The end of the semester is not quite a crisis, but it is an odd mixture of going on vacation (from teaching) and going into battle (research and summer conferences), combining a lot of wrapping up and starting up at the same time. It's a good time to re-evaluate systems, and share ideas about what works and what doesn't. Additionally, I believe academics in the US will face some storms in the next few years, and it's time to batten down the hatches.
In the last semester, I have radically changed how I view my work. In addition to the usual contexts, I have classified my list items by focus area. My focus areas are Research, Teaching, Other Work, Personal, Family & Friends, and Home. It's a conventional list, but I have sharpened the edges more than I ever have in the past. I have taken everything that doesn't directly lead to a manuscript or presentation by me out of research and into other work. Preparing one of my grad students for his Orals has been moved to Other Work, as has the project of getting another student out the door and into a postdoc. Ditto for refereeing other people's papers. Teaching now includes only projects where I have to show up and teach somebody something. All service stuff, including book reviews, curriculum discussions, et cetera, goes into other work.
My reasoning is that teaching and research, as I have narrowly defined them, have different demands on my time and energy than most of the other things I do. Teaching is stuff that simply has to get done, period. I have to prepare for class and for lectures to lay audiences, I have to write exams. Once agreed to, these cannot be put off. For my last exam, I had two students in the hospital, and one competing in athletic championships. It all has to be dealt with on its own schedule. Research, on the other hand, requires both time and thought, and doesn't happen by itself. You have to nudge the wet noodle up the hill with your nose pretty much all the way. By eliminating the mundane from this focus area, I remove the illusion that research-related activities sustain my research, when it is actually the other way around. It might seem that Other Work is a dumping ground for all the stuff I don't really want to do, and that could easily be true. However, GTD gives me a good handle on everything. Really, Other Work is characterized by lots of smaller things to do, lots of interaction with other people, lots of mid-course correction. Much of it does not have a fixed deadline, or can be re-negotiated. Some of it is very important, if not for me, then for somebody else. It has to get done, but it can often be done in small windows of time.
This has been perhaps overlong, but I thought it might stimulate some useful discussion.