Is the Panda Planner for you?

I think I must have been living under a rock! I had never heard about the Panda Planner until one of my PhD students arrived in my office for a meeting with her planner under her arm and raving about how much she loved it! After some google searching and reading online reviews it seemed that she was not the only one. People love these things! So I decided that I would get one and try it out for my fall semester ( I purchased my Panda Planner Classic from Amazon but there are other online sites that also sell the planner).

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Now if you have followed my blog in the past, you will know that my team has moved much of our research workflow and communication to the online project management tool Asana. So I was not sure about incorporating a paper planner back into my work routine. I have been using the planner for a couple of weeks now and wanted to let people know how it was going in case you are considering trying the planner out.

1) there are different types of planners with somewhat different layouts and that cover different time periods (more on this later). They all look the same on the outside but make sure you do some research to see which style will best fit your needs. I picked the Classic planner because it is smaller than the pro but to be honest I made my purchase without really doing much research.

2j it turns out that the Pro is a quarterly planner and so if you use it every day it will last 3 months. I was willing to compromise a smaller size planner for the 3 month time period since my use of most planners changes over time. I figured that the planner would last the entire fall semester (Sept to December break) since there are days that I don’t use the planner (like weekends). This works because the planner is undated which is something I really liked. You won’t waste pages if you skip a day.

3) the layout is a bit unusual and it takes some getting use to. It has monthly, weekly, and daily sections that are all separate. I don’t mind the layout and the planner comes with 3 ribbon page markers so you can always easily access the section you need. If you are wondering if this layout is going to be a good fit for you, you might want to join the Panda Lab Facebook group. In the files section of the group you can find some printable examples of the different layouts (they also have great videos on their website) so you can dig a bit deeper and see if you think it might work for you,

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4) lastly, I am surprised by how the pando planner has brought some mindfulness practice into my daily routine that had never really “stuck” before. You can’t read the news these days without hearing about how journaling, setting a daily intention, expressing gratitude etc. is a great mindfulness practice to get into but Ihave never really been able to get into the habit. The Panda Planner layout actually has space for you to identify what you are grateful for that day, what your intention for the day is etc. By integrating it into my planner, and not having it be a separate book or journal in which to write, I have found that I have been consistently doing this. Spending a few minutes to appreciate what is going well in life seems like a given but taking the time to intentionally do so using a prompt in the planner seems to have made it more a part of my routine.

The fall semester is upon us and I am feeling like the Panda Planner will be a good fit for keeping things organized this fall both at work and at home. The true test will be if I become so attached to the process that I purchase another one for the winter semester. I will keep you posted as the semester progresses.

Academic Project Management Strategies - Part TWO

I am back with Part two of my blog series related to academic project management. If you have not read Part one you might want to start here first.

Hopefully, after reading Part One you decided to take the leap and set up your research team in the project management tool of your choice. So now what? How is this going to simplifying your life and make it easier to keep track of all of the different tasks that you are working on? How does this help your students, team members, and collaborators feel like they know what you expect of them and what they can expect from you?

In today’s post I will give you a couple of examples of HOW (and WHY) we use Asana in my team and you might just decide to give some of these ideas (or all of them) a try. So here are my next THREE suggestions of how project management software might make your life easier and/or make it easier for everyone on the team to appreciate the work that they don’t see.


POINT ONE: Each “Project” has a main TASK list. I have my own “Project” within our group site. This mean that all of my students can at any point see what is on my list (although you can make tasks private so my students don’t need to see that I need to make my kids an appointment to get a Hep A shot before our trip). I actually think that most graduate students and postdocs have no idea what their PI does in their office all day. I think it is useful for my trainees to see what I have going on and my tasks are sorted according to Research, Teaching, and Service (the good old Tenure and Promotion staples). These are just the larger tasks that you see in the screenshot (Below). Within each of these are tonnes of smaller tasks like finish writing assignment 2, submit reference letter for student A, review slide deck for student presentation next week, finish budget for CIHR proposal etc. My students know what I am working on and what the timelines look like for almost everything I do on a daily basis. I actually think that this makes me seem more like a person and less like a mysterious research robot :)

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POINT TWO: Each student “Project” has a main TASK list. When I meet with my students weekly, it is the case that this list is almost always open. As we discuss different things that we need to do like email a specific person , or make an updated figure we enter the “action items” directly into the task list for the project and assign the tasks and deadlines while we talk. This means that when the meeting is over we have a clear understanding of what we each agreed to do and when we agree to complete it by. In the example below, you can see that our E coli project has two tasks listed right now. One is assigned to the student (RH) and the other to me. I can easily see with a glance that I can expect to get a draft of RH’s literature review on Tuesday and RH can clearly see that I have committed to sending her edits and revisions on her first research chapter by Feb 8, 2019 (at the latest). In our group that has helped to keep track of all of the agenda items from our individual meetings and improves transparency related to when we expect to complete specific tasks.

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POINT THREE: If you have not already realized the underlying HUGE benefit of moving your research and team based communication into a project management platform I am going to give away the secret right now. It means LESS EMAIL (cue the dramatic music). In the past, all of this stuff (drafts, tasks, discussions) would have been email strings with attachments. But now, it is all contained in the project management site. Each task in the list has a description and comments and you can also add attachments and tag individuals so that they know that you have posted something for them. In the screenshot below, you can see all of the attachments one place (both older versions and newer versions of a manuscript) as well as the conversation between myself and RH related to the task of revising the manuscript. Everyone knows what to expect and when to expect it by (and it didn't require 10 emails to make it happen).

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Next time, I will talk about how we have used our project management system to change the way we plan and organize our monthly lab-wide meeting. Do you have questions? Feel free to drop them in the comments below and I will start a new post to address your specific questions.