Plan your time

You may be starting the year with excitement, looking forward to the coming twelve months. Alternatively you may feel overwhelmed and unsure how to manage all that you have to get done. You may be afraid or anxious based on what has already happened to you before or during the pandemic; or concerned about what lies ahead for other reasons. You could be apathetic or feel burnt out and jaded. Or you may just be continuing with your life regardless of the new year.

However the year is starting for you, planning your time is a really helpful exercise. It helps you anticipate the positive; it allows you to give ample space for the trickier things; and highlights where you might want to change, delegate or drop things. It may be especially important if you’re someone who feels reassured by routines, is very busy, or struggles to organise their time or thoughts.

There are lots of ways you can prepare for the year ahead. You might want to note all the activities, deadlines, targets and milestones you’re aware of on post-its.

Or you could sketch what’s coming up in the course of each day or month.

Some people prefer GANNT charts.

Others like bullet journals.

You can put all activities into a diary (on or offline); or try project management software like Trello or Monday (there are lots to pick from so search online and ask friends for recommendations).

Or you might train to become a Scrum Master.

As you plan the year ahead, begin with the most important items:

  • Holidays
  • Self-care days
  • Friend or family events/birthdays/weddings etc

Block these out now – and if you need to formalise leave with your employer/supervisor, colleagues, friends and family to ensure key dates are booked as soon as you can. That way you know this time isn’t going to be taken up by other people or pushed aside by you.  If you’re self employed it’s equally important to fix dates that you cannot undo.

For every working day always begin with scheduling:

  • comfort breaks to use the bathroom, have a drink of water, and stretch
  • snack and meal times
  • rest periods
  • do not disturb/down time where you will not be checking or answering emails or doing any other work-related tasks
  • hobbies, self-care and other pleasurable and positive activities

It may be you need to note lots of things in detail, with additional reminders of alarms or pre-warnings so you know specific events are coming up. For example, if you get engrossed in work and forget to drink or have a meal then you may want to set a morning, lunch and afternoon alarm for refreshments. You may want to block out time if you know people are likely to intrude on it or you’ll struggle to maintain your own boundaries. Having a break at similar times through the day can also reinforce a routine, while joining with friends/family on or offline to catch up can make it more likely you’ll stick to your schedule.

Next, move on to recording:

  • Events you know you’ll be going to (conferences, talks, training sessions etc)
  • Events you want to go to
  • Activities you’d like to achieve (including building in time to prepare for and travel to events)
  • Training
  • Key deadlines (grant or paper applications, job seeking/applications, marking, essay deadlines etc)

Where you’ll need to prepare for events or activities ensure you mark off time where you’ll be focusing on this work. It’s easy to note the date of a “conference”, for example, but not the time you need to write your presentation, rehearse, travel, recuperate etc. Working back from the end point can ensure these key tasks are prioritised. You may need to co-ordinate calendars if you’re working with others on particular projects or activities, which again should be done in advance where possible. This focus has an additional advantage if you’re someone who’ll say yes to lots of things or can act impulsively. Considering what else is going on and how much work is involved in planning and preparing for different activities may help you reduce overloading your schedule, double-booking yourself, or having to drop out later on. It’s also much easier to say ‘no’ to something if you’ve time to consider it in depth first.

Some people find it helps to use different colour coded pens, fonts or shading, or stickers to indicate different activities across the year, or to motivate themselves to complete records. These techniques may also mean you’re less likely to miss key updates and information.

As you do this activity be mindful of your own circumstances. That may include your financial situation, your physical and mental health, or other personal/family commitments. Ensure that anything that goes into your diary reflects your particular needs so you don’t overload or overwhelm yourself. Some people find reviewing their weekly or monthly targets helps to adjust in case your circumstances alter or you discover you’re overreaching.  It can also allow you to note what’s going on in other people’s lives who you care about, or plan if there are times when you might need to make urgent changes (e.g. due to your health or unexpected issues). There is more information on practical time planning in the Research Companion and the emotional labour of managing your own and other people’s schedules in Being Well In Academia.

If you found this difficult
You may struggle to organise your time or feel overwhelmed. You might be prone to saying yes to too many things, either due to enthusiasm or pressure. Breaking things down with the categories set out above can help – as can reviewing your diary/timetable and identify if you’ve overloaded yourself or created unrealistic deadlines (in which case it’s a good idea to reschedule or cut back). Also check if you’re setting deadlines for other people that these are feasible for them (very often our timescales are too busy for others so again cutting back or adding more time for activities is a good idea). Remember in many countries across the world we are still working with pandemic-related restrictions and the related impact on our work and time. Or the ongoing impact of the pandemic, war, fuel or food cuts.

You may also need assistance to schedule your time. Whether that is someone else helping to fill your diary, update appointments, remind you of events and activities, or work with you to help you plan and prioritise.

Alternatively you might not be sure what’s on the horizon, in which case it’s okay to leave space you can add to across the year. In fact it’s a good idea not to fill your diary now so you have space to for rest, planning, and reflection. Block off those spaces and only fill them if absolutely necessary. It’s easy to be overly busy, but better for us all to pause and be still.

Leave a reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.