Several recent commenters asked me for more information about how I manage to be so ‘efficient’. Just to be clear about where I am on the efficiency spectrum: I do tend to get things done in a timely way (= efficient) but I am not a neat or extremely organized person (= less efficient than I could be).
In thinking about it, I didn’t really know what to say in terms of what would be interesting or useful or even accurate, so I asked a colleague to help me. Perhaps that is one example of how I am efficient: I ask people to help me and/or do things for me (?).
First, I asked my colleague if he considers me to be ‘efficient’ and he immediately said yes, he does. I asked him in what ways I am efficient and how/why I am that way, recognizing that the second part is an impossible and loaded question.
He mentioned the following, in no particular order of importance:
- I don’t procrastinate. I would amend that to say that I don’t procrastinate very much. I tend to ‘just do it’ when confronted with various tasks (reviews, committee work) and fit them into interstices of time. For such tasks, I tend to get them done on the time scale of days or weeks rather than putting them off and letting them pile up. I think he’s right, but since these tasks are endless – e.g., whenever I send off a review, the Editor Gods somehow know to send me another request for a review -- getting them done sooner doesn’t mean an end to the work, which is infinite.
- I don’t get distracted by things or wallow in negative emotions; ‘things’ includes unimportant things (e.g., obsessing over my rude and patronizing colleague) and important things (e.g., major life events that might be depressing or upsetting). That is, I don’t shut down in the face of obstacles. This is in part luck, as I have never had to face anything too dire. My family and I are healthy and thus far life crises have been few and manageable. I think this might be important on a day-to-day basis, though. I have some colleagues/students who are entirely stopped for days/weeks by such events as taking a pet to the veterinarian or getting their car repaired. I find great satisfaction in getting things done, so I like getting things done, even when faced with minor obstacles.
My colleague, who does not describe himself as efficient (accurately, I would say), and I also talked about how it is that we are able to work well together. Just because I am rather efficient, doesn’t mean that I can only work with other efficient people. I am definitely annoyed by people whose inability to get things done on time negatively impacts me (e.g., anecdote from last week about the committee member who didn’t read all the files by the meeting time), but in terms of scientific collaborations, I enjoy working with many different people. My colleague’s analogy involves gears of different sizes but that work together to get something done.
He also asked me if I make lists. I do not, with the exception of when I have a major deadline looming, such as a proposal deadline or departure for a major trip. In general I don’t need lists (yet), but my avoidance of lists may also have a deeper reason – my mother is a List Person. She makes lists while driving. Her phone conversations with me involve her reading to me from a list of conversational topics she pre-planned (and wrote down) before our conversation. Her visits to me involve her leaving lists for me – things I should do, things I should buy. My mother is great, but I don’t want to emulate her List Mania if at all possible.
13 years ago