Organising when working the academic gig economy

I promised to write this blog quite a while ago and am only now finding time, physical strength and brain space in my schedule to put it down on paper: how do I organise my time?

At the beginning of 2017, I became the primary bread winner in my family and my partner is looking after the domestic side of things. While I always seem to find my next contract, the end of 2016 saw me take every job offered for the first semester of 2017 because I was so afraid I would not be able to support my family if I didn’t. So I began 2017 with what turned out to be a commitment to 70 hours of work per week. The stupidity of saying yes so much is another story, and this blog is about how I manged to juggle all that work.

I put out a call on Twitter to ask how other casual academics organised their tasks and from all the feedback, I developed a revised version of the bullet journal. Anyone who likes ticking things off to-do-lists, this is for you. My organisation is now 90% analogue (weird, I know). I’ve also maintained the system all year so it’s working well. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: indulge your love of stationary

I chose a grid notebook that is small enough to fit neatly in my handbag. Apparently you can purchase journals designed for Bullet journalling but I quite like the grid because it allows for inserting tables I find essential for keeping track.

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Step 2: setting up the journal

I have closely followed the organisational strategies recommended by Bullet Journal:

  • insert page numbers
  • use an index/contents page
  • use a key to show task (.), event (o), notes (-), completion (x), migrating tasks to a later date (>), and cancellation of task

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I insert a calendar for each month (also put events into the calendar on my smartphone)

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I have 4 different to do lists – 6 monthly, monthly, weekly and daily.

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6 monthly over 2 pages

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Monthly

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Weekly and daily To-Do lists

I have a Gantt chart to show my works in progress. Each colour represents a different type of project: eg red are book chapters, green are journal articles, yellow are grants.

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Step 3: indulge your love of striking things off To-Do lists

I spend a lot of time working out if I can strike things off the lists, or colour in my Gantt chart. I think this is part of the key to successfully maintaining the system for over 6 months now (when I was a teacher I lasted a few weeks and things just went on pieces of paper). Do you have a successful system for organising your tasks?

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3 thoughts on “Organising when working the academic gig economy

  1. Moving from the classroom into a project environment, I have found maintaining some semblance of order interesting. There is no work program checks or anything. Personally I have devised a system that works for me, sort of (https://readwriterespond.com/2017/01/getting-work-done/). What I find challenging is working collaboratively with people who do not necessarily care as much to plan out projects or be visually accountable. I am also mindful of not being so stuck to my habits and continually reflect on how I might develop them further (analogue maybe the answer🤔)

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  2. One thing I find is I treat my journal as a work item. At the beginning I was forgetting loads of domestic obligations. I’ve had to force myself to put them in. Sometimes it’s about what works for you. Keeping your obligations might be more important than sharing your organisation with the team. I’m sure it will work out if you all keep thinking… though this system is 20 years of searching 😂😂

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  3. Jealous. I just don’t think I could make this work. What if you’re not the kind of person who loves ticking things off lists, I wonder? I used to think I just wasn’t trying hard enough, but then read Gretchen Rubin’s ideas about different approaches to habit formation – I score very low on being accountable to self. Maybe if I was a solo operator I’d have to make it work…I have had success with Gantt charts. That’s for sharing your process though because my take away is that I should try some 6 month vs one month planning. I’m currently letting my timeline be dictated by the rhythm of the uni teaching calendar and it’s not very productive for research work. At. All.

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