Scheduling

gtd

I've had one of those weeks when -- out of nowhere -- you get a sudden flurry of new tasks to do, which all have due dates for the end of this week, and all of which are important. Normally, I don't schedule my day, or micro-manage tasks. I schedule what tends to be known as the 'hard landscape' (meetings, lectures, tutorials etc.), but just fit other tasks into the gaps left. However, many of the things I have to do this week will take more than a day to complete, and I need to make sure that I make progress on each of them every day, rather than being tempted into doing the easy ones first and then having a massive panic over the hard ones on Friday.

So I printed off a stack of David Seah's excellent Emergent Task Planners, and have been using them to schedule work on my tasks during the week. There is an example of how to use the form on the page, but basically you list the things you want to work on today, estimate how long each will take (by colouring in blobs, which is quite fun in itself), then block out time periods as appropriate to do those tasks. I don't think I'd do it every day, but it has been really useful and enlightening this week. I'm slightly hesitant about revealing what I've learned about myself, for fear that people will point at me, laugh and call me an incompetent wimp. But the hope that someone might say 'me too!' and make me feel better about myself, here we go:

  • I am utterly useless at estimating how long a task will take. I've compared my initial estimate to the actual time I've taken, and I've underestimated by up to 100% in some cases. I'd like to think that this is because I'm an optimist, but it probably just means I'm bad at estimation.
  • I can only work effectively on things that require a lot of concentration and deep thought for a maximum of 4 hours each day. True, I can spend the rest of the time getting little errands done (sending emails, organising course material etc.), but there's only so much grant writing, manuscript writing and idea creation that I can do in one day. This is obviously bad news when you have a deadline looming.
  • I've been doing a daily review while using the Emergent Task Planner, reviewing the day's sheet at the end of the day, filling out the sheet for the next day by carrying over any uncompleted tasks, and adjusting my time estimates based on how appallingly inaccurate I've been today. This has been really useful, allowing me to hit the ground running the following day, and also getting things out of my head so that I can relax for a bit.

I'll be really happy and really tired by the middle of next week.

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