Year 4

Well hello, readers. Are any of you left?

Here we are in week 2 of my fourth year on the tenure track. If I had to sum up year 3 in one phrase, it would be “barely afloat.” Looking back on how hectic last year was, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I could do things better this time around. PsycGrrl recently posted two excellent pieces on her semester plan. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that yet, but her posts did get me thinking about how I can approach this year differently than before. I’ll discuss the first of them here:

To Do Lists

Really, I’ve never been a list keeper. I used to joke to my students that there were two ways to know I was feeling overwhelmed. The first was a messy desk, and the second an actual, written to do list. The last time I said that my second-year grad student chuckled and said “your desk is always a mess.”

He just hadn’t spied the lists.

The truth is, overwhelmed seems to be a permanent state these days. Maybe it’s because I didn’t allow myself to adjust to parenting and the tenure track separately, jumping into both at the same time instead. Maybe it’s just faculty life, or life in general.

To do lists have always worked well for me at work (when I’ve used them), but I never really use them at home. Unfortunately, this overwhelmed state isn’t isolated to work anymore – it extends to home now, too. Parenting is exhausting. Sometimes after dealing with people at work all day (hello, teaching) it’s very hard for me to summon the energy to be a good parent in the evening. That leaves me exhausted by bedtime. Not my bedtime, the toddler’s bedtime. The last thing I want to do is the dishes, or the laundry, or vacuum, or pay bills, or….you get the idea. All I really want to do at 8 PM is get in bed. Every single night.

So, on Labor Day, I sat in my office trying to get things in order. The toddler has been sick for a week, which means my spouse and I both needed to find a way to spend a few days at home. I had actually planned to take Labor Day off but wound up working so I could take part of the day on Tuesday, instead. Taking a break from grant writing, I sat at my desk looking at the post-it notes with a million tasks, the pile of mail that needed to be opened, and the jeans I forgot my toddler had smeared yogurt on. What I really need/want, I decided, is a personal assistant. Since my budget isn’t likely to allow that…ever…I hit the internet to find an app that would do it for me.

I settled on Remember the Milk. One account is accessible from all of my devices, and will allow me to take advantage of those times when my brain is firing off random tasks without having to carry around a notepad. That means no more lists on my desk, my nightstand, my kitchen table, in my car, or wherever else. At least now they’re all in one place. Step 1 complete.

“Life” Tasks

Those home- and life-related tasks that I’ve had so much trouble motivating myself to do are popping up on my RTM lists, too. The app contains built-in categories for personal, study, and work tasks, and the ability to tag tasks for further organization. I set up a few recurring things – like opening mail and paying bills on Fridays – so that they can pop up on that day and I can focus on other things during the rest of the week. At home, I can let myself look at the personal category and ignore the rest.

At least now the dread associated with opening yet another medical bill can be isolated to one day a week.

Laundry, grocery shopping, and other tasks I tend to put off in favor of sleeping aren’t on there yet, but may make it eventually. For now I’ll stick to the essentials and see how it goes.

Staying Sane

A related thing I’m hoping RTM will help with is getting my brain off work things when I’m not at work. Hopefully, getting tasks written down in such an organized and accessible way will help me do that. Step 2, I discovered, is not allowing myself to look at the work category when I’m not actually working (unless it’s to record a task that just popped into my head).

Initial Thoughts

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my first day of actually managing my daily task list this way. I had only a half day at the office and a lot of stuff to get done in that time – much of which, like recommendation letters, I might have put off to another day. Having the list organized in this way, and watching the tasks disappear from the list when I marked them complete, did help the volume seem less overwhelming.

It remains to be seen whether this method will be better than my previously-preferred paper method, or better than the reminders app on my iPhone. So far it seems more functional than Reminders and, obviously, infinitely more functional than paper.

There is a full version of RTM for $25/year. I haven’t signed up for that yet, but might if I find that the free version has significantly improved my life and think the paid version would be worth the cash. I’ll report back (and set a reminder to do it!) with more thoughts as the semester goes on.

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