Category Archives: GTD

Teddy Roosevelt’s to-do list

I’ve just finished reading Edmund Morris’ splendid biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I can’t remember how I got interested in this book, but I came away from it greatly appreciative of Roosevelt not only as a great President but as a man whose capacity for both thinking and doing were almost superhuman. Although some aspects of his life seem questionable to me (there’s a distinct subordination of his family life to his career, for instance), I do admire his voracity of mind, his passion for public service and for doing what’s right, and the sheer force of his personality in getting things done.

Here’s one snippet from the book that really stood out to me. Shortly after Roosevelt was nominated for the Vice-Presidency in 1900 (the previous Vice-President, Garret Hobart, having died suddenly the previous year), he went out on the campaign trail for William McKinley. His schedule was, shall we say, vigorous. Here’s a sample daily schedule from the diary of an aide:

7:00 A.M.   Breakfast

7:30 A.M.   A speech

8:00 A.M.   Reading a historical work

9:00 A.M.   A speech

10:00 A.M.  Dictating letters

11:00 A.M.  Discussing Montana mines

11:30 A.M.  A speech

12:00          Reading an ornithological work

12:30 P.M.  A speech

1:00 P.M.    Lunch

1:30 P.M.    A speech

2:30 P.M.    Reading Sir Walter Scott

3:00 P.M.    Answering telegrams

3:45 P.M.    A speech

4:00 P.M.    Meeting the press

4:30 P.M.    Reading

5:00 P.M.    A speech

6:00 P.M.    Reading

7:00 P.M.    Supper

8-10 P.M.   Speaking

11:00 P.M.  Reading alone in his car

12:00          To bed.

That’s a daily schedule that will turn a few heads. On the other hand, all you have to do is substitute “A speech” with “Teach class” and the word “telegram” with “email” and you have a pretty close fit to the modern educator’s school day.

What stands out to me is not so much the sheer frequency of speaking engagements TR had (is this close to what Obama and McCain do today?) but what surrounds those speeches and discussions. Do you see it? It’s reading. This schedule includes 4.5 hours a day of it. And it’s not just memos or strictly political works, but fiction, science, and so on. To me, there are at least three deep lessons to learn from this.

First, making time for personal growth during the day, especially the growth of the intellect, is extremely important. Educators make their living by expending intellectual energy. You cannot continue to expend energy indefinitely without fueling back up somehow, if you expect to last long. This is very easy to forget, as we see the sheer amount of stuff in our inboxes and begin to think that if I just had one more hour, I’d get that much more stuff done and be that much happier. But I think — and perhaps TR thought as well — that happiness can also come from having time to make sure you get fed yourself and not just spend all your time feeding other people.

Second, this time for personal/professional growth can be structured in bite-sized chunks. Look at TR’s schedule again. His reading times average just 45 minutes each, split evenly between three half-hour time slots and three one-hour time slots (the longer ones coming outside the usual work day). In the past, I’ve tried to schedule in these inviolable times for reading and research, but only in single, monolithic, 3-hour long slabs happening once a week. That approach has never worked out for me. So as I think about making time in my busy schedule for reading and writing, maybe the more realistic approach is to take frequent, small chunks of time in which to do it. Surely I can afford 30 minutes a day, right? I probably waste that much time each day checking emails I don’t need to see.

Third, this time for personal/professional growth benefits from a kind of happy diversity. TR was reading whatever interested him, regardless of whether it pertained directly to being the Vice-President or not — ornithology and Walter Scott along with everything else. Personal/professional growth time ought to include, for me, not just mathematics but also new things — say, computer programming, biology, history, and so on. You never know exactly what is going to pertain to your job, and the most pertinent thing for your job if you’re a teacher is a well-rounded, active, happy mind.

So I take some encouragement from this little bit of history, that the most effective thinkers and doers from our past had schedules that were even more insanely busy than mine, but never suffered from burnout or lost their passion and drive for what they do — because they took time to feed themselves and grow themselves just as they fed others and helped them, and their country, to grow as well.

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Filed under GTD, Life in academia, Profhacks, Vocation

Tao on time management

Update: Welcome, readers from Terry Tao’s blog. I invite you to browse, starting with the Top 12 Posts retrospective page. I’ve got more articles on math and on time/task management if you want them.

Have you ever wondered how a Fields Medalist does time management? Terry Tao is happy to oblige. It’s not your standard GTD-esque post, as Terry discusses some of the pecuilarities of managing time when practicing a subject so unpredictable as mathematics, where long periods of going nowhere punctuated by massive flashes of insight wreak havoc on calendars and to-do lists.

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Filed under GTD, Life in academia, Math, Profhacks

Wednesday lunchtime links

  • How to deal with feelings of inadequacy, from xkcd.
  • edwired has some thoughts on the future of the academy in an economy where giving away your product doesn’t necessarily make your business unprofitable. Academhack follows up with related thoughts on using video podcasting to replace the usual lecture format. Interesting idea in giving away the podcast and then charging for in-class activity.
  • Why pay dues to join a fraternity or sorority when you can pay one low price and have all the drunken party games on your Wii? I find it ironic that the Association of Fraternity Advisors would be so shocked. Where do you think the idea for the game came from, people?
  • I’ve had a couple of posts lately about what I’d do if I were the university president. Now there’s a series of articles out on the same subject except with contributions by people who are probably a lot more qualified for that position than I am.
  • Here are some updates on Xian-Jin Li’s purported proof of the Riemann hypothesis which I first blogged about here. Summary: There are some flaws, but it might be fixable.
  • 50+ productivity blogs you’ve never heard of before. So please, spend lots of time reading those productivity blogs instead of getting stuff done. (Or better yet, write blog posts about spending time reading those blogs instead of getting stuff done…)

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Filed under Education, GTD, Higher ed, Humor, Math

Jott as a diction-checking device

I’ve blogged before about Jott, the web service which lets you call in and leave a voice message, and then it transcribes it to text and emails it to you or others you want to contact. I use Jott quite often in lieu of a voice recorder for quick thoughts that might be actionable. When I want to catch an idea, I get my cell phone, hit “5” on the speed dial to call Jott, then talk through my message. A few moments later, I get a transcribed version in my GMail inbox which then gets reviewed at my next GTD weekly review.

Jott’s capabilities as a speech-to-text converter are impressive, but it’s not perfect. When I get a mis-transcription, sometimes I wonder whether it’s Jott’s fault or whether it’s something having to do with how clearly I am speaking. Take this recent message for instance. I had just finished teaching a section on exponential growth and decay in my calculus class that meets this summer. I wanted to leave myself a quick note for my GTD review about things I needed to work on with the presentation for this section. Here’s what I said:

I need to edit the 3.8 presentation. The example on Newton’s Law of Cooling didn’t quite work. Need to add a question as to what the C represents in Newton’s Law of Cooling. It just went too long. I think one decay example, one growth example, one Law of Cooling and that’ll be enough. Maybe flesh out a little bit more what a differential equation is, they were a little lost.

Now, on the other hand, here’s what Jott thinks I said (differences are in boldface):

I need to edit the 3.8 presentation. The example on Newton block cooling didn’t quite work. Need to add a question as to what the C represents in Newton block cooling. I just went too long I think one decay example, one growth example,in block cooling that’ll be enough. Maybe flush out a little bit more for the differential equation is, they were a little lost.

Newton block cooling“? I went back and listened to the voice message and, to me, I am clearly saying “Newton’s Law of Cooling”, but Jott went 3-for-3 in transcribing this as it did. That makes me wonder if my students would hear me say “Newton block cooling”. Students are more intelligent than a computerized speech-to-text processor, but still, if this advanced technology is convinced that I am not saying “law of cooling” but “block cooling”, there’s a pretty good chance I am not being clear enough.

So perhaps Jott would be useful as a diagnostic tool for a speaker’s enunciation and clarity — if there’s 100% agreement between what the speaker actually said and the Jott transcription, then there are no problems with clarity; otherwise, there might be.

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Filed under GTD, Profhacks, Social software, Software, Teaching, Technology

LaTeX as a word processor?

Good article here at The Productive Student giving five reasons why students should use \LaTeX as their word processor and not Microsoft Word:

1. Never worry about formatting again.
2. It looks way better. [By the way: Very nice article on LaTeX’s typesetting at that link.]
3. It won’t crash: LaTeX is basically a plain text file. You can edit it anywhere, in any text editor, and it basically can’t crash on you. File size is very small which makes it very portable.
4. It’s great for displaying equations, which is why it’s the leading standard among sciencitifc scholars.
5. It fits in with the workflow of a student and allows you to do one thing well: Write.

The writer also shares some of his practices for writing papers (not necessarily math or science papers) with \LaTeX, stressing \LaTeX‘s ability to handle bibliographic data as the “killer feature”.

\LaTeX was not designed to be a word processor, so there are some downsides for using \LaTeX for word processing. Graphics are not easy to handle, if you are going to include any in your document. Some basic formatting tasks like footers and margin settings are tricky to manipulate. And above all, there is a fairly formidable learning curve to \LaTeX, not the least of which is the fact that you have to install things yourself (something a surprisingly large number of students don’t know how to do) and use a text editor. (We forget that text editors are essentially an alien world to students who are raised on GUI’s for everything.) And for collaborative projects, Word’s ability to insert comments and track changes in a document is really essential.

Still, I think most college students can learn \LaTeX if they put their minds to it, and the fact that it’s free and portable and “future-proof” is awfully appealing in a world where this year’s version of Word can’t be trusted to interoperate with last year’s.

Finally, I think there’s a lot to be said for something the article brings up as well: You should use a text editor to write content, and a word processor to format it. Type it up in a basic editor or Google Docs, and then import it into your favorite proprietary program(s) to make it look nice. Separating content from form will save a lot of people headaches and improve their writing as well.

[h/t AcademHack]

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Filed under GTD, Higher ed, LaTeX, Profhacks, Study hacks

Bento and GTD?

This blog has gotten a lot of search engine hits lately from queries of the form “Bento GTD”. I guess that’s because I wrote about Bento once and I have written a lot about GTD. And while I was demo-ing Bento, once or twice it crossed my mind that an intrepid person could possibly hack it into a GTD platform. But it appears like there is some kind of movement out there for using Bento for GTD. (Or maybe just one person who can’t stop hitting the “Submit” button on his search engine.) Would one of you folks who are searching along these lines mind filling us in on this, in the comments?

I found Bento to be merely OK — more pretty than useful, and I was able to cobble together what I really needed (a searchable, rich-text repository of information on my students) using VoodooPad Lite, which is free. I didn’t think Bento was worth the $79 $49 price tag. But I’m cheap, so that’s not informative.

Update: Bento is $49, not $79. I was getting the price for Bento confused with the price for iWork. That’s still a bit much for me, but again, I’m cheap.

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Filed under GTD, Profhacks, Software, Technology

Happiness and productivity in college, the GTD way

I missed this the first time, but Study Hacks posted this article on Getting Things Done for College Students back last summer. It’s basically a self-contained overview of GTD, although it differs from “canonical” GTD in that it takes into account that college students don’t have a fixed 8-5 work day. Instead, they propose fixing down “work hours” and making that be your work day. There are other college-student specific variations in the main article. Well worth a look if you are a college student needing a trustworthy system for productivity.

That article is just one link in this massively-link-filled post on being productive and happy in college in general, which contains so much good advice on time and “stuff” management for college students that I think the average college student would be overwhelmed by it all. But it’s definitely deserving of a read from all students out there.

How come they don’t teach stuff like this in the freshman year, or in freshman orientation?

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Filed under GTD, Profhacks, Student culture, Study hacks