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One of the perennial discussions that crops up in science circles (both academic and non-academic) is how to keep track of projects and prioritise what to work on in away that doesn’t feel like using a parasol to combat a fire hose at close range.

I know there are bits of project management software, but I have enough Gantt charts in my life, and nearly everyone in science has a spreadsheet program. Plus, it’s the system I’ve used for the last 10 years or so, from near the end of my PhD through two postdocs, and now two research positions.

First, some basics. I keep track of a lot of projects… some are mine, some are my students, some I haven’t heard anything about in more than a year and may be dead in the water. Some of mine may in fact be floundering in the intertidal as we speak. Details have been redacted to protect the procrastinating and overworked.

It’s also not a “set in stone” priority list. In my hierarchy, first come student papers, followed by papers with colleagues who need them for jobs, tenure, promotion, etc. And of course those requiring little input from me at the time quickly rise to the top regardless of where they fall on the spreadsheet.

I’ve set up rules to auto-colour cells based on whether something sits with me (ALB), a coauthor, or a journal, and whether a particular state is done (Yes), in progress (Part), or not yet started (No). I then sort these in descending order across columns to get … the final product. The grey bars are the projects that I really want ot try and focus on, for one reason or another (student, been-around-for-a-long-time, for a coauthor’s job/application/tenure/etc).

Following each line is a note to myself about what the next steps are (e.g., “review draft”, or “re-run stats with 2019 data”), and for those with coauthors, who it’s sitting with (“With JK”). The last column is the planned journal, or where it’s been submitted. I don’t keep track of unsuccessful submissions here (I do that in both the project’s folder and in email correspondence). I also don’t keep track of dates because I’ve not really had a need or desire to.

And lastly, there are two tabs, with identical headings: one for, well, current projects, and another for what I’ve affectionately called “dormant projects” – those where I’m not sure if they’ll ever amount to anything, or are shelved, on hiatus, or otherwise inactive. They’re not yet binned totally, and some do come back to being active (if an interested student comes along, for example).

So I hope this might be helpful, and I’m sure there are ways I can make it better, but it’s a system that seems to work for me.

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