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Q&A: Detail in planning of tasks

I recently received an excellent question from a reader, which I’d like to address in a Q&A post.

The question is:

Hi Eva,

I have been reading your posts, especially those on organising time and plan tasks. It has helped a lot already, thank you very much. Following a post of yours, I started using Todoist, and I’m finding it very useful to keep track of recurrent tasks and everyday tasks.

However, I’m still struggling with finding an efficient work flow for research projects, as a PhD student. For example, now I’m reviewing a manuscript for resubmission, which involves redoing some data analysis, editing the main manuscript, compiling answers for reviewers, read literature… so I have been struggling with these intermingled tasks and was wondering if you also use Todoist at this level, or how do you suggest could be a way to organize such workflows?

Here’s my answer:

Dear XX,

That’s an excellent question! I actually use Todoist for recurring tasks and reminders mostly. I use it, for example, to put a reminder 3 months and 6 months from now to check if I received an editorial decision on a manuscript I submitted. I use it as a daily checkbox for the action of planning my next day, logging my workout, and writing in my journal and my daughter’s journal. I use it to remind myself that in August I will draft an abstract for a conference – things like that.

In addition to ToDoist, I use my Google Calendar and my weekly template with fixed amounts of time to reserve the time to write (or work on revised versions of manuscripts). I also use a notebook (a bit like a Bullet Journal, but slightly modified to suit my needs) to list the most important things I need to accomplish in a day as well as appointments that are planned – between 3 and 6 items on the list. This approach helps me focus. I like having the notebook open next to me on my desk.

With regard to your specific question on reworking a manuscript, I don’t divide the task of working on the new version into different tasks. What I usually do, is the following. I read through the comments of the reviewers. I like reading a printed out version on paper and highlighting things that are priority (i.e. any major data analysis or restructuring the reviewers require). I may jot down a list of ideas on a sheet of paper. Once I have an idea of what I need to do, I will estimate the time this takes me: between 40 (or more) hours for a big major revisions or revise & resubmit, down to maybe 4 hours for some minor corrections and a last round of proofreading. From there, I put this on my calendar in the reserved timeslots in my weekly template. For the current or next week, this can be quite detailed – so that I know what I need to be working on, but for the weeks after that, I may either not fill out the timeslots yet, or just write Journal X paper in the timeslot.

As an example, say that I need to redo data analysis, edit the manuscript, write the answers, and read literature (as you mentioned). I would put the data analysis and reading extra literature as priorities. This sounds like a fair amount of work, so let’s say 40 hours, max 2 hours per day (in my case, you may have more time per day in your weekly template) – so for the coming month, I’d be working on the revisions of this manuscript. The data analysis may take a week or more, so I’d put that on my calendar for this week, with some detailed descriptions. I may combine this with reading 1-2 new papers per day, and writing out my main findings. Then, at the end of the week, on Friday afternoon, when I make my planning for the next week, I will assess how much progress I’ve done and how much need to be done to see if I may need more time that the next 3 weeks to work on this and to define my tasks for the next week. So, I use a general planning for the work and on a shorter time period, I make the tasks more defined.

I hope this helps you!


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