Scholarship and academic work to a large extent seems to be about self organization. Every work day starts with the same question: “What should I get done today?” There is always more to be done than can be done, so it’s about making the right choices and setting the right priorities. The challenge is to find the right balance between the different kinds of tasks. There are different groups of tasks which can be described according to different views. One of these is: “Where does the task come from?” This seems to be easy: I have to paid part time jobs, 0.45 and 0.55 FTE respectively and “leisure time”. The problem is, that as an scholar in academia there are a lot of tasks which belong to “being a scholar at the university and beyond” and that these tasks amount to more than what can be done in the “leisure time” time slot. Additionally another criteria is more important for the choice of what to do today: importance and deadline. There are roughly three major groups here:
- Tasks that have a fixed deadline
- Major Tasks without a clear deadline or with a deadline longer than one week
- Little things (often triggered by incoming mail)
As I said, the challenge is about finding the right balance between the three groups. Group 1 is not a problem: things that have to be done immediately and to a certain point have a high priority and are usually completed “in time” or at some point close to the deadline (depending on how strict the deadline is). Sometimes this doesn’t leave time for groups 2 and 3. But usually there is some time. The problem is, that it’s very tempting to get rid of tasks from group 3, because they are small and often less complex and demand less concentration. But then the sheer amount of the tasks in group 3 doesn’t leave any time for group 2 tasks.
The result is of course, that the most important things get the lowest attention – on every single day – and thus don’t progress. I’m sure all scholars in a similar situation experience the same problem – or are more disciplined than I.