How *does* she do it?!

Written by: Emily Weigel

Primary Source: Choice Words with Choosy_Female

Make fun of me all you want, but my little black book (a.k.a, my agenda—don’t get too excited now) is my best friend. In the age of technology, I’m still attached to paper and prefer the tactile sense of writing my to-do lists. Nothing feels quite as good to me as physically striking off a task accomplished.

Nonetheless, I realize that not every method works for everyone. I try to become more efficient and effective (the two elements of productivity) every day, so here is some advice I’ve been given and tools I’ve found that might be useful to share:

Your Body is a Temple….ish:

  1. Exercise, sleep, and good food are important. Yes, high school health class was right and these things will help you be more productive and feel less miserable doing so.
  2. Breathe deeply and take time to distress. It will help you focus. 10 minutes away may translate 10-fold in productivity, so breaks aren’t always time lost. Listen to music, watch cartoons (my favorite), or go for a walk. Keep a hobby or take a sec to tell someone you love them. It’s worth it.

The Art of the To-Do List:

  1. Get it out of your head. Put it down on paper or in some tool so you’re not using your wonderful brain to try to remember what to do, but in actually doing the things you need to.
  2. Organize the list by priority. Your highest priorities—the things that need to get done now and well—should be the things that are both urgent and important. Subdivide your list by urgency and importance and it will shorten the list of “immediates” for you and help you accomplish the most critical things, while motivating you to do the things that aren’t going to make-or-break you.
  3. Break down each task into accomplishable sub-tasks. So, “write dissertation” isn’t accomplishable. But “Dissertation>Chapter 1>Figure 1> Work on legend formatting” is. Make sure you can accomplish the tasks in less than a marathon at your desk and you’ll feel more motivated to keep going and have evidence that you did indeed do something today!
  4. Inventory. Figure out what you did (this can be on a daily basis or more often) and set the nest steps. If your lists are clear, prioritized, and broken down, the next steps should be clear and you can keep working. If new things have come up, reassess the priorities and do some shifting. Basically, assess where you’re getting things done and not, and make steps to address any deficiencies you find.

So it’s no secret that I love to-do lists, so here are some tools for….

Making Ridiculously Awesome To-Do Lists: (allows you to make to-do lists nestable to make the tasks accomplishable) (simple, storable lists that work well for smart devices) (great for sharing to-do lists with others and organizing larger tasks)


Here are some more great tools you might appreciate for…:

Keeping Track of your Time: (tracking your time by device; nice progress reports on your time spent and where) (time yourself for the Pomodoro technique)


Keeping yourself Accountable (Particularly in Writing): (get down 750 words a day and you’re well on your way to finishing that dissertation) (the consequences are dire here; if you don’t just get it down, you can have the settings ERASE your progress to train you to work faster!)


Removing Distractions: (blocks certain websites) (blocks websites for specified amounts of time; good settings) (see this awesome post for ways to battle ambient noise)


Mental Health, Taking Breaks, and Staying Motivated: (taking regular screen breaks) (meditation breaks) (info on how “you” may function best)


Scheduling: (good for scheduling things like office hours by appointment) (good for group scheduling) (free trial available)


Keeping emails short and productive: (forces you to keep an mail short and to the heart of the message) (free trial available; tracks what’s been sent/opened) (allows you to presend/resend/send recurring messages on a set schedule; I loved this so much I upgraded from the free; don’t regret it a bit!) (great for achieving Inbox ZERO!)


Transcription services: (Works well for those narrating behavior vs. using a key logger; competitive pricing, but free option, too)

Google Voice (transcribe calls and forward calls through a free number if you want to have set hours for telephone help for your students, etc.) (Can get emails sent to you as messages and vice-versa; check out the free version)

Phew… lots of tools, and yes, the above are Firefox-biased. Hopefully after seeing the range of options available, you can search further to find the tools that work best for you, your browser, and your work habits. Happy, productive working, y’all!

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Emily Weigel
Emily Weigel (@Choosy_Female) is Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Zoology and in the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior Program at Michigan State University. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a focus on interdisciplinary research from the Georgia Institute of Technology. At MSU, Weigel conducts research in the lab of Dr. Jenny Boughman and is affiliated with the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. Her dissertation research focuses on how female choice and investment interact with male mating strategies. Additionally, Weigel’s education research asks how and why a background in genetics affects student performance in evolutionary biology. When not researching, Weigel enjoys playing soccer, surfing Netflix, and promoting STEM in the community.
Emily Weigel

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