In many factors in life, I think it’s fair to say that I often focus on the methods or the gadgets or the culture moreso than the tangible results. It’s fun to get a new to-do manager; it’s not fun to actually do the work to tick of all those to-dos that populate it.

I read a fair amount of crap on the internet, and one thing that I’ve not found well-covered is how to remain productive in an environment of overwhelming multitasking and an overload of work to do. In academia, I find myself with too many students, too many meetings, too many ‘urgent’ emails, too many projects — and once all the essentials of the week are ticked off, I have no time/energy for the important grants and papers to write.

It’s one thing to talk about The Eisenhower Matrix but something different to really explain how to move from wasting your life away completing tasks in the ‘urgent but not important’ quadrant:

To a procrastinator, Quadrant 2 is a strange and foreign land, far, far away. Kind of like Atlantis, or Narnia.

I am a procrastinator, yes, but I also am dying from a thousand cuts. I feel like my problem is orthogonal to that of procrastination.

The problem

For comparison when I re-read these words in a few years time, my calendar is divided up roughly as so:

  • 4 hrs PhD student meetings
  • 4–8 hrs lectures
  • 9 hrs honours/masters cw student meetings
  • 5 hrs lunch
  • 2+ hrs miscellaneous seminars/meetings

I’m currently working in the office four days per week (catching up in evenings and weekends). So the above is the majority of my time, and doesn’t include things like emails, preparing for lectures, writing assignments and exams, wrangling online material, various admin jobs that crop up, following through on actions arising from meetings, reviewing students’ work and so on.

There are days where I meet with students every single hour of the working day, and when I get home I have 50 emails to deal with. I try to file away email fastidiously when I’m keeping on top of it. I currently have 1293 emails in my Uni inbox from the beginning of the year which haven’t been dealt with. (On average almost 9 emails a day I don’t read+reply+file.) So it’s no surprise that I can’t keep up with my mundane tasks, let along the important ones.

My todo list fills up when I’m not run off my feet, but when I get busy (most of the time), I’m never actually churning through the items on my list.

The solution?

There’s not much I can do about this mess now — I’m committed to the projects that are already running. But it’s time for me to think about how I can deal with this in a long term way. And the best way I can think of doing this is a time budget. I know, maybe it’s crazy that I’m only coming up with this now.

I would like to continue blocking out one day a week that I can dedicate to more concentration-intensive tasks. I’ve realised that I need to block of the first and last hour of each day to deal with day-to-day issues, largely emails and other short actions. At the moment it seems sustainable to work from 08:30–17:30 at work. This leaves me with a 36 hour week. (In fact, only 45 minutes shy of our ‘standard’ working week according to the University’s enterprise bargaining agreement.)

Subtracting the times at the start and end of each day, and subtracting lunch, gives me 24 hours to play with. I can only assume that success comes from using those 24 hours not un-wisely. My challenge for the remainder of 2017 is to see if I can make that happen.


By the way, I don’t actually take an hour out of my day for lunch. But I’d like to pretend I have that luxury. Usually I use that time scrambling to catch up for whatever’s next in the day or whatever has come up in the morning that needs urgent attention. Then hurriedly eating a sandwich.