GTD for Academics

Academic work is hard. But sometimes we academics make it harder by entering into it without a clear plan for engagement and productivity. I know this was the case for me, for a very long time — I had an overflowing email inbox, a confused calendar (or no calendar at all), and was constantly at the mercy of the most urgent things to do rather than focused on the most important things. I’d forget about meetings, work countless hours on weekends and evenings, get horribly behind on grading, and was unable to be fully present with my students — I’d blame it on academia, but really it was my fault, because I was just winging it, rather than approaching my work like a scholar.

Around 2008, I discovered Getting Things Done, a philosophy of work management promulgated by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity and it changed my life.

It is a system based on the idea of capturing ideas that come into your head or inbox, breaking them down into easily-doable tasks organized by projects (and filing away or deleting those tasks that don’t need to be done), and then executing those tasks that best fit your time, energy, and context at the moment — always focusing on the question: What’s the next action?

Because GTD has been so transformative in my career and life, in 2016-2017, I wrote a 10-part series of articles on GTD for Academics that gives an overview of GTD and how it applies to academic work, to help my fellow faculty members gain control over their work and prevent it from crowding out the things they find important. Many faculty have singled this series out as being particularly helpful for them, and so I am collecting all the links here in one easy-to-locate page.

  1. Setting the Stage. Who needs GTD anyway?
  2. Engaging the System. What are the characteristics of a really good productivity system? Or, why do to-do lists suck?
  3. Acquiring the Habits. What are the behavioral building blocks needed to gain control over our stuff?
  4. Collect. How can we build a simple system for capturing the stuff that comes through our minds and inboxes?
  5. Process. What do we do with the stuff that we capture? And, is Inbox Zero just a pipe dream?
  6. Planning. How can we organize our time so that we can get the stuff done that we processed, and not have to work nights and weekends all the time?
  7. Doing. Of all the stuff that you could possibly do, how do you decide the best thing to do in the moment that you’re in?
  8. Simple Trusted System. What tools are useful for making all this work — without having to invest a ton of time or money in software and other stuff?
  9. The Weekly Review. What can we do on a regular basis to make sure our system is running at top efficiency?
  10. The Trimesterly Review. What can we do on a not-as-regular basis to make sure all the work items we do are fruitfully connected to the Big Picture in our lives?

Bonus: Here are two articles on applying GTD to everyday life as a faculty member:

I hope you find these articles useful and helpful. Please contact me if you have questions or suggestions.

Coming Soon? I am considering cleaning these articles up, updating them, and adding to them in 2018 and publishing them in some sort of book form. Stay tuned.