Time management and the eye of the storm

Now this is definitely one of those things in which the phrase ‘do as I suggest, not as I do’ applies!  We are talking about time management.  My problem is that I have too much on at any one time, rarely say no to requests to do more and get sucked in to the current project to the exclusion of the others.

There are countless websites YouTube videos with advice and self-help suggestions.  They distil in various ways to working out what the tasks are both urgent and give the greatest reward.  You are meant to prioritise them and there are various matrices to help you do this which all stem from Eisenhower Power Box.

Use it if it helps.  The other method of prioritising and tracking tasks is something being a geographer I call the ‘eye of the storm’ (Fig. 1).  A colleague told me about this a while ago but called it ‘the pit’.  It is a series of concentric rings which you put on a big piece of paper.  At the centre is the stuff you should do now and is urgent, the stuff on the outside is less urgent.  When you get a task put it on a ‘post-it note’ and place it on your poster depending on its urgency.  Every few days review the live tasks and move them accordingly as they change priority.  It is the trajectory that matters tasks that are for ever circling the pit, or in my case the eye of the storm, are less important than ones that are careering with speed towards the centre.  You work calmly in the centre of the pit and keep an eye on the surrounding walls for falling rocks especially those propelled towards the centre by others!  The concept also holds for a hurricane.  Think of the eye in the centre as the calm spot where you work keeping a weather eye on the flying debris heading towards you.


Figure 1:  Closer to the eye the more urgent a task is.  The key is to watch the trajectory of your tasks.  The idea stresses that your work load planning is dynamic and you should review on a daily, weekly basis and move the ships!  To use practically draw some concentric circles on a piece of paper and use post-its instead of ships!

The final bit of advice I have is to think backwards.  We tend when faced with a task to always look forward to the deadline and when it seems far off we are comforted and when it looms panic.  The alternative is to always think backwards from the deadline.  So you have an assignment due in on Monday the 26 November 2018 [and if you are a 2018 Physical Geography student you really do!].  So that is the deadline.  Thinking back from this you can work out a plan:

  • You are going to need if you can to keep clear the weekend before in case there is a last minute panic.
  • The week before the deadline you will need to write and polish the assignment. This might be the week to bring a draft to one of the drop-in sessions, although lots of people may be doing this!
  • In order to do this you will need to have worked out what to say during the week before that to give you a chance to organise the material you need and do the necessary reading.
  • The week before that you need to perhaps attend one of the drop-in help sessions to check your understanding of the task, seek guidance and test our your initial ideas.
  • How does this three week timeline fit with your other tasks and assignments? Perhaps you will need to build in an extra week or a pause while something else takes centre stage?

The idea is that by working backwards you visualise the end point and can plan more effectively.  In a crude way it’s a bit like an Olympic athlete visualising victory and working back from there.  Working forward you often end up with a greater sense of impending doom!  As the Fraser of Dad’s Army fame would say ‘we all doomed! Doomed I say!’  Better to think of the pleasure of a calm and controlled submission and work back from there and you will never be doomed!

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