Sunday, September 21, 2008

Time management

Soon is a relative term...really.

Time management has become more important than ever in my life over the past month. I like to have a lot of possible projects to work on. At the moment, I have a couple of equal importance and several others that become more important the longer I leave them go. That leads to my head spinning a bit if I think about them all at once.

The most important has been my poster that is due to the printer Wednesday (the meeting is 29 Sept-1 Oct). It is my first poster. The design looks good and the figures are reasonable, but I'm struggling a bit to figure out what I want to say about them and how to say it.

I'm registered for one class and informally auditing another (both for the qual and for my own information). They both involve variable amounts of reading, so that is hard to schedule. I'm never quite sure when we'll proceed to the next unit or chapter. I also have homework for registered-for class. That is not too bad--I just need to remember to do it. The first homework for the audit class was completely out of line for a homework assignment. It was a mini research project. I didn't do it.

I've nearly stuck to the study schedule for the qual. I only missed a partial chapter that was due yesterday, but I made it up today. I can't fall behind on this because I have a whole field to study by the end of January. It will only pile up and make me more stressed and less likely to pass the qual. For the coming week, I have five more chapters. I'll miss the next group study session, so I'm accountable only to myself for these. In the final week of intro material studying, I have four chapters. After October 4th, we are moving on to the department's core classes. Needless to say, my studying textbook is coming to the meeting with me.

On top of all these macro-tasks, I have a variety of micro-tasks that I would like to accomplish: audition four possible thesis-writing programs (InDesign, OpenOffice, Word, and LaTeX), practice my cello, write an update to family and friends I haven't talked to much over the past year, and plan and cook food to eat. In the short term, I also hoped to go shopping for black shoes with heels of some sort to go with my suits for the conference so my pants don't drag on the ground. Of course I ran out of time this weekend. I hope to find more time for these after the poster is done. Perhaps I can squeeze shoe shopping between turning in the poster Wednesday afternoon and flying to the meeting Saturday morning. If not, I'll have to wear my old boots. They're passable, but not terribly professional. All these tasks become more critical as i leave them go, but at the moment they are relatively ignorable.

With all these threads tugging me in different directions, last night was my first night away from work in over a week. Otherwise, I get up, go to work, work through lunch, come home, work all night, go to bed, repeat. Occasionally I'll intersperse some household chores, like laundry so I can wear clean clothes. I've been pushed, pulled, and stretched. With several people sick at work and the boyfriend getting over a minor cold, I'm surprised I haven't caught anything yet (not that I'm complaining, universe).

How is this (lack of) balance working? Well, I'm still alive, aren't I? I wonder if this is as good as it gets without a rigid schedule. I hate following a rigid schedule. I prefer to work on whatever I feel I can focus on best rather than what is on my calendar. The problem: it is easier to get overwhelmed with all the stuff in front of me when I allow myself a choice of immediate task. When it is possible, I also need to work more leisure time into my schedule. I don't think that'll happen in any significant form this semester.

I suppose my current time management methods work reasonably well. There is a point at which it doesn't matter how well I manage my time--there is too much to do for the time I have. I think I'm beyond that point for the moment, but it will recede after the poster is done. Yes, I'm banking a lot of hope for a slightly less busy schedule on finishing the poster. Stay tuned to see if my hopes are dashed...


  1. Ooh, no comment moderation. Bwahahaha!!! (just kidding)

    The qual just feels this way. It squeezes as much time out of you as it possibly can. Without the qual, everything you have to do is manageable. But with the qual, even the slightest task becomes a huge burden.

    I wish I could tell you it lightens up, but it's going to get worse before it gets better. To try to give you a bright side:
    - free time will feel incredible in 4 months (although you won't know how to use it without feeling residual guilt at first), and
    - you won't ever fret about taking a test in a normal class again.

  2. Mike: Right now I don't think the qual is the main problem. It's this poster due Wednesday. I've been working on it most of my waking hours for the past >week. Once the poster is done, then I can lighten my research load, study for the qual, do my homework, and fill in with micro-tasks.

    I'll let you know in a couple of weeks if I'm right or if qual studying is truly the worst time sink.

  3. If you'd like a tool for managing your projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen's GTD:

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version and iCal are available too.

  4. The thing that kept coming to mind as I read this was: "Don't break your rhythm!"

    Scheduled or not, you've got a rhythm going, so any major interruption could disrupt the balance you've achieved. Once something big (like your poster and/or the qual) gets out of the way you'll be able to breath and re-sort your life more efficiently.