Posts Tagged ‘GTD’

Reducing Stress with Tickler Files

March 25, 2014

I have been annoyed a bit this week with other faculty members who do not reply to email. My best guess is that these faculty members just lose track of the things they need to do (like respond to my email). So as a public service, I have decided to write about the single best thing that has helped me keep track of what I need to do: tickler file.

I learned about the tickler File from David Allen’s Getting Things Done.. A tickler file is essentially a system where you can write notes to your future self. Here are the basics:

  1. A tickler File consists of 43 folders labelled 1–31 and January–August (31+12 months=43).
  2. The folders labelled 1–31 correspond to the next month. So if today is March 25th and I know that I need to call Buffy on March 27th, I simply write “Call Buffy” (ideally with her phone number) on a sheet of scratch paper and put it in the folder labelled “27.”
  3. If I need to call Buffy on June 6th (and today is March 25th), then I write “Call Buffy on June 6th” and put it in the folder labelled “June.”
  4. I check the folder every day; today (March 25th), I checked the “25” folder; tomorrow I will check the “26” folder.
  5. On the first of April, I will check the “April” folder and distribute the notes to the appropriate 1–31 folders. I do a similar thing on the first of every month.

That is basically it. It is not complex, but it prevents me from forgetting about things; more importantly, it reduces my stress, because I know that I will not forget things.

Finally, I use this for things other than simple tasks like “Call Buffy.” I use it to remind myself to start working on a paper, to remember whose birthday it is, and to let me know what I need to do to prepare for class that day. It allows me to put off non-urgent decisions without worrying that I will forget about them.

My wife has started using my tickler file. She asks me to remind her of things that she needs to do if they are more than a month away.

This is a low-cost, high-reward system. You should start using a tickler file if you haven’t already.


September 7, 2010

As a graduate student, I was never aware at how many different hats a professor must wear. Here is a list of the different roles I am currently playing:

  1. Calculus Instructor
  2. Linear Algebra Instructor
  3. Researcher
  4. Math Society co-advisor
  5. Putnam coach
  6. New Building Committee member
  7. Textbook author
  8. Thesis advisor to one student
  9. Reader of a senior thesis to another
  10. Major advisor to six students
  11. Group Theory Seminar organizer
  12. Chair of Committee on Math Education Curriculum
  13. Member of committee to hire new faculty member

I am probably forgetting some, but this is not unusual for a professor. On top of this, professors regularly give talks at different venues; this is sporadic, but it takes a considerable amount of time to prepare the talks.

I have been working on ways to do all of these jobs well, and to do all of these jobs in a stress-free way. Here is what I have come up with:

  1. I do a lot of what is suggested in Getting Things Done. This is been the single most effective thing for my productivity, particularly with the “stress-free” part.
  2. I have started heavily scheduling activities in my calendar. A typical day includes time for my classes, time for research, time for internet, and time to meet with students. I schedule three 30 minute internet sessions. I do not keep them well, but it has had the effect of limiting my time-wasting on the web.
  3. Jason Buell wrote about how Jerry Seinfeld would put an X on the calendar for every day that he wrote. Once he had a chain of X’s going, he wanted to keep writing so that he does not break the chain. I have started doing this with research; I have a chain of 9 right now.
  4. I have started running to and from school. I typically run every day except Wednesday, which is when I bike/drive in with clean clothing and fresh food for the next week. This allows me to run 9 miles each day, but the running only takes 40 minutes longer than driving would. So I get a 9 mile workout in only 40 minutes (note: I normally cannot run 9 miles in 40 minutes).
  5. I now wake up at 5 am. I work for two hours, take care of my son for 45 minutes when he wakes up at 7 am, and then run to work. I just started this today, but I got a lot done between 5 am and 7 am. This has the added bonus that my entire family now goes to bed at the same time. (I am normally a night owl, so this is a bit of a painful switch; however, I am less productive at night—I am a night owl because I have more fun at night—so working in the morning works well for me).

Tips and suggestions are always welcome in the comments.