Money, dust and To Do lists

I gave my last lecture for the winter term yesterday and my final lab this morning. And now I am in that twice-yearly, half-day situation in which my brain realizes that something big has been wrapped up but I am not quite sure what to do next. Teaching eats up an enormous amount of time and energy and, inevitably, other critical pieces of our jobs as professors get pushed aside, especially toward the end of term.

It’s been a week or two of good news in the lab – Anna Solecki and Amélie Grégoire Taillefer both got good news about scholarships; I got good news about my research funding for the next five years; Stéphanie wrapped up a big manuscript – and all of the Lymanites seem to be getting close to the end of some things, and the start of others.

There is a piece of equipment sitting on the desk beside me here in my lab. It’s a bit dusty. It’s my microscope – the single most important tool for the research I do. It’s been a while since I looked at insects and I have been counting the days until the lectures and labs and meetings and paperwork and deadlines slowed down to the point at which I could divert some of my time from Teaching and Administration to the third pillar of the professor’s job – Research!

The big question is . . . what research to do? What should I put under the microscope? Meagan is waiting patiently for me to confirm some identifications. So is Anna. So are some colleagues at other institutions. One manuscript is almost ready to return to the journal – I just have to find the time to look at a few specimens and revise some text. Perhaps I should focus on that attainable little goal. Usually, when faced with such a decision, I end up doing the same thing every time. I commit the major tactical error of opening a file on my computer called “Current Projects”.

My “Current Projects” folder is the manuscript component of my considerably longer To Do list. It lists all the manuscripts – solo, collaborative, student thesis papers – that are in some advanced stage of completion. I had to subdivide the list a couple of years ago to make it more manageable. I now have “Current Projects – First Wave”, “Current Projects – This Year?”, and “Other”. Opening the file is an excellent reminder of two of my main personality flaws: procrastination and inability to say NO. I freely admit it – I have time management issues. And there always seems to be that shiny new project that is just too appealing to pass up. And so the list grows.”Current Projects” is the scariest file on my computer (along with “Money stuff” and my email inbox).

I don’t know if this long list of papers in progress is typical or not. I am sure that some of my colleagues have similar giant filing cabinets of things “in prep”, while others are much more methodical and take on one or two things at a time. I’m never certain (and I’ve been struggling with this for years), and I still have a hard time advising students, about which strategy works best for which person. Some people I work with are fantastic jugglers and can keep a half-dozen projects in the air at once. Others have single-minded focus that I envy deeply.

So the big question is – why am I writing a blog post when I could be dusting off the microscope and finishing something?

(that’s a rhetorical question, by the way)


About terry wheeler

professor, museum director, entomologist, ecologist, naturalist
This entry was posted in Lab and Field News and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Money, dust and To Do lists

  1. Opening the file is an excellent reminder of two of my main personality flaws: procrastination and inability to say NO.

    I can SO identify with this…

    Still, a “Current Projects” file is a great idea, and I’m a little surprised I hadn’t thought about doing something like this. It seems like anymore I’m just doing whatever is the most urgent at the time!

  2. The folder is a double-edged sword, for sure. On the one hand, it’s a great reminder of the diversity of projects that I’m involved in, and the great array of collaborators that I’m working with; on the other hand, it sometimes seems a little TOO daunting, and seems more like a list of things I SHOULD be doing instead of things I AM doing. That being said, I’m optimistic about knocking a few things off that line-up of manuscripts in the next few weeks . . .

    All about finding the right balance, I guess!

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