Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Summer Plan of Attack

I've never been secretive about how much I like the academic calendar. The ebb and flow, the cyclical nature of the work, means my job almost never gets boring. Because the regular school year just ended - graduation was on Saturday - I'm faced with another change because the summer schedule has taken over. I know the relief and enjoyment of peace and quiet will soon give way to abject terror as I think about all the summer projects I want to complete. Summer break really isn't that long, no matter that it seems like forever at this end of it. All of this means it's time for me to sit down with a pad of paper, a pen, and a calendar so I can plot out the next three months.

Before I go much further, I want to acknowledge that I learned a lot of this from a friend of mine who is a member of the foreign languages department at my college. I have tweaked this to make it fit my circumstances, though, so here is the general process I will follow:
  1. Write down every "to do" for this summer, both personal and professional. This list will include everything from writing a new marketing plan for the library to cleaning behind the refrigerator at my home. Even the seemingly insignificant things (I really need a new litter box, for instance) will still take time and effort, so onto the list they will go. Also, I make sure to include at least a couple of just-for-me things.
  2. Estimate how long each item will take, then multiply that by 1.5. Knowing whether something will take me hours or days helps me schedule them. Things always take longer than you think, so I try to accommodate that in my planning process. This way, if I get sick or have something assigned to me at the last minute, I'll still have time.
  3. Figure out all the steps for each item. "Creating and finalizing a wayfinding plan" is on my summer list, but that's not one discrete step, that's the whole project. Instead, I will write down things like, "inventory existing signs" and "update map of 3rd floor."
  4. Establish priorities. Sometimes this will be setting priorities for myself. For example, even though it will go on the list, I doubt I'll have time to learn how to play guitar this summer. Sometimes prioritizing will mean talking to my coworkers and my director. Depending on the project in question, I may even need to take the needs of our parent institution into account. (Actually, reexamining priorities is a regular part of my work flow.)
  5. Comb through the list for things to cut/put on a back burner. I don't know about you, but I am always more ambitious than is good for me. Step 1 is supposed to be a brain dump, getting everything on paper to clear my thoughts for later steps, so this will include things that aren't as important and/or that can wait.
  6. Map it out on a calendar, with hard deadlines. My process makes it so that writing it down before entering it into my Outlook calendar helps, but you might feel more comfortable starting with an electronic calendar. Even if I have to assign the deadlines myself, I do. It's easy to put things off if there isn't a set date attached to the project.
  7. Find a way to ensure accountability. Sometimes it will be a promise to my boss. Sometimes it will be a friend. Sometimes it will just be a note on my refrigerator that reminds me of something I want to do. If I don't find a way to hold myself accountable, it becomes way too easy to let it slide until the end of the summer.
This is the second time I've planned my summer this way, but I got so much done the last time I followed this process that I'm actually looking forward to it this time. It's important to remember that this is a reiterative process - new things come up and old things become less important. Another warning: you will likely feel overwhelmed as you look at the big, brain dump list, but that's normal and to be expected. Finally, it's not a cure-all. You still have to follow through with the plans you make. Regardless, it's served me well in the past because I know, at the other end of the summer, I will have conquered much of my "to do" list. I'll be a "To Do List Commando."

How about you? How do you handle it when you have a lot of unstructured time at work and lots of things to accomplish?


  1. Sometimes I make a list for the day when I get to work (after I've applied tea). Most of the time I procrastinate until I feel the pressure is at the correct volume to make good work possible. It's pretty much the opposite of your system--I envy your discipline, although it's doubtful that I could ever emulate it.

  2. I plan this way, too. I don't often have unstructured time to play with, so I plan a few times a year and adjust as needed. I had to plan for my maternity leave, and now I've had to plan for an unexpected promotion. So there are always revisions to do! I like planning, though. Ed teases me that I have us scheduled for the rest of our lives. (I actually do plan unstructured time... but I plan it as unstructured time. So, like, my plan for this Friday when I'm off is, clean the house, then do what I want. But usually what I want ends up being writing, or practicing, or doing something else productive.)