The 9-1 office hours worked very well the first week (except for Friday, with the stiff neck and little sleep). Second week had mixed results, though this is partly because one day I had to drive out to LRU and another day I went to a different local library; these trips interfered with my schedule, though I probably put in at least 4 hours’ worth of work both days. A third day had a celebratory breakfast meeting that was sorta kinda work-related.

This week I am off to a good start (I wasn’t even late to my desk this morning). I know it’s supposed to be a holiday, but not only was I not invited to any parties, it’s raining here. And, really, most of the time I don’t even enjoy parties all that much. But I am feeling very satisfied with the time I’ve put in on getting re-acquainted with a stalled writing project, and planning where it should go from here, and with time reading 40 pages in a very fat book I got from ILL a year ago . . . and started reading a few months ago . . . . I’m really good at biting off more than I can chew, which is why it’s important for me to just put the time in as well as to try to make more detailed plans about how much I’d like to get done.

I’ve also acquired packs of index cards in various solid and striped colors (striped, woo-hoo! I’d never seen those before). They’re not for note-taking, but for planning and keeping track of work. Goals for the month go on a colored card. Goals for the week go on a color-coordinated striped card. Goals and time-keeping for the day go on a white card. (The white cards, though, are heavier and take up more space in the little card box I also acquired; I may switch around to using striped cards for the days and white, or maybe different colored solids, for the weeks.) I used this system with some success before I got tenure, and sometime around that time switched to a PDA. Only I have found that, while I love the alarm function on the PDA (so I don’t miss meetings, and am reminded to get up and do things like pay bills when I planned to do so), it just doesn’t suit the way I think about time.

My problems with time management stem in large part from finding time too abstract and unreal a concept. I have a good grasp of “now.” “Now” is when I would rather eat chocolate or work in the garden or read blogs than grade papers. Everything else is “later,” and who knows whether “later” will even happen? The world could come to an end! I could get run over crossing the street! The students might all decide not to come to class! It takes a huge effort of faith and will to believe that “later” will indeed come about, and to insist to myself that in the later “now” I will regret not grading (or whatever) in this earlier “now.”

(Um, yeah, basically I’m a cat, except my idea of good activities for “now” doesn’t involve quite so much sleeping.)

So I really need a system of lists and time-tracking that makes the deadlines, the stuff to do, and the time available to do it in as concrete and real as possible. (Also fun: colored index cards and colored pens are a bribe for trying to think and plan realistically.) Really BIG desk calendars help. Whole-year wall calendars help (pity I don’t have a place to put one). An index card per day helps. Those ruled lines on the cards help: if I run out of lines, that’s probably a sign that there are too many items on the list for a single day or week. Electronic systems just foster my sense that time is abstract and expandable. One solid real card per day, and when you’re out of space you’re out of time: that’s easy to grasp.

Actually, I’m tempted to blame my struggles with time on a childhood misunderstanding. You know the blank squares on calendar pages when the month doesn’t begin on Sunday and end on Saturday (on American calendars)? I asked my mother about those when I was about 4, and she said they were “extra days.” I thought she meant unnumerated days, a little like Leap Day, uncounted time between the end of one official month and the beginning of another. She quickly explained, but too late . . . the concept, the hope of that extra time had lodged in my developing brain. Not done by the 30th? Never mind, there are 3 grace days before the first. Instead, all too often it seems like I’m living multiple days at once, as in this month’s doubling up of the 24th and 31st on the calendar.

One thought on “How’s that working for you?

  1. I like your card system and may try it. I have a steno notebook in which I record what I've done, but the planning is tougher with that.

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