“Do good work well.”
I’ve tried everything to organize my life, work, and productivity. I’ve kept planners that organized every little detail of my life right down to the minute. I’ve kept huge calendars planned with colored pens and highlighters. I’ve written copious amounts of “Master To-Do Lists” that I systematically broke down into “easily digestible portions” everyday so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. I’ve kept a notebook where I wrote everything: plans, thoughts, research ideas, contact information of important people and places, writing plans. This year, I resorted to getting an undecorated planner that I religiously decorate with washi tape, inspirational stickers, and drawings just to get me “excited” about my week.
Let’s face it, I’m an awesome planner … but I am — and will always be — a horrific procrastinator. I’m the type of person who will spend months researching and reading only to pull an “all-nighter” just to get a paper written on time. My dissertation advisor told me to go to a writing class because she thought that I was terribly uneducated in grammar. What she didn’t know is that I spent eight years in Catholic grammar school dissecting sentences. What I was terrible at wasn’t grammar, but planning my time and actually getting things done. Those papers that frustrated her were always written the night before with no editing because I ran out of time. Instead of a writing class, I wish she would have sent me to a time management class — something that all graduate students really need, especially if they’re going to be successful in their academic careers.
My problem is two-fold: 1. When I feel overwhelmed and tired, I shut down. I never plan a day off to relax because … “oh my gawds! I have so much to do!” As a result, I get resentful of my ever-growing to-do list … and do nothing. And when “urgent” tasks and emails come in from work I get downright emotional. I never block off a “drop everything to do this” time in my schedule, so when it happens, it completely throws me off. And, most importantly, I never schedule moments to relax or to chat with colleagues either in person or via Skype or messenger. Being social is extremely important to me … I need the human interaction. 2. Ahem … I never look at my planner, “to do” lists, everything notebook, or the like. If it’s not in front of me, it might as well not exist.
Yes, yes … it’s a wonder that I got this far. Honestly, my time management system never worked, but I did manage to get stuff done in a crazy, “chicken-with-its-head-cut-off” way.
So you can imagine my panic and desperation when trying to manage my new and more intense schedule as a full-time professor. I have classes to build and maintain, things to grade, office hours, Live Lab duties, research and writing, my service to MAPACA, my editorial service to Response, conference papers, and other assorted things. I had to finally come to terms with my lack of organization and my inability to stick to a planning method. Enter Kanban.
As you can see from the above photos, Kanban boards are divided up into sections, or “lanes,” that reflect the stages of a task. The idea is to break down a project into its individual parts or stages, and then, move each part along the board according to where it is in the process. This type of planning: 1. forces you to break a project down into manageable parts and become visually aware of where those parts are in the process; 2. makes you visually accountable for the process, itself. For me, it’s nice to see everything laid out in front of me and it’s really satisfying to move those Posties across the board to the “Done” lane. I’ve only been using this method for a couple of days, but it’s been a good experience so far. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I walk out of my office at night, and I like to see my projects come to fruition. I have the feeling that this method is going to allow me to take time off for myself or for other activities without feeling guilty because I can actually see what I’ve done and what’s left to do. I won’t — and don’t — have that overwhelming feeling of guilt that “things need to get done,” because I can see that they are getting done. I’m not quite sure how this will affect my work and production going forward, but for now, it’s good. I’ll keep you posted.
What methods of organization do you use to keep yourself on-task?