Skills for academics

Dan Tamayo asks about resources for "project management, mentoring, time management, or other important skills in academic jobs that academia doesn't necessarily train you for."

First, an answer:

  1. Getting Things Done is my favorite book about time management and is also directly relevant to project management.
  2. High Output Management is excellent on mentorship and cooperative functioning.
  3. The Artist's Way is good for turning blocked writers into unblocked writers.
  4. Peak is a good book about performing well at skill-intensive tasks.
  5. How To Change is my favorite book about breaking bad habits.

What's really hard about this question, I think, is that academia is a distinctive and special sphere, and an academic ought to take advantage of the best of it while overcoming the worst of it. What I have in mind is:

  1. Academics often have a lot of freedom in how they complete tasks, and not having barriers to the best structure for one's work is great. But having to figure out that structure for oneself can be hard.
  2. Academics can often pursue projects without immediate pressure to prove their utility or "pass a market test." That independence can be valuable. But market tests are valuable, too.
  3. A lot of academics produce many outputs: papers, talks, research results underlying those, and fuzzier sorts of progress in mentorship, teaching, and personal development. It can be hard to prioritize these and figure out which of those are for the sake of which others.

Some think that academics should abandon academic work styles and adopt habits like those in the (non-academic) business world. That can't be right: the whole point of being an academic is to benefit from a distinctive and special environment. My habits, here on the outside, might not be right for someone on the inside.

Wherever you are, however, it's worth thinking about the distinctive productivity dangers of your environment. (Programming in big tech has a ton of these; I hope to write about them some day.) Academics might consider working extra-hard to assess the long-term value of their various outputs (see #3 above) and work on abandoning less-promising projects (see #2 above).

Matt Might writes wonderfully about this subject.

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