Summerproofing Your To-Do List


While I haven’t consulted the original recently, I’m pretty sure that Karl Marx lamented “All that is solid melts into air” during summer break.

Summer, for some academics, is the time to accomplish all of those things that you can’t get done during the semester–work on your research; fix that shaky patch in that class you teach all the time, learn new tools. Heck, maybe even get caught up on sleep and your gym membership! For others, summer can be even more harried, as the fast pace of summer teaching can make entire months disappear in a blur. Plus, there’s usually some attempt to take some time off, in order to recharge for the resumption of classes in the fall.

It can be very easy to reach August with May’s goals largely untouched. This is perhaps especially true when you’re not teaching: While prepping for class and grading work obviously consumes a lot of time, it also offers you a clear set of expectations about what you’re supposed to be working on at any given moment. Summer, possibly not so much.

We’ve written a lot at ProfHacker about to-do lists and task managers. Viz: “The Zombie List,”, “All Things Google: Tasks,”, “Clean Out Your Inbox with Taskforce,” “An Introduction to Getting Things Done,” more on Getting Things Done, and many other related posts.

Rather than reprise these posts here, let me commend to you an excellent post at WebWorkerDaily by Dawn Foster, offering “6 Task List Hacks to Get More Done.” The one that’s most helpful for academics on summer break is #2:

Keep it visible. The advantage of having a task list that is integrated with your email, like Gmail Tasks or Outlook’s task list, is that every time you look at your inbox, you have your tasks right where you can see them. With my web-based task list, I keep it open on a tab all the time, and I can quickly glance at what I need to get done. If you use a standalone task manager or a simple text document, you can keep it open on your desktop and easily accessible. By keeping your tasks visible and easy to access, you’re much more likely to see them and complete your tasks.

Keeping your tasks in front of you, or at least someplace you can scan easily, is the Pro Tip of all task list pro tips. It’s the reason I don’t work well from my e-mail inbox: if something slips off the front screen, that often spells doom. It’s also a strategy that’s key in the summer, when there’s every reason *not* to follow your usual in-semester routine.

Personally, I use Things, which is great on the desktop. (Plus, as Ryan mentioned in his original review, Things facilitates Foster’s 3rd task list hack: “Create tasks from email.”) Its iOS implementations are also thoughtful and well-designed, but they provoke the same “notification badge anxiety disorder” as all other iOS apps. The exact strategy you choose is probably going to be idiosyncratic to you–in one of my favorite recent posts, Chad Black has a nifty, if technical, explanation of how he manages Google Tasks from the command line, which he can then access anywhere in a lightweight way.

The main way to accomplish your goals during unstructured time is to be regularly reminded of the steps needed to accomplish them. Spend a little time setting that up, and it becomes much easier to focus.

Do you have favorite strategies for summertime (or, for example, sabbatical) to-do lists? Let us know in comments!

Photo by Flickr user koalazymonkey / Creative Commons licensed

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