I wish I had more time in the day.
I was just browsing through the February 2009 Academic EM journal and came upon a commentary “Tuesdays to write… A guide to time management in academic emergency medicine” by Dr. Steven Lowenstein (Univ of Colorado at Denver). In the article, he outlines six time management tips to all of us trying to balance the pressures of our life with clinical care, research, teaching, and administrative duties, amidst an avalanche of hourly emails. I hate to admit it, but I am guilty of falling into most of the traps that he mentions. Here’s my summary.
1. Reserve Tuesdays to write.
This technique involves planning out the week, such that you have several hours each week for a “microsabbatical” when you aren’t checking emails, attending meetings, and answering calls. This time is reserved for “uni-tasking” (I just made up this word) and working on academic projects. Writing rarely happens spontaneously. You need to schedule time for it.
2. Make your absence felt.
As a corollary to #1, when writing or working on a project, shut off all potential distractors such as email, phone, etc. Imagine doing work on a plane (except with less cramped seating!).
3. Control your email.
Although I personally find it oddly satisfying, apparently answering all your emails for the day or clearing your inbox actually isn’t a good use of your time. It’s time that could have been spent working on projects. Instead try checking your email twice daily, for instance.
4. Get to no.
I’m notoriously poor at this skill, despite being keenly aware of my deficiency. I like the quote the author found by theologist Barbara Brown Taylor: “Learning to say no is how we clear space [in our professional lives] for a few fully planted yes’s to grow.”
5. Know when to fold ’em
I’ll never be a good poker player, since I’m stubborn and don’t know when to fold ’em. I’m slowly learning though. Must learn when to walk away from a project or task because of unachievable goals or expectations. Another great quote by WC Fields: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
6. Add deadlines to your dreams
One time management tip that I learned several years ago, for those of us taken hostage by our emails, is to send yourself email reminders. Seeing emails from myself appear in my inbox (“write first paragraph to crowding research paper” or “speak with statistician to clarify results”) helps brings my academic projects to the top of my mental “to do” pile again. Emailing yourself is ok, but I’d worry if you started talking to yourself.