Adulting is hard. This is an obvious statement for anyone who has ever tried adulting.
Adulting in academia is especially hard. We have a loose-end life, full of ambiguous deadlines, projects that move in fits and starts, and a revolving door of students – and all of it is tenuously held together by the pseudo-organization of our semester schedules. If you’re anything like me, you live with the constant feeling of never being finished at the end of the day, week, year…there’s always something to read, write, or do.
Some people throw their hands in the air and embrace this chaotic life. I prefer to fight against it. I’ve always been an organized soul – I’ve thrived on planners and to-do lists as far back as I can remember. In college, I spent hours in the Franklin Covey store agonizing over all the ways I could potentially organize myself. As the world shifted from paper to digital, I shifted along with it. First the Palm Pilot, followed by the Blackberry. Now, I (along with most of the world) rely on my iPhone and Apple Watch to keep the chaos of my life at a minimum. Finding and trying out the latest productivity tech has definitely become a hobby for me.
Not surprisingly, I get asked to talk about this a lot at my University. Everyone wants to figure out how to become more productive, and better organization is usually the key to accomplishing more in less time. However, I’ve found one thing to be absolutely, unequivocally true – tech only works if you’ll actually use it. In other words, you have to find a tool that works for you. If you’re using a tech tool because it’s the latest bright and shiny new thing, but it doesn’t really fit into your life, you won’t stick with it.
My best friend is a bit of an organizational mess. She waits until the very last minute to do everything, and then frantically tries to finish a million things at once. No matter how much she says it’s going to be different every semester, inevitably she repeats the exact same pattern. I’ve tried to help. We’ve spent hours together installing apps, working through tutorials, organizing. It lasts a solid week before she’s right back where she was before. The moral of this story is that tech tools are not magic – they can only help you if you’ll really commit to using them.
So, all that said, let me jump into my general work flow. I’m not introducing the tools quite yet, because as I said, the tools won’t matter if you don’t use them. Here’s my general system:
Now that you’ve gotten all of this down, you can quickly see the demands on your time and attention. Of course, life rarely (never) goes as planned. We don’t get to push pause on things, so you’ll have to work in time to keep up with the incoming flow of new information. This is where developing a system of triage comes in handy:
Once you get used to this basic flow, it becomes natural to follow. It also means that your day-to-day and minute-to-minute focus isn’t spent wondering if you’ve forgotten something, figuring out what to do next, or trying to gather the resources you need to start working. You’ll be able to get more done in the moment because you won’t worry about what might be lurking around the next corner.
In later blog posts, I’m going to be detailing how I use specific tech tools to help me accomplish some of what most of us academics (and adults) need to do every day. I’ll talk about good programs for keeping track of appointments and tasks, handling the large quantities of information we constantly juggle, organizing and planning for big projects, and more.
In the meantime, I’d love your suggestions. What works for you? What are your favorite tech tools? What have you tried that didn’t work? Let’s learn together.
Until next time!
Written by Jenel Cavazos
Dr. Jenel Cavazos is an Associate Professor and Master Teacher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oklahoma. As the Introductory Psychology Program Coordinator, she teaches an average of 1500 students per year, supervises sections of PSY1113 taught by graduate students, and conducts a graduate mentor program for teaching. Her emphasis areas include curriculum development, the implementation of technology in the classroom, and program assessment. Her research focuses on transformative learning experiences in Introductory Psychology, with an emphasis on first-generation students. She has received several university teaching awards and was named a College of Teaching Excellence Faculty Fellow for 2017-18. She is currently serving as a member of the STP Presidential Task Force on Re-Envisioning Introductory Psychology.
You can follow Jenel on Twitter with her personal account @jenelcavazos and/or her course social media: @psychwithdrc (Twitter and Instagram) Psych with Dr. C (Facebook).