Tag Archives: 5×52

Spotlight on Productivity: 5 Productivity Tricks for Researchers/Evaluators/Graduate Students

This is the sixth and final post  of the Spotlight on Productivity series, in which I examine productivity challenges associated with academic/knowledge work and take stock of current thinking and tools to help us get things done.

5. Mise en place

Everything Ready
(via Flickr, wickenden, http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/3629186048/)

Mise en place is French for ‘put in place’. It describes a practice by chefs preparing all the necessary ingredients in advance of service. All ingredients are prepared for use, organize, and within reach. Taken to the context of productivity, it means  gaining as much clarity around the nature of the problem you’re solving, the tasks that need to be performed, and having the necessary pieces to execute a task. Execution is not the time to fumble around with getting things ready. Because knowledge work is often emergent,  take  preparation as far as you can.

4. Workflow

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom presents a workflow-based solution to photographers. (via Flickr, devar, http://www.flickr.com/photos/59874422@N00/253450773)

Professional photographers rely on a well-rehearsed workflow to maximize  productivity. (After all, any time not spent behind a camera is time wasted not making money.) A workflow refers to the general sequence of tasks that need to be performed for any projects. Associated with each step of a workflow are inputs, processing, and outputs.

For research projects, chances are you need to: 1) define the scope and context of a study, 2) design the study, 3) apply for ethics clearance, 4) collect data, 5) analyze data, 6) interpret data, 7) write-up the data, and 8) disseminate the findings. That constitutes a generalized workflow for researching/evaluating. Practicing and adhering to a workflow means less thinking and planning. The GTD workflow I wrote about here is another example.

3.  Define your top 3 tasks to complete for each day.


Identify and limit your day to completing only 3 tasks. Do them when your are mentally charged and refreshed (i.e. soon after you wake up).

2. Pomodoro

Italiano: Autore: Francesco Cirillo rilasciata...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pomodoro is a timing technique for maximizing productivity.  Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and the technique makes reference to those manual kitchen 30-minute timers. ///CHECK To use the pomodoro technique, simply work in bursts of 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. Each 30-minute burst consistute a pomodoro.  During each pomodoro, avoid any distraction and work ONLY on your task. Pomodoro aficionados would tell you to do 4 pomodoros, totalling 2 hours, and take a longer break.

1. Apply OHIO — only handle it once — to your e-mails.

For each piece of correspondence, only handle it once. Act on it immediately. Then file it, or delete it. Apply David’s GTD workflow.  (via FastCompany, http://www.fastcompany.com/3004136/11-productivity-hacks-super-productive-people#2)
There you have it. I hope you found this series helpful in enhancing your productivity!

Spotlight on Productivity – Day-Planning using David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner

This is the fifth post  in the Spotlight on Productivity series, in which I examine productivity challenges associated with academic/knowledge work and take stock of current thinking and tools to help us get things done.

Being Productive = Staying Focus

One of the most important realization about being productive is maintaining razor sharp focus on doing only a few big things a day. The brain, like a piece  of muscle, does tire out. That’s why it makes sense to start the day off doing cognitively demanding tasks when you are fresh and recharged. Leave technical tasks towards the end of the day.

But meetings and errands do get in the way of producing. This requires conscious effort to prioritize tasks and arrange to do them during “down time”. It’s also helpful to create time-blocks where you purposefully block off to dedicate to certain important tasks, like writing a paper or doing literature searches.

In the last post, I introduced David Seah’s tool for project-task tracking. In this post, I introduce David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner for day-planning. It’s has several built-in features that work well with knowledge work.

What is the Emergent Task Planner?

In David’s words, the ETP is designed around three ideas: The ETP is designed around three ideas:

  • Focus – A small set of important tasks is more likely to get done.
  • Assessment – Estimating and tracking task time helps you allocate your time more effectively.
  • Time Visualization – There are only so many hours in the day. By showing you the time you have left, you can see whether your planning is realistic or not.


How to Use It

ETP Instructions (via David Seah, http://davidseah.com/blog/node/the-emergent-task-planner/)
ETP Instructions from David Seah (via David Seah, http://davidseah.com/blog/node/the-emergent-task-planner/)

1. Write-in the date and hours of the day at the top and left-side of the form with your favourite pen.

2. Write-in three tasks you want to do, more if you are feeling optimistic!

3. Block-out the time to do them in the day grid on the left.

4. Keep notes of interruptions and unplanned tasks as necessary.

5. Review at end of day, and prioritize what’s left for tomorrow.

Why use ETP

The ETP is excellent for tracking how much time is spent on each task. Since adopting it, I find that I am more conscious of how I am to spend my time, and how I actually spent time. It allows me to do a post-game analysis each day to fine-tune my productivity. I now feel more in control of my time and of my day.

Like the TPT, the ETP is free to download and print in B/W and Colour. The ETP also comes in several different sizes (US Letter/US Half-size 2-Up; A4; A5).

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Spotlight on Productivity: Getting things done with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system

Before diving into the specifics of productivity challenges, we should start with the concept of ” Getting Things Done“.

For me getting things done is a mindset to approaching productivity. By relegating the decision-making associated with each piece of task to the GTD system, we can move through our work more efficiently.

David Allen is the celebrated productivity guru whose book on productivity–Getting Things Done– revolutionizes how we think and about productivity.

There are LOTS of primer and discussions on GTD… so I’ll only highlight a few of the key principles.

GTD boils down to this according to Gina Trapani on Lifehacker: Make three lists. Revise them daily and weekly. (She’s referring to a to-do list, project list, and a someday-maybe list).

GTD is premised on the idea that the brain is best for high-level cognitive activities, as far as productivity is concerned. Brain resources are not meant for and should not be wasted on low-level tasks. But what do we typically do?  We clutter our mind with having to remember what needs to be done. By freeing up cognitive resources through prioritizing, we can work faster, better, and with less effort.

GTD has several key concepts and key activities to it.

1)  For every task that enters your work-queue (GTD calls it an inbox), decide on what to do about it. Is it actionable? Is it Best tip: Act immediately on whatever task that can be completed in 2 minutes. Here’s a flow-chart cheat-sheet.


2) Scour your office/home and collect all that needs to be processed and acted upon. Loose pieces of paper. Receipts. Papers to be filed.  Make a big list of all the things you have to do. These tasks now form your work queue.

3) Also, empty and unclutter your mind of all the things you want to accomplish in the next while. That project idea you have lingering at the back of your mind. That paper you want to write “when you have time”.

4) Finally, tackle your work queue systematically. Realize that some items receive immediate attentions, while others don’t. Create a “Someday/Maybe” for projects and tasks that you don’t need to attend to immediately.

If this post on Getting Things Done piques your interests, the GTD Cheatsheet series at LifeDev.net gives as an excellent overview to the system.

These four steps form the basis of the GTD system. While some adhere strictly to the system, you could also see it more as a guiding framework. I find it more helpful to adapt it to the nature of knowledge work —- which is what I’ll be discussing in the upcoming posts.

Thanks for reading!


What does your personal GTD system look like? Do you have experience with using Allen’s GTD system?  Let me know.



Blog Relaunch: The start of a 5×52 journey.

Commonplace book, detail
Commonplace book, detail (Photo credit: vlasta2)

For about a year and a half, I’ve kept a blog here at chiyanlam.com. During this time, I have not been posting as enthusiastically as I originally intended. I felt pressured to publish only fully worked-out ideas and to showcase my best wors.  In short, I was bringing to this blog space the same pressures and standards associated with academic publishing. This approach proved crippling.

Instead, starting today, I am transforming this blog space into more of a process journal. More specifically, this shall become my commonplace blog where I chronicle and archive my emerging thinking and serendipitous discoveries around evaluation and design.

I borrowed the concept of writing a commonplace blog from the keeping of commonplace books . Commonplacing is a common practice among authors, a practice I was first introduced to by a poet. It is dissimilar from keeping a journal in that the focus is less about producing a narrative account (I did this… then I did that… ). Instead, commonplacing is more about chronicling and aggregating various bits and pieces of information over time. In effect, it produces a trail of evidence suggestive of the route taken.

Taking this editorial turn  is timely and purposeful. With coursework behind me, I have comprehensive exams and my doctoral research remaining in my doctorate. The act of writing for this blog shall hopefully force me to articulate my emerging understanding around the intersections of evaluation and design.

I shall commit to writing one post for each workday over the next 52 weeks (hence the name, 5×52).

Finally, I hope this space will offer a platform for like-minded evaluation practitioners and theorists to contemplate the potential contributions design theory could make to the field.