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Priorities versus Dead Work

When you feel like you are overloaded with work, it is important to reconsider your to do list, and see what you *really* need to do in order to move forward.

Of all the tasks on your to do list, how much are aiming at putting out fires? How much are deep work, the kinda stuff that really moves your work forward?

Reconsider your to do list as function of the Urgent-Important matrix (see figure above, taken from this source).

There is always some admin work that needs to be done, and always mails that need to be answered. But replying emails will have no effect on my career in the long run. It’s the publications that matter…

I’ve categorized my different tasks previously according to the urgent-important matrix. Since my task package has changed as I changed from being a PhD student to a starting professor, I wanted to revise my list of priorities again. This semester I’ve barely been able to keep my head above the water (teaching 3 new courses and getting settled into a new country was rather exhausting). For the next semester, I want to have my priorities more organized.

Category 1: Important and urgent

– Paper deadlines (if any)
– Registration deadlines (if any)
– getting the lab ready for next semester
– teaching my classes

Category 2: Important and not urgent
– writing my journal papers
– the core of my research
– keeping up with the literature (doing poorly in this category)
– future planning of the laboratory
– sports and enough sleep

Category 3: Not important and urgent
– grading
– meetings
– some pending admin work
– phone calls, e-mail
– someone showing up in my office

Category 4: Not important and not urgent
– lunch breaks
– web browsing
– blogging

If I assess my list of tasks on this basis, I seem to be spending about 3 hours a day in Category 1, 3 hours in Category 2 (on a good day, and not counting exercise or sleep), 2 hours in Category 3 and 1 hour in Category 4.

Are you using the important-urgent matrix in analyzing your tasks? How much time do you spend on the respective categories?

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