Getting Organised, Part II

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Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 19/07/2013 - 3:57pm in

Tutor Mike has had a major win. I have talked about my suspicion of schedules, and the anxiety I feel when thinking about more than one task at once. Assignment 1 for Managing your Study, in fact for the course as a whole, was to put together a weekly planner and a session planner. And to do them both in Microsoft Word.

We'll take the last one first: Session planner. Useless, I thought. This is a single-session course. There are barely more than half a dozen deadlines or exams, and they're all listed in the Unit Information Guides and a good few other places besides. Who needs this?

Still, concluding that the main purpose of the assignment was just to do the assignment, I duly marked in my deadlines on a table, colour-coded them, and put in some big arrows for good measure. The result is kind of a Gantt chart rotated 90° clockwise, with the vertical axis denoting time, the units of study along the horizontal.

Then I found that having done this, whenever I wanted to recall which assignments were due when, I went for the PDF I'd made of this Word document before any other source of the same information. Last weekend I thought hang it all, I'll print it out and carry it with me. Education: 1; Matthew still to score.

The weekly planner is a bit more problematic. I already have a perfectly fine calendar, which I've adjusted to spit out a plain text file of the next week's worth of commitments. I print this out on Monday morning, fold it up and put it in my pocket, using the reverse side for task-related notes over the course ofthe week, like a proper GTD hipster.

But the point of the weekly planner is not just to put in your fixed, non-negotiable commitments (classes, appointments, etc.), but also to fill every other hour of the day with negotiable commitments, even if it's just "cuddle cats". If it's important to you, it should be on there somewhere.

Initially I rebelled against this too, thinking it a ludicrous degree of obsessive over-planning, but then I appplied an IT analogy. The negotiable commitments are just default values. If I sit down to study unit EDU10446, and realise that my next assignment for EDU10445 is soon due, I can bump the one in favour of the other, in the expectation that it will all even out in the end (more or less). Having a default activity for any given time just means you don't spend half an hour deciding what to do before realising you don't have time to do it any more and you should have started half an hour ago.

In Covey-speak, about which I shall say more later, you are scheduling for Quandrant II (non-urgent, important), while allowing for Quadrant I (urgent, important) activities (Covey, 2006).

So whither Just One Thing™? Well, it turns out that Just One Thing™ is granular. It applies to hours as well as days. When you sit down (or get up) to do one of your scheduled activities, what exactly do you choose to do? Doesn't matter; just do one thing, and then you're off the hook. If it's study, just open a book for the relevant topic and read a chapter. Likely you'll find something in there that you can use in an essay, or reminds you of the next thing you can do, and you're away. Or not, in which case make yourself a sandwich and feel good about having done one thing instead of nothing.

Now there is no way on Earth I am going to manually compile a colour-coded weekly planner in Microsoft Word (or even a freedom-respecting equivalent), every week for the next three and a half years. I am going to have to build something in Drupal, to pull in my appointments from my existing personal calendar, and allocate the free space around them. I shall shedule this task in my weekly planner retrospectively, once it is complete.