I’m a big fan of the “I’m XX and this is how I work” series on lifehacker. It’s quite interesting to see how successful folks manage their time / work-spaces / etc. The contrasts are interesting, e.g., between Ira Glass (of this American Life) and Nathan Blecharczyk (of AirBnB).
In any case, I figured that since I’m not getting asked by Lifehacker anytime soon, I’d do one of my own with a bit of an academic slant…
What are some apps/software/tools you can’t live without?
Probably the biggest no-brainer is Dropbox, which I use for everything (both work and personal). It’s crucial for keeping projects synced with collaborators/students/TAs/etc. Sometimes we run a SVN inside or use github to get tighter management of code, but often dropbox is enough.
For teaching, I’m a big fan of Piazza. I really can’t imagine running a large class without it at this point. Typically questions posted by students get responses within 10 minutes (either from TAs or other students) and then I have an archive of these questions that I can use to improve the course in future years.
For travel, my assistant got me using TripIt, and I’m a big fan now. It keeps everything in one place and syncs it so I have all the details I need even when offline. Saves a lot of time on the road…
For presentations, most people complain about powerpoint, but I think it’s a great tool. Especially the newer versions are much improved. As an academic, once you create a keyboard shortcut to start a tex equation in a text box (Alt-1 for me) then it’s smooth sailing (at least on Windows).
Of course email is a large part of my job… I use gmail for everything and am a big believer in Inbox Zero. So, the only things I have in my inbox are the tasks I want to accomplish in a given day. The key things I use to manage that are filters in gmail (it’s amazing how freeing it is to set up an “AcademicSpam” filter, mine is a little more complicated than the one suggested by PhD comics) and the boomerang plugin. I just started using boomerang recently, but I already can’t imagine not being about to send messages at specific times and have them leave the inbox only to pop up new at a later, scheduled time, i.e., boomerang them.
Setting up meetings can be a pain, but is much easier with when2meet. I don’t know why anyone still uses doodle…
For writing, I use winedt with sumatrapdf (which integrates much more tightly than adobe, e.g., you can click on the pdf and winedt takes you to that part of your code). And, for blogging, I use latex2wp to convert tex to wordpress format.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Three things are key for me in my office: 1) A wall-sized floor-to-ceiling whiteboard. 2) A standing desk, I use a geekdesk frame with a custom table-top. 3) A separate work/meeting table where I can sit and work on paper away from my computer (and the inherent distractions there).
Other things important for me — a workout mat for a mid-day core workout and lots of greenery…
What time-management tricks do you employ?
I’ve found that with each new addition to the family at home, I need to be that much more effective with time-management in the office…
I think that academics in general have trouble with losing time during the day to web/news surfing. To curb that for myself I use separate browsers for work and non-work tasks, and never let them mix (either at home or at work). That way all the autocompletes, frequently used pages, etc. don’t lead me astray during the day. On a similar note, I’m careful to limit the times when I check email during the day. Apart from small breaks between meetings (too small to fit in anything else), I only let myself check mail at the beginning and end of the day, and then I schedule my messages (using boomerang) to try to minimize the distractions that come from other people’s responses.
In terms of scheduling, my mornings are precious (they’re my most productive time) and so I don’t let any meetings get scheduled then unless absolutely necessary. I also schedule all my weekly meetings with grad students during the same day if at all possible (though of course I meet up with them at other times as things come up).
Two other things that help me prioritize (and balance home and work) are that I limit myself to one work trip per month, on average, and never do work in the evenings (which I spend with my kids), unless there is a research/teaching deadline. These both help me to truly evaluate the cost/benefit of saying “yes” to a trip or to some new research/administrative project.