When I started as a student (even as a PhD student), I frequently forgot to respond to emails. I always worked extremely hard just before deadlines and too little any other time. Over time, I have discovered some ressources to help me deal with the problem of remembering stuff and act on it in time. These blogs, videos and podcasts have helped me get control of all the stuff in my life — and get more productive and calm.
I have divided the list of ressources below into common areas of academic work:
Managing Your Time & Commitments
- Getting Things Done (GTD) is the core of my personal productivity system. When I first discovered the book, I was shocked that you could have a working total life system for managing all your commitments. Many people have given up on tracking every single task in their life and just rely on their head and maybe a calendar for holding most commitments and task. Many people also have lists with information scattered everywhere in their home and on their monitor. Their calendars and monitors have become a mess of different information and their brains get stressed from trying to keep track of everything. The brain needs to work so hard because it cannot trust its environment. GTD takes the approach of setting up a trust-worthy system, so your brain can totally let go of commitment thinking and spend time on new, interesting thoughts. The book is a game-changer for any academic. I recommend you read it, but here’s also a 10-minute introduction from Ali Abdaal (video).
- The personal productivity movement has come up with a bunch of helpful concepts. Matt D’Avella has covered several of them, including checklists (video), batching (video) and flow triggers (video). Many concepts where originally propogated by productivity guru Tim Ferris, like the Pareto principle, automation, mise en place, etc. Here's a great summary of Ferris's breakthrough book The 4-Hour Work Week from Ali Abdaal (video). Also, Thomas Frank has a YouTube channel filled with videos specifically for student productivity where he explores many of these concepts (channel).
Managing Your Writing
- Writing is essential to academics. And HARD. Some very productive writers take notes (different ideas, crazy analyses, whatever) and then he puts these notes in order, as described by Mind Your Writing (blog). Take notes, put them in order, and voilà, there’s a paper that only needs editing! You just have to convince yourself that note-taking (writing stuff down) is not really writing. Works for me.
- A similar way to think about writing is as capturing and processing, as described by Stephen Herbert (blog). It is possible to build a system or use software (I use Ulysses, see here) that can support the capturing of any idea and then funnelling them through a qualification process.
- Many renowned authors write morning pages with any thoughts that they have, just to get in the habit of writing every day. Journaling is definitely a way to do that, and especially gratitude journaling have been scientifically proven to boost contentment and creativity — see this video from Kurzgesagt (video).
- Getting Things Done has an official podcast with an episode on GTD for creatives, and that includes students who write (podcast).
Managing Your Digital & Physical Space (Lockdown Essential)
- The best piece on staying productive during lockdown is CGP Grey’s video on setting up four zones in the home, like they do in spaceships (video). I applied the idea to my own home office, setting up writing, creative and admin zones, described here.
- David Allen, author of GTD, has a series of 2-minute tips for staying productive during Lockdown (videos).
- I’m a big believer in manipulating your environments for better habits. Changing environmental factors is one of the few things that cognitive scientists actually agree can lead to habit change (article)
- Tidying up your workspace is a great opportunity for thinking about smarter work processes. Matt D’Avella has several videos on tidying your computer (video) and phone (video). Believe it or not, but tidying guru Marie Kondo also has a book on tidying your workspace (article), but I think her bestseller is a better for understanding her method (book).
Managing Scientific Theory & Philosophy
- Philosophy and scientific theory are possibly the toughest disciplines of academic work. BUT, there are ressources to really help you draw a quick map of the many, many philosophies and ideas out there. My favourite podcast Philosophize this! presents core ideas of thinkers throughout time (podcast). When I encounter a philosopher or theorist for the first time, I frequently check if there’s an podcast episode on them. In this way, I will get an idea of their total work before writing something about them.
- The School of Life has covered much of both western philosophy, eastern philosophy and sociology in short videos (videos)
- Danish Newspaper Information has a series Naturvidenskaben forfra, also read aloud (podcast). I esspecially liked the episode on how Albert Einstein disproved the existence of the planet Vulcan.
Managing your time and space can make you more productive, but it can't remove all stress and guilt-feeling. I have written here about tips for guilt-free studying, specifically for PhD students, although it might apply to all students.