Help me get organized
April 20, 2017 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I teach at a College and at a University, I also work at an office, am on a busy board of directors, and have two small children. Getting Things Done worked for me when I just had one full-time job, but with this chaos I can't seem to keep my head straight. Please help.

I teach in-class and online courses through a College. I have an office there, and need to keep track of my coursework, marking, student concerns, accommodations, and department asks.

I teach in-class courses at a University. I also have an office there, and need to keep track of all the same things as my college work, although different processes of course.

I also have a regular office job. I have an office in my building, and need to keep track of casework, appointments, and my boss's schedule.

On top of this I sit on a Board of Directors for a non-profit, and I have a wife and two little kids (age 2 and 5).

I am dropping balls like mad this semester: getting my college and university obligations mixed up, losing track of student requests, losing track of appointments, and not accomplishing the work at home that needs doing.

I currently use Google Drive to organize my teaching material. I have four different email addresses and I use four different calendars (three jobs with separate email addresses and calendars, and a personal one). I live out of my wheely bag. You can see the problem. Can you see a solution?
posted by arcticwoman to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Write things down, physically. Keep a written calendar and day planner with spaces for to-do lists each day where you can consolidate all your roles into one place.

I've been an executive assistant to C-level people my whole career, and recently I've realized that a major difference between them and me - the reason they need me, in other words - is because they try to manage everything electronically and can't keep track of all their shit. I have paper. It's all in one place, and the day's plan is written in front of my face, impossible to ignore or accidentally dismiss on my phone or laptop or whatever.
posted by something something at 11:15 AM on April 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

Is it possible to do less? I'm serious, look at your weekly hours worked, commuting, prep at home,what you might be spending on gas, parking, vehicles and childcare. It's possible you could quit one of those THREE or FOUR JOBS without changing your bottom line much. Possibly you could pick up another class at one institution if you quit the other. I'm guessing you are contract adjunct, and if so you're realistically not going to move up that way anyway.

Apologies if this is obvious and untenable, but that really does look like a lot of work and commuting.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2017 [18 favorites]

Write things down, physically. Keep a written calendar and day planner with spaces for to-do lists each day where you can consolidate all your roles into one place.

A Planner Pad would be great for this. I am on my fourth year of using it, and I love it.
posted by jgirl at 11:38 AM on April 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Do you need to think about board stuff when you're not in meetings? Do you have to pay attention to teaching concerns when off​ campus? I'd think about how all this stuff may be bleeding into each other.
posted by rhizome at 11:46 AM on April 20, 2017

Can you hire a personal assistant?
posted by Julnyes at 11:57 AM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Good lord, I have a feeling you could teach most of us more about organization than I can offer, anyways.

Are all the emails going to the same place (Google) and then sorted into folders by source? I have, for instance, a "letters of recommendation" folder that captures almost all of those requests, and then they don't clutter my 'real' inbox. I see Letters(3) bolded on the left, and leave those 3 unread until I've dealt with them, then the label on the left goes unbolded once everything's read (dealt with). Good Google searching skills are crucial.

Student emails: you can be vigilant about demanding that they write your course # in the subject line (with a penalty of ignoring them!), or alternatively and better, having them send you email from CourseSite or wherever, so the course # automatically gets into the subject. Then filter as above, where all email from Course 100 goes straight to the Course 100 folder.

I really agree with Salty ... is each extra thing making itself worthwhile? Hire a grader?

Google calendar lets you merge calendars. Though honestly it sounds like your calendar would just be crazy!
posted by Dashy at 1:05 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your life sounds like mine. I have about 10 different google calendars that I can either view all at once or turn off and on as need be. Advantage: sharing with others, like home schedule/kid pick up with husband and the ability to see if items conflict times.

I also have a Trello board that integrates to dos with google calender.
posted by aetg at 2:38 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm following this thread with interest to see if I can pick up some helpful tips too! I also used to use Getting Things Done, but have either fallen off the wagon or the number of projects I'm juggling has gotten too large for GTD to work well for me.

I've recently come to recognize that part of my problem lately has been anxiety from personal areas of my life spilling over and interfering with my ability to organize and prioritize work things. I'm working on acknowledging this. I'm also realizing that my sense of identity is largely based on being super competent in all things work- and organizational-related, and that this is leading me to take on more than I can realistically handle. This doesn't help with the things I've already committed to doing, but maybe it'll preserve my sanity longer term.

My coping strategy lately has been (1) try at least to capture everything on a list somewhere [not always terribly successful], and (2) prioritize one substantive thing for each day. It's easy for me to spend an entire day working through emails, meeting with people, and putting out (metaphorical) fires and feel like I've accomplished nothing at the end of the day. If I can put in a couple of hours on a "most important for today" project in the morning (when I'm least frazzled), I can still do email and stuff later in the day when I'm not as fresh/creative. The past couple of weeks I've been making a daily short-list of things to do (ordered by priority or chronology) on a tiny notepad, carrying that page in my pocket, and checking things off as I do them.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:26 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've recently gone to the Bullet Journal (a paper-based system), and it really works well for a complex life. I've become an evangelist for it; I was never able to keep all my shit together before, but now I can, because it is such a failproof system if you use it daily. I do keep my calendar in GCal, though.

I am dropping balls like mad this semester:

You're doing too much. There's nothing wrong with you except that humans have capacities, and you've exceeded yours. You need to drop or reduce something, and maybe it's the nonprofit board - at least see if you can take a stepped-back role for the time being. You're obviously a conscientious and organized person, so if you can't keep up with your obligations, the problem is probably not really your skills but your overcommitment. Also, your family could use your time probably, and that's the one place that you won't regret contributing real time in the distant future. I found it sad that they came last on your list of obligations.
posted by Miko at 8:59 PM on April 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Like aetg I also use several google calendars that I can then see all at once or selectively. And trello boards, one for general me and several for different projects, some shared with others. We share a google calendar and a trello board for family stuff. (And slack for family stuff that is not yet concrete enough to be a task or a calendar entry. I also use slack for communicating with groups of students I supervise.)

And yes, it sounds like you have way too much on your plate. I have one job and two little ones and it's tough enough.
posted by meijusa at 11:43 PM on April 20, 2017

In the spirit of GTD my capture tool is Todoist. The tab is open in my desktop all day and easily accessible via mobile. You can assign labels (work, personal, volunteer), deadlines and push notifications. I also use Google Calendars, which syncs with Todoist and my work CRM. For email I sort everything into four folders: Today, This Week, This Month, FYI.

My best piece of advice: regardless of what system you use, schedule time to maintain the system. Meaning, give yourself a few minutes every day to sync calendars, review tomorrow's tasks, or mark what's complete in your planner.
posted by jennypower at 6:15 AM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

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