainable one?