To-Do Lists: Odds and Ends

So far this week I’ve shared some thoughts on to do lists, why they didn’t work for me, some experiments that did work for me and how I have tried to keep organised. Today’s post is a sort of collection of related points and ideas. As you can probably tell, I’m still thinking my way through a lot of things like this. Experiments to see what works for me are the key – so I have to keep experimenting and finding what is effective.

Effective and Efficient

I like Tim Ferriss‘ distinction between actions and behaviours that are effective and those that are efficient. The definitions of these – as he gives them – are totally objective, but their applications to individual circumstances could be subjective. Effective actions are actions that deliver results for a goal better than other actions that are aiming at that goal (and the award for bad paraphrasing goes to…); efficient actions are just that, they do things well – but crucially with no thought as to whether or not the actions need to be done at all.


To Do Lists: First Experiments With Scrap Paper

Yesterday I talked about how I started using to do lists during my PhD; I mentioned how they didn’t work that well for me and why. When I started working for myself I fell back on to old habits, but earlier this year I decided to do things a bit different. I had an instinct that to do lists were helpful for my work preferences…I just needed to make them work for me.

First Things First

The most useful thing that I realised – I think it was after leafing through Getting Things Done again – was that I was way too optimistic about the scope of work that I could get done. In particular, I was often too focussed on the outcome to the detriment of seeing all of the steps in a project. My to do list would have “Book 2” written on it to get me tuned in to the big outcome, when what was much more helpful was to be specific about what I needed to accomplish that day.

Obvious in hindsight, right? By being really clear about the tasks that you want to do, you’re more likely to be able to engage with them. If you put the headline down, which has fifty-seven steps to get to it, you’re unlikely to tick it off that day.


The To Do List

Last month I wrote a few posts about time, the PhD and habits; while my own habits now are aimed at me being productive in my current work, I can’t help but think back to my PhD – and I wonder if some of the little experiments that I’ve done in the last few months might be of interest to postgrads? Over the next few days I guess we’ll find out!

Making a List…

During most of my PhD I was a to do list devotee. I had one every day. I would load up a sheet of paper at the start of each week with the things that I wanted to do, and each day would choose – like choosing from an a la carte menu. I would write down the people who I needed to correspond with, the outcomes I was aiming for, make a note of specific appointments that I had on each day. It was great to feel so busy, I was doing lots of work.

Except I wasn’t very productive.


Nathan Reads: The Path Of A Doer

I was first introduced to “The Path Of A Doer” (David Hieatt with illustrations by Andy Smith) by Paul Spencer (who blogs fairly often over at The Digital Doctorate); Paul was directing a local GRADschool, and used this book in his introductions to emphasise some great attitudes and behaviours for participants. It was inspiring stuff, and so afterwards I tracked it down.

Here’s my review:

It’s brilliant. Only 68 pages long, direct and to the point. Every page has a neat illustration of the point being made. Every page takes you a step further along the path of being a Doer. The book has the subtitle “A simple tale on how to get things done.” It is simple, but powerful. No fluff, no fat – follow the steps and you’ll see results. It doesn’t share a complex system, or answer every question – but it will make a difference.

I don’t think I need to say more: if you want some inspiration, or you want a great little gift for a friend (Christmas is coming!) then pick this up.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

PS – please take a look at my Patreon campaign for the Viva Survivors Podcast!


Focus and Habits

I started this little series by estimating how much time I spent working on my PhD; after admitting that this was probably not the most valuable estimation, in yesterday’s post I mused on a couple of concepts that I’ve encountered recently. I think these have some bearing on time and the PhD. This was the first of three topics; in today’s post I want to think about how shallow and deep work might have some bearing on productivity for PhDs.

Second Topic: Productivity = Focus + Habits

There are systems like Getting Things Done, and ideas like the Pomodoro technique for making progress – in fact if simply Google around you will find thousands of links and tips, ideas and promises that “X will work for YOU!” But when it all comes down to it, I think the non-revolutionary idea of productivity is that it boils down to focus and habits.


Measuring Time and Work

I started yesterday by estimating how long I spent on my PhD. I want to spend the next three days reflecting on three topics to see ideas come up. As I go along, it would be great to hear from you in the comments to see what you think; if I have time on Friday and there is significant discussion I’ll see if I can gather discussion in another post.


Time & The PhD

I was thinking

One day, I got a piece of paper and tried to figure out how long I spent on my PhD. This was because of the oft-repeated idea of the 10,000 hour rule that people attribute to Malcolm Gladwell, i.e., to truly become an expert you have to spend 10,000 hours of practice at it. Having completed a PhD, was I now an expert? If I could figure out how many hours I spent on the PhD, then perhaps I would have an answer!

I wasn’t being entirely serious, but it was interesting to me. So I got a piece of paper and started doing maths.