Procrastination usually does not encumber my work, but when I had to grad 93 intro to ethics exams and an equal number of final-term essays, it was becoming a problem. I want to do justice to the students, and not read too many essays/exams a day but all I seemed to have energy for except grading was the dark playground of procrastination - checking social media, blogs, the New York Times, Medium, even whole queues of quixotic Quora questions.
So I started looking for time management techniques, and someone suggested to me the pomodoro technique, which is very good for repetitive tasks such as grading (I am currently trying to see if it works for summer writing as well). In the pomodoro technique, you commit yourself to working for 25 minutes at a given task, allowing yourself a brief break when the minutes are up, and then continue. You can use a cute, tomato-shaped timer (from which the technique gets its name) or you can use an online one.
This makes me wonder whether philosophers commonly use time management techniques such as Getting Things Done or the very tricky, but effective if well-applied structured procrastination. A recent post on Daily Nous again emphasized the importance of effective time management when our time is essentially unstructured, now summer has arrived, it has lots of useful tips such as creating artificial deadlines, trying to think long-term and do a bit of work every day rather than cram it all in the last weeks.
Things I found that work well include:
- Not working one day a week (even during term time). After interviewing several philosophers on their religious practices, two of the Jewish philosophers I interviewed said they did not work on the Sabbath, which made them more energized and happy. I have since picked Sunday not to work anymore (OK, there are exceptions such as last weekend when my three-year-old suddenly decided to have a 2.5-hour long nap. I managed to write nearly 2000 words that time). In any case, having a resting day has done wonders for work/balance and it has helped me to get things done more quickly, in anticipation of the idle day. This is undoubtedly one of the most ancient time-management techniques.
- Committing to working for given blocks of time without internet or other distraction. I do not need a blocker for websites (which you can use if the temptation is too great), but I do find it helps me to commit to a given time period (25 or 50 minutes)
- Making lists of to-do activities. This is a key part of Getting Things Done. You outsource the keeping all the things you need to do to an external list, thus extended mind wise freeing mental resources. I have three lists. One is all things I need to do in the not so distant future, such as prepping two new courses for the fall. The other is a list of things that are fairly urgent, such as preparing my presentation for the Bristol Minorities in Philosophy Graduate Conference, writing an entry for the SEP, writing an invited book chapter, writing an invited journal article (all by the end of summer). I have one final list which is goals for the day, which consist of two or three tasks or sub-tasks I am confident I can perform. I make sure at least one of these is unpleasant, such as "Write referee report for xxx". Since that's a fairly large task, given you have to be contentious with refereeing, the other task needs to be something small such as "Read article by X on Y". When there is still time and animo left, I do something from the lists more downward.
- Do not stick fanatically to these things but try to stay close. To use a midwifery metaphor: women are advised to push along with the waves of their contractions, and so similarly, creative work goes best when the muse comes along or one feels enthused about an idea. When an idea hits, just go with it and I feel free to ignore the lists (urgent and less urgent, unless of course there is an absolute hard deadline) and go with that. That's how new ideas are born!
I am curious whether readers use time-management techniques, and am looking forward to read what others are doing!