Scheduling part II

I’m getting a ton of feedback on my scheduling post (two people)!! I’ve been asked for additional scheduling advice via email, which I welcome any of you to do if you like. Also we got a comment asking for advice so I thought I’d answer it here:

i have an elaborate task list system in a notebook, but not tied to particular times for accomplishing those tasks. one reason for which being that i used consistently write up what i’ll be doing in every block of time per day, but tasks would extend beyond their allotted time or there would be tasks where i’d see, oh time to grade now, and just not. do. it. (and then I am filled with self-loathing) I am pretty disciplined but…there’s this. Any advice? build in breaks? be more disciplined?

Well, you ask a couple different questions, some of which I can answer and some of which I can’t but will try to anyway.

Firstly: are you talking about on-campus days or off-campus days (or whatever the equivalent is, in some other career I can’t visualize)? Because I will say that I think the intense hour-by-hour scheduling plan is really MOST helpful during on-campus work days where you have a ton of stuff going on outside of your own work. E.G. days when you are on campus, going to meetings, having office hours, teaching, etc., and you’re trying to profitably schedule all those things, and the time in between those things. THIS kind of day benefits most from an hour-by-hour schedule, because it keeps you on track and keeps you at maximum productivity. So you come back to your office from a meeting, look immediately at your day planner, see that it’s noon now and your next commitment is a thesis defense at 2, and in your day planner you’ve written between noon and 2:
– write Kelly back
– ask D about alternate event tickets
– email class about tomorrow’s reading
– call Kathy about TA funding
– grade quizzes

And then you are like, “oh right, YES, ok I will do those things” and you know you only have until 2, so you immediately start jamming that list out.

For me, this kind of hour-by-hour scheduling is LESS helpful during my weekends, when I have no commitments. For my off-campus days, a to-do list–your elaborate task list concept–is enough structure for me, and I just work methodically through it. I don’t think I would enjoy hourly scheduling of my off-days. However, I think if a person (you) struggles a lot with their off-days and making them productive, the hourly schedule could be good training wheels to get into a more productive habit on your off days.

In terms of feeling defeated by scheduling hourly and then the tasks go past their allotted time…well, partially this is normal. You always have a run-off system, where stuff you didn’t get to today goes into the next day. NOW. I will say that a commitment to thorough scheduling has actually made my run-off tasks slow to a trickle and sometimes even disappear. Like any self-disciplining practice, if you actually follow it and commit to it it eventually reshapes your habits. I always think of Phillip Glass, the composer, who said that decades ago he decided he was only going to work from 8-2 every day and then stop. And he did this for years, as a disciplining practice (he’s also a Buddhist, so that helps). After awhile, between 8-2 became when he had ideas! After making himself adhere to this 8-2 practice, his ideas got used to coming out during that time. Starting at 8, he has all these great ideas, and he works on them, and then they kind of come to a stop around 2, and he stops working. I find this very inspiring, that even an artist can train themselves around habits of productivity. Like we don’t actually HAVE to be the insane person in the garrett not eating or sleeping and being haunted and tormented by our muse. Just work from 8-2 and don’t make a big thing of it!

So, I say, start with your day’s task-list, and then if there is run-off at the end of the day, don’t sweat it—put it in the next day’s to-do list. If you are diligent, you’ll get better at this. You’ll get better at actually knowing what a realistic to-do list looks like. Sometimes a day’s to-do list only has one thing on it! If I’ve got to “write a draft of chapter 2” on a given day, I now know that I should not expect to do ANY OTHER TASK on that day, because writing a book chapter takes forever, and honestly actually I should probably just go ahead and put “write draft of chapter 2” on the next day’s list (and nothing else) as well. This practice teaches you to be diligent and focused and it also helps you slowly learn to understand how long things actually take to do, which in turn helps you make more and more realistic daily task-lists, which in turn makes you not feel like a shitty jerk for not doing everything on your list because you set your sights too high when you made the list!

Okay but you are saying you have this problem where you will see that it’s time to do a given task but then you just won’t do it. I am wondering if this is happening on an off day or during an actual on-campus day (or equivalent)? For me, when I am on campus, I hit the ground running, and a sense of extreme urgency essentially carries me through the entire day (this is also why I tend not to eat while I’m at work, which is my personal struggle). I am like “go! go! go!” like a marine from 8 a.m. until I leave campus at night. So I get back from the meeting, frantically check the day planner, see that list, and just am like “GO GO GO” and I do the list because I have this (absolutely correct) belief that if I don’t do the list right now during this tiny allotted time, it either won’t get done–I’ll forget about it, it’ll slip through the cracks–OR, I’ll have to move it from today’s 12-2 slot and put it in my weekend to-do list, which is already jam-packed and I really really don’t want to have to deal with today’s list then.

I am very receptive to future-oriented thinking, which is why I have never really had a problem with procrastination. I know I am very blessed in this regard. I know what a painful struggle it is when you have problems with procrastination. For me, it just generally REALLY WORKS to simply imagine a future in which I have not done today’s to-do list, and how awful that future will be. Just imagining this is enough to make me do the to-do list. I understand that procrastination is a serious psychological issue that scientists are studying and that no one fully understands, so just me saying “imagine how happy you’ll be later if you do this now!” probably doesn’t solve your problem. I will try to think of more nuts and bolts ways to attack this issue…

I guess I would ask you: what are you doing, during those blocks of time when you know you’re supposed to be doing something else? Are you just idly looking at shit on ebay or something, or are you doing other work, or what? I am starting to come to the belief that a lot of scheduling problems and organization problems and even procrastination might stem in part from us not recognizing time and tasks in a concrete enough way. Maybe the tasks on your task list still seem too vague to imagine doing them right now? OR, maybe they seem too daunting? Like maybe you need to slowly learn that “grade quizzes” actually isn’t that daunting of task. Come on, it takes like an hour and then it’s done, it’s not a big deal, just do it! And/or maybe this block of time is too vaguely conceived of in your mind? You have to really FEEL that 2:00 is looming and once it comes, this block of free time will never come again! I think this is why the hour-by-hour scheduling is usually helpful–it helps you really SEE how long a chunk of time is. Instead of just telling yourself “oh I should grade those papers sometime today,” if you actually look at your hourly schedule and confront the fact that there really is HARDLY ANY TIME during today when that grading can actually get done, and the grading will take at least an hour…it helps you identify a slot of time that will work and be like “well shit, I better get on that RIGHT NOW”

So I guess I would tell you to work a bit on identifying time, tasks, and actual activities with greater specificity, precision, and honesty. Maybe it would help you to reverse-schedule for awhile? What if on a given day, you didn’t do anything on your to-do list, and instead looked at galoshes on ebay for 2 hours. If you wrote THAT down in your day planner (“12-2 looked at galoshes on ebay. Did not buy anything”) maybe it would JOLT your brain into being like “look at all this time I am wasting!!!!!” and it would make you WANT to be more productive? Like you’d actually start doing your to-do list so that you wouldn’t have to fill out your day planner with such shameful things? That’s one idea.

Finally, YES, you definitely should build in breaks!!!!!!! You need to build in time to eat, time to chill. On my off-campus days I have a very Phillip Glass-style schedule–I know I have to stop around 2:00, and go to the gym, and walk the dog, and think about dinner. It is nice. If you just have this amorphous blob of time during which you’re supposed to do this huge task list, of course you’re going to balk and not do it and procrastinate and fritter it all away! It’s too daunting to just be like “Monday: do this huge list of tasks, thanks bye.” You have to identify a realistic list; you have to identify realistic blocks of time; you have to know when you can stop and go do something else; etc. If you build a reassuring schedule that takes all this into account, maybe you will be more likely to work in partnership with it, instead of fighting against it?

I don’t know if this was helpful!! Feel free to leave follow-up information so I can think more specifically about what’s going on with you.

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One Response to Scheduling part II

  1. Eileen says:

    One issue is not being able to accurately estimate how long a task will actually take, especially if it’s not something you do all the time. It’s a balance between only scheduling yourself X amount of time, so you actually feel the pressure to DO the task, and still being sure to give yourself enough time to actually tackle it. Like, sometimes you need a lot of brain time to get writing on the page! My prelaw dudes are incredulous when I’m all “give yourself 1.5X the time you think you need,” but then they haven’t applied to law school before! How do they know how much time they will need? A: they don’t, so it’s a good idea to allot more time, especially considering hard deadlines.

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