Much To-Do about Organsing My Time: Managing the Mess of Schedules and Lists

As the tasks and deadlines of the new year loom I find my eyes drawn to any tweet, post, update and article that refers to being organised. I am not someone who deliberately makes New Year Resolutions due to the fact that I know I will not stick to them. I am, like many people, lured into the “New Year, New You” kind of thinking as I get back into work and a routine that does not revolve around binge-eating and napping.

Having had a lovely burst of reading energy over the Christmas break, I decided to check in on my long-neglected Goodreads account to update my reading history and stick a few stars next to some books that stood out for me. I was greeted with banners inviting me to set my reading goals for 2017. For a few moments I almost clicked and set a goal of 30 books, thinking that a social media platform could help me keep up with my most loved and longed-for hobby. Free time is the only thing that will allow me to complete that goal, and to make that happen I need to be a bit more organised throughout my working week.

Just before sitting down to write this blog, I almost spent an Amazon gift voucher on a notebook, thinking this would help me keep organised and productive over the coming year. . .more efficiently that the dozens of half-filled, messy notebooks scattered between my home and workplace. Instead I decided to buy a book in order to propel my reading goals (without committing to a reading goal on Goodreads).

Despite this indecisiveness and toe-dipping into tried, tested (and often failed) strategies for efficiency, I am really thinking about how to organise my time this semester. Blessed with a teaching load that is mostly grouped together over the first half of the week, I am hoping to follow Raul Pacheco-Vega’s 7-step strategy to organise my week and ensure that I have at least one full working day towards researching and writing. I will definitely try to have what Raul calls a “buffer day” in the hopes that this will provide a protective layer around that precious research/write day. In the past few years, rare and hard-fought-for research days have been lost to surprise tasks and last-minute deadlines.

I am also drawing on Pat Thomson’s post about To-Do Lists as I begin to tackle my first swathe of deadlines. I am relieved to know that I am not the only person to have to-lists fragmented across sticky-notes, scraps of paper and sometimes, the back of my hand:

“I suspect it probably matters whether the to do list is well organised, or kept, as mine usually is, as an apparently random and untidy set of post-its and scraps of pilfered conference notepaper. My to do lists appear to be ephemeral, fragments of academic life not worth keeping once enough of the items have been crossed off. But I do go through them quite regularly and toss out those that aren’t worth keeping any more, carefully transferring the things still to be done to a new note.” (Thomson)

The joy of a to-do list is the ability to delete, crumble up, and discard it bit-by-bit as you work your way through it. It’s interesting that at the same time as planning the completion of a project we dismember the plan itself as we hack lines through different parts, or tear it up, or shoot trashcan hoops with it. Like squeezing a spot or peeling away sunburnt skin, the satisfaction of removal is motivating and therefore essential when you find yourself juggling different roles and tasks.

Aside from these (possibly strange) acts of organisational dismemberment, I enjoy the mess of different coloured post-its and pieces of paper torn out of one half-empty/full notebook or another. I could never stick to carefully ordered lists stretched vertically down a single page, perhaps with little check boxes next to each item. Perhaps this is why I like Google Keep. It’s the only app for organisation and note-taking that has ever really appealed to me (aside from mind-mapping apps like XMind). It doesn’t really get the attention it deserves because, as Alan Henry notes, it got compared with Evernote and other organisation app giants when it launched. Keep is essentially a screen full of interactive post-it notes. You can click and drag, link content, make voice or photo notes, colour-code and label freely across the screen!

I think I will try to migrate all of my paper post-its to Keep this year instead of dotting them around my desk and on my laptop. The satisfaction of clicking delete on a post-it and watching it disappear into the ether is something I very much enjoy (besides, my aim at the waste-paper basket isn’t the best). Much of our interactions with computers in terms of work revolve around saving and copying and saving some more. It is nice to have a small corner of my digital working world in which delete constitutes a goal met or a task completed.

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