In this last stretch of grad school, it seems that new opportunities and projects pop up with increasing frequency, as does the urgency of each task. At the same time, I’m not willing to give up some of the things in my life that are not work; thus, my desire to be as efficient as possible in both capacities has intensified.
If I correctly understand the current culture of academia, if something doesn’t contribute to a line on your CV, it’s not important to your career (or at least, it’s not “work”). And increasingly, if it doesn’t contribute specifically to the publications section of your CV, it’s at best marginally important to job search committees. Thus, unless what you’re doing contributes at least in some small way to a publication, you are wasting your time as far as the pursuit of an academic career is concerned. My intent here is to clearly delineate “work” from “not work”, because I think more efficient people tend to be able to clearly make that distinction and appropriately prioritize their time. Part of the problem, for me at least, is that I love what I do, so work tends to be enjoyable. I also love playing guitar, but it’s clear that’s not work. Reading off-topic scientific papers gets into the gray area. Blogging is also gray area, though I like to think an online presence fosters one’s inclusion in the scientific community.
So, whenever I say “I am working on a project”, I have the manuscript file open. If what I’m doing isn’t at least indirectly contributing to a sentence in that manuscript, then I’m not working on that project. A nice aspect of this is that the manuscript can also function as a to-do list for the project. If I know I’m going to need to test that data fit certain criteria in order to perform a statistical test, I write those sentences, and any time I come back to a project, I know exactly what needs to be done. So far I’ve enjoyed this method, but it’s efficacy won’t be fully validated until I’ve finished grad school!