Academic Productivity Planner

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Purpose

I designed the Academic Productivity Planner to work towards completing large projects, such as a dissertation or thesis. Especially for those working without classes or deadlines, the Planner provides structure for determining personal goals and deadlines. The Academic Productivity Planner can be applied to smaller projects, like term papers or specific assignments, or larger projects, like books or designing courses. The goal is to provide a process for breaking down a project into approachable goals with set deadlines and trackable progress. By starting large, breaking the chapter down into components, setting completion goals, and then mapping out those goals over the course of weeks and days, the project transforms from a single, overwhelming task into a series of weekly and daily checklists. In other words, the project goes from an impenetrable monolith to manageable bits and pieces. 

Approach

The Academic Productivity Planner is made up of an Annual Planner, a Monthly Planner, a Weekly Planner, a Daily Planner, and a Project Planner. There is also an optional points system that rewards completing tasks, positive habits, and maintaining working hours. There is a separate chart for those who want to track working hours, which can operate as a personal accountability tracker for those struggling to get to work. The Academic Productivity Planner can be used as a daily agenda without a project, or it can be completely built around the Project Planner. The components can also be used independently or ignored if they do not work for you. The goal is to provide structured tools that can be experimented with to determine what is of most use for each person. Some people thrive on structure and guidelines; others find too much structure to be stifling and anxiety inducing. The Planner is nothing more than an optional resource and a tool that can be used, adjusted, or rejected as befits each person. 

Setting Goals

Goals, deadlines, and to do/must do lists encourage forward thinking and are essential for determining the steps that connect the starting point to the finish line. Moreover, tracking what does and does not get done encourages a more realistic (and, likely, a more compassionate) understanding of what an attainable goal looks like. While uncompleted goals and tasks should be carried through to the next day, they can and should be adjusted using the previous day's experience. If Monday's goal was to read 300 pages but you only got through 50, then perhaps 50 is a more reasonable goal. If that's the case, then getting through the 300 pages should be spaced out either in 50 page increments, or approached with a different reading technique. The point of the Academic Productivity Planner is not to track your failures, but rather to encourage you to get a better understanding of how you work best and give you a guide for completing your projects, both major and minor. Use the daily evaluations to reflect upon what did and didn't work. Try out a particular approach for a week, then reflect upon it and adjust for the following week. Experiment with different working hours and days off to see what works best for you. If you want to use your goals and deadlines as motivation for rewards, use the points system to build up to them. Use the habit tracker in the Monthly Planner if you want to try out one new desirable activity each week (be sure to give yourself bonus points for carrying it out past the first week, too). Use positive reinforcement and rewards as motivation to be productive, rather than guilt or shame. 

Getting Started

The Academic Productivity Planner can either work electronically or as a hard copy printout. If using on a computer or tablet, make sure to keep a clean copy of each file, so it will be easy to duplicate and edit. If printing it out, I recommend selecting 2 pages per side in printer settings for a traditional agenda format (or print out 1 page per side for a large-print version). Rather than creating a full year-long or 18 month planner, try setting it up the Daily and Weekly Planners in smaller spurts (2 weeks to 1 month at a time). The reason for this is that it allows for more adjustment if you decide you want to change the design or shift deadlines.

If using the Academic Productivity Planner to accomplish one or more projects, start with filling out the 2 Project Planner pages at the end of the file as well as the Annual Planner page (or the Monthly or Weekly Planner page if working on a short-term project). Use the Project Planner (Main) page to work out the main steps/stages to your project. Assign some general due dates for each step, and then copy those onto your Annual Planner page (or Monthly/Weekly Planner). Print out or duplicate as many Monthly Planner pages are necessary to complete the project (for example: if your project will take exactly 1 year, prepare12 Monthly Planner pages and label them for each month). Copy the major deadlines into the Monthly Planner pages from the Annual Planner. Next, prepare enough Weekly Planner pages to cover the full month. Label them for each week, and then copy over any major due dates from the Monthly Planners, as well as any other major dates or deadlines outside of the project(s) you are working on.

The "Must Do" section allows for adding additional tasks outside of deadlines. For example, if you have been avoiding responding to an email, set it as a "Must Do" and then decide which day of the week you will do it. Prepare 1-2 weeks' worth of Daily Planners and write the Must Do as either a Deadline or a To Do. The only real difference between these two categories is that Deadlines count for more points and absolutely have to happen on that date, whereas To Do items can be shifted to future dates as necessary. You can also change or ignore the point system entirely, or only give yourself points for activities related to the project(s) or that are especially difficult to carry out. This is your Planner, and you can make it work for you.

If you are using the point system, take some time to map out rewards in the Productivity Points and Bonuses page. Adjust benchmark points if you want, and make your own system of bonus points (especially to reward completing all tasks or habits, using the Academic Productivity Planner for a full week or month, etc..., accomplishing something stressful, etc...). 

Disclaimer: Advice and suggestions are based upon personal experience as a student, applicant, and administrator. Listed content may not be fully comprehensive or applicable to all situations or circumstances. All content is original, but it is not necessarily unique and may bear similarities with others' suggestions. Content will also grow and adapt as I gain more experience.

Anyone making use of the resources and suggestions listed here are encouraged to seek out additional recommendations to build their own personalized approaches to navigating the often intimidating world of academia.

©2021 by Abigail I. MacBain