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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

Keeping Track of your Work: Events, Briefings, Workshops, Etc Edition

Last week, my boss asked me to write a few paragraphs about my work's impact. This exercise made me realize that I'm bad at keeping track of how I spend my time. I had tried excel spreadsheets and word documents, but just listing the activity and the date didn't seem to be particularly useful. Also, after counting them up, I discovered that I participated in a whopping 123 meetings, events, and briefings last year. That's about two per week. So how can I be sure I'm getting the most out of how I am spending my time?

Here I’ll describe my latest attempt at keeping track of the various events, briefings, workshops, etc. My goal is to facilitate a broader understanding for myself, bosses, and funders, of the impact of this type of work.

Pay the set-up costs. The first step is to derive categories for your activities. Take some time to review what is valued in your job. Every job is different, so make sure to consult with your colleagues and your boss when making these categories. My broad categories are meetings and talks; media mentions; multimedia (podcasts, etc.); and government engagement. I use a separate system to track publications – this is just for in-person (or, I guess nowadays, virtual) engagements.

I then have unique categories for each of my three jobs – I track university-specific events and my broader service to the university for my academic position, my engagement in the intellectual life of the think tank where I'm a fellow, and what I have done on my military duty. When I need this information varies; the university stats will be useful when I go up for tenure, the think tank ones to demonstrate I'm fulfilling my contractual obligations, and the military ones for my annual Officer Performance Reports.

Put it all together. Once you have decided on the categories, it is time to employ a system for tracking. It won’t surprise anyone that I use Evernote to do this – I have one note labeled 'Impact (June 2021-May 2022)’ that contains a list of my categories. When I click on a category, another note opens with a list of the events in that category. Each activity then also has its own note that has relevant information include other participants, how many RSVPs, the comments I made, and the response and feedback provided to me (I explicitly ask for this to help me with my impact statements. For details, see my post on creating event guides).

I like Evernote because I can forward emails and automatically create notes which saves me time. But you could do a word document or excel spreadsheet too. If you do these, at the very least, create some table of contents at the beginning that you can click on to navigate quickly to your various categories.

Having the big picture of what you are doing helps you better prioritize. For example, I recently learned that the expectation is to do 2-3 in-house events each year at my university (I did 13 last year); this is an area I could reduce if needed. On the other hand, because I was in Sydney, I hardly participated in the internal events at my think tank, something my boss brought up in my performance review. By putting it all together, I have a clearer picture of where I need to improve.

Produce reminders. I try to do much of the event follow-up immediately after the event, so I tend not to produce too many reminders. But I make sure to email the organizers for impact statements and follow up with any of the other panelists or participants I hope to work with again (see my post on networking in a virtual world). I also tweet about the event before and afterwards.

Performance Notes. I make notes about whether I felt the event was valuable or if a moderator or panelist was particularly impressive (so I can make sure to include them in events I plan). I also note specific approaches that worked well in the event and those that did not (how moderators took questions, dealt with speakers going over time, etc.). For example, a particular colleague still stands out in my memory based on how gracious he was on a panel. He listened and engaged with what I said instead of just talking about what he wanted to. These notes also help me serve the broader scholarly community as I'm ready to give recommendations for participants and speakers when asked.

So that's it. I'm on a panel tomorrow at 6 am, so I've got to prepare (a blog post about preparing to speak on panels is dying to be written!). I've reviewed the other panelist's latest writings, skimmed the RSVPs, and reviewed the organization's mission statement (people love it when you connect your participation or comments somehow to the language of their mission statement) – all of which is ready to go in my event notes. Wish me luck!

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