On, Time

Posted on 19 February 2010 by alixbryan

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate
“Plurality should not be posited without necessity,” or, “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”
-Occam’s Razor

That is the philosophy of Occam’s Razor, and while this principle established the foundation for scientific method, at it’s heart, it gives precedence to simplicity.

So it applies here to time management, specifically, how to manage time in graduate school.  How can I get unnecessary information, tasks, or distractions out of the way, in order to not simply survive grad school, but to best utilize my time for successful endeavors ?

I have my own boot-camp for time management (TM), and it appears that some geeks and life coaches have developed something called GTD, or Getting Things Done, also known as “life-hacking.” So I did a little research today to see how other people are GTD–but I didn’t do too much research–because I already know what is working for me, and I didn’t want to waste time.

I came across two things that I thought were significant. The first seems to be the backbone for GTD.

  • Context – Where are you? What tools are available? What are the limits and possibilities unique to this moment?
  • Time available – Do you have, for example, 30 seconds, 30 minutes, or 30 hours available to you right now? What tasks could you accomplish given the time you have?
  • Energy available – Are you full of energy, is your ass dragging, or are you somewhere in between? Which of the tasks on your list could you finish, given that energy level?
  • Priority – If you had access to all the tools, opportunities, time, and energy you needed, what’s the most important or time-sensitive thing you could do right now?

The second is the backbone for a good life. Merlin Mann, who created the blog 43Folders, where I found that list, wins my respect. Because what I’ve been thinking is that appreciation for time is the first step, the mile zero. Mann says that, echoing a Buddhist tenet that I practice,“mindfulness is the ultimate life- hack.

First, and foremost, graduate school has taught me to appreciate time and to be mindful of how I use it. And of course I’m learning all kinds of new, exciting technical skills. But TM + mindfulness equals a useful, general framework for almost every scenario.

Understanding how precious time is means being on time.  My punctuality for undergraduate classes could be counted using just two hands. I’m in a one year grad program and we’re halfway done.  For me, this is not a dress rehearsal. This is the idea of immersion. What I do with my time now reflects my long term career interest–multimedia journalism.

Context and priority are the trickiest things of GTD.

“Context: Where are you? What tools are available? What are the limits and possibilities unique to this moment?”

The desk is important. Every night, before I’m done, the desk gets set up for the next day. Clutter  creates distraction.

Tools are an important part of the desk for a multimedia journalist.  I invested in the tools that I need for my projects. That meant upgrading from an 11 inch laptop with no programs into a 21.5 inch, 3.06 GHz, 500GB storage desktop. I felt like I was wasting a lot of time traversing roundtrip to the school lab to use their programs–and the lab is creepy late at night when I’m in my prime–so I bought all the programs I need. Which I highly recommend, since we will need them for years to come, and right now we are eligible for education discounts.

There is an overlap between context and priority. It is easy to over/under exaggerate the limits and possibilities unique to the moment.

“Priority: If you had access to all the tools, opportunities, time, and energy you needed, what’s the most important or time-sensitive thing you could do right now?”

This where lists and calendars enter stage left.  Let’s face it, most grad students don’t have a family and a high level professional job. But if we are trying to mindfully make use of our time in a one year program, in a very competitive, diminishing field–there are always priorities to juggle. To be informed, to be engaged, to practice, to perfect, to self-teach. And to complete assignments.

I keep four main lists going:
What is due.

Projects to develop my portfolio. I brainstorm all the time, and don’t want to forget those brainstorms. Sometimes there is an overlap in these things and my assignments. Contact names for future interviews go on this list.

Things to learn/accomplish. I’ve been working off of a list from 10,000 words.

Boring real life stuff like going to the dentist or buying a stapler.

Let’s face it, the internet is the coolest think-tank ever, with a limitless supply of distraction. I bookmark things that I find, to read at a later time. I have 8 main bookmarks:

News,  Social Media, Jobs, Internships, Popular, Bizarre, Software and Technology.

At the end of the day, I go back and read the stuff I’ve found.

I find most of those things on Twitter. When I am at my desk working, I keep my email and my Twitter open. When I read a school or online article that references someone seemingly important, I look that person up on Twitter. I follow them. This is one way that I curate my network. That Twitter network is keeping me current on the issues, philosophies, resolutions, big players, and software that matter to my field.  Because of that network, two weeks ago, I found #wjchat on Twitter. For the past two weeks, I’ve been gobbling up and sharing ideas with awesome, educated, and professional journalists.

Personal Life

“Grad School is like a mullet–business in the front, and party in the back.” ~Grad Hacker

Not so much. I understand that this is the idea that we’ve got to balance our school with a personal life. Whereas undergrad was a big social event, or a shaggy hair cut, grad school is a no-nonsense, short, well coiffed hair-do.  I don’t party now, I rest and relax. It’s just as exciting as a party use to be.

I should probably mention that I made the wonderful mistake of falling in love my fourth month into the program. The people who get my time are my partner, my mother, and my dog. I turn down a lot of invites. Friends get me on vacations, special occasions, and in email. But not too many emails, mind you.

Part of TM is that I’ve realized I can’t respond to everyone. I have friends all over the country and strangers who contact me via email. I field questions related to scooters on a weekly basis. I use to answer those right away. Now I don’t. Sometimes I forget to answer at all. It doesn’t matter. I’m immersed in school, and that’s how it is for five more months. The end.

The people who make my life so wonderful are still shuffled into certain days. I (try to) completely take the day off on Sunday. You can’t practice good TM if you are exhausted. Rejuvenation is essential for endurance. Mondays are for errands. I buy foods that are easy to cook, but healthy. On Mondays I make certain meals for the rest of the week–soup, chili, lasagna.

Mann commented that the idea of “life-hacking” or GTD seems “new-agery” to some.  I worked at the Omega Institute for three years and I know “new-agery.” What Stephen Rechtshaffen, co-founder of Omega, calls “time-shifting” is really “life hacking”.  I prefer the latter because it sounds like it involves a computer and not a peacepipe and full moon. When I describe my methods, I realize they might seem a bit militant. Maybe not for everyone. And keep in mind, none of the above really exist within a vacuum.

Sometimes, part of GTD is knowing when to take an appropriate powernap.

Image used under Creative Commons Licensing

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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Corey Byers Says:

    I like the way the post discusses how organization of a desk–and the subsequent habit of keeping e-mail and Twitter open—has been conducive to networking. Through your writing you’re able to connect seemingly unrelated actions to a greater purpose. Using a quote at the very beginning of the post was a good introduction to the topic.

    The use of bold text throughout the post was a simple, but effective way to visually break up thoughts and add emphasis to important points. Also, adding bullet points from another article was a great way to summarize the main ideas of something you read without completely re-writing it. Weaving in personal anecdotes is a way to let your personality shine through text and possibly connect with a reader.

    My only criticism would be to be careful with how you use slang terms and short-hand writing in a post, especially if you’re referencing information that readers are not generally knowledgeable about. I hope you’ll consider writing about where exercise can fit into a graduate student’s day—I’ll definitely come back and read that one!

  2. reneejperron Says:

    This post not only gives great tips for balance, but it is (itself) very balanced. You cover all bases here, from needing to get schoolwork done to personal writing to creating space for your personal life (I too made the amazing mistake of falling in love two weeks into the program…I learned quickly that it’s important to remained focused on your work).

    I also liked the resources that you used to back up your argument, but what really kept me interested was when you supported those tips with personal anecdotes.

    In future posts, I’d love to hear about the application process. It would be helpful to incoming students, and I’d be interested to see how your process was different from mine.

  3. admin Says:

    It should be noted that this blog post was created for an assignment!

1 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. College weight gain can be avoided | Alix Bryan Says:

    [...] of your workload is finished, instead of just mindlessly snacking. Mindfulness, after all, is the ultimate “life-hack,” and can apply to [...]

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