Prioritization and Organization

by Mentor Group 9

Organization and prioritization helps with efficiency and allows you to focus on the important task of getting great work done.

Strategy

We can classify strategies of organizing one’s work in two categories: multi-tasking (parallelization of tasks) and  single-tasking (serialization of tasks).  However, in reality at any given time, only a single task can be accomplished.  Some have referred to multi-tasking as “monkey mind; you’ll drive yourself bananas” (Keller and Papasan, 2013).  However, we hear so much about the need to multi-task. In our day to day, there are numerous and diverse commitments that need to move forward and interspersing a diversity of topics may incite a high-level of motivation for multiple collaborations.  However, thinking you can do it all at once leads to frustration, as projects usually take more time to mature when we spend less time working on them.  Often our best work emerges when we are able to immerse ourselves in the topic providing the most focus to look deeper and incite our creativity to result in great work (Stuart, 2013).  Thus, within the multi-tasks that you will visit within a day, what prioritization does each have to get your single-tasking attention and how do you reserve the time in the day to give it each priority the attention it needs?

Prioritization and Implementation

  • What tasks require low and high-level of concentration?
  • When in the day are you most focused?  Monopolize on your most focused time of the day to move forward your high-level concentration work.  Schedule time blocks to protect your focused time.
  • Set short and longer-term goals.  What is your semester or monthly plan?  In other words, what longer-term goals do you want to achieve in a trackable period of time? How can you break these longer-term goals into smaller chucks actionable on weekly to daily time scales?
  • Use tools to track your tasks so you can free head space for the work at hand.  To-do lists are generally used to keep track of the various tasks to be done, but they can also be used to help with the organization of the day, week or months of work. For instance, a daily/weekly to-do list can be written with the aim of prioritizing work and being realistic about what can be achieved within a given time. There is also a non-negligible motivation and self-satisfactory effect to visualize some work “checked off” on the to-do list.

Tools

There are many tools available to help this process — here are some favorites.

  • Omnifocus and Things are organizational programs available for Macs. They are both aimed at helping you be organized using the principles from the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. Generally, these programs will allow you to create projects with hierarchies in which you can put all of your thoughts, which is invaluable for maintaining the mental space for actually working on your ideas.
  • Evernote is a freely tool available online that works across platforms and devices.   You can put in text, links, figures (which can be annotated), and PDFs. These notes can be shared with colleagues to be viewed and/or edited, which can facilitate collaborative projects and papers.
  • Numerous programs are available for  organizing journal articles. These programs are improving, and many allow you to sync your papers across different platforms, generate reference lists, add tags or groups of papers, etc. Typically, there is a trial period or a storage quota, so you can try out the software before buying.  Some popular  programs are: Papers, Zotero, Mendeley and Endnote.

Prioritization of long-term goals and protecting the single-task focused time to make regular progress is essential to taking control of your scholarly work.  These are a plethora of apps to aid in tracking information to free the mental space to focus on the task at hand.

References:

Allen, D. (2015) Getting Things Done, Penguin Publishing, 352 pp.

Keller, G. and J. Papasan (2013) The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Bard Press, 240 pp.

Stuart, D. (2013) Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love, McGraw-Hill, 256 pp.

 

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