The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator
How to Still Be Productive When Your Brain is Done

How to Still Be Productive When Your Brain is Done

Have you ever had a day where you just can’t get your brain to function? Whether it has been a long few weeks of late nights of work, or sick kids leading to sleepless nights, these days just happen. I used to punish myself and work on the tasks that I had previously decided had to happen on that particular day. In the end, I would feel super unproductive and grumpy when the jobs that I planned just didn’t get done.

It is funny because I do a lot of counselling on time management with students and I found that I wasn’t taking my own advice. For example, when I’m mentoring my thesis students, I tell them that some days are just amazing writing days (it’s the magic kind of day where you should really just keep typing until your fingers bleed because the words are just pouring out in logical fashion) and other days are NOT.  Instead of punishing yourself and staring at a blank screen, I suggest that students do something productive still, but completing tasks that require less focus. While a student is writing a thesis references need to be edited and organized (even in a reference manager), a methods and materials section needs to be written, referenced papers need to be organized, etc. Why wasn’t I taking my own advice?

These are jobs that always have to be done and these make me feel good at the end of the day because at least there was some forward motion.

1. Organizing files saved in my “ORGANIZE” folder to the correct folders

2. Deleting files from my computer that no longer need to be there

i. References that I’ve written (older than 5 years I delete)

ii. Essays and papers I have marked that are older than 2 years

iii. Old power point files that I have since updated for the current academic year

iv. Excel files that I used to upload marks to our learning managements system (I still keep the master mark file for each course, for the last 5 years and delete every thing else)

v. Versions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (you get it) of papers I am writing. I make sure that I keep one final version of each paper.

3. Deleting emails. I keep an archive of all emails from students and colleagues (both received and sent) for the academic year. Unless there is some high importance in the email that may require future follow up, the previous year of emails are deleted.

4. Creating better folders for archived courses that make them easier to find.

5. Cleaning my office and organizing papers into the appropriate binders.

6. Cleaning my computer keyboard, desk, phone, etc.

7. Organizing my filing cabinet and shredding papers that are no longer necessary to have a copy of.

8. Working on my schedule for the rest of the week to reallocate tasks that still need to be done by the end of the week.

If you are having one of those days, consider an organizing day.  Maybe then after a good night sleep and the feeling of accomplishment rather than discouragement, you will be ready to tackle that stream of emails, reference letters, lectures and data analysis tomorrow.


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