Current personal organization practices

Or Personal Information Management (PIM) if you prefer. There’s also a Part 2 and a Part 3.

I’m in love with organizing things. Plans, schedules, documents, boxes, information… anything that can be categorized and rearranged in some optimum way draws my attention and receives my efforts. I was the kind of kid that, once done playing with Legos, would take them apart and put the pieces together in their proper compartments. As a high school kid I started collecting all my digital documents and creating what has become a permanent archive of all (meaningful) digital files that I have touched since 2005. I am the sort who swoops down on your computer and doesn’t let it go until I have resolved every issue and organized every file (people really should learn to make use of nested folders more).

Currently I’m trying to organize my time. As an unemployed bum living at his parent’s house, I have a lot of unstructured time (not exactly free time, though). There are lots of things that I want and will do during this time, but my own laziness, lack of focus, and general lack of discipline will destroy my plans unless I take charge. So I’ve developed my own system for keeping me on track. It’s a very unrefined prototype, and I have a few ideas on how to potentially make it much better. For now, however, I’d like to share the system here and maybe track its evolution.

This is my reasoning behind the current setup. My days are often filled with interruptions that cannot be avoided. We all have unforeseeable but nevertheless necessary responsibilities. Therefore, a traditional schedule wouldn’t easily work; it’s too rigid. So I just took the “things to do on this day” element of it and designed an “activity quota” for each day. In a spreadsheet I list my desired activities in rows while columns contain the days I’d like to spread those things over. For each day I pick a decent and well-balanced mix of items and distribute my 24 hours across those activities.

image of my prototype unemployment schedule (v 0.1)
My prototype unemployment schedule (v 0.1)

As you can see above, each day column adds up to 24 and each row adds up to the amount of time I decided to spend on those activities per week.

You’ll notice a few features that I built in. First, buffer time. There is often transition time between activities. This allotment gives me the flexibility to be inefficient (completely unavoidable in any schedule) without officially breaking the quota (and, more importantly, the resultant guilt and discouragement). Second, catch-up time. In those cases where the buffer time isn’t enough to offset inefficiency (e.g., taking a long trip to a nearby city as my family often does for shopping) I have set a little time to catch up on lost productivity. I didn’t think that an hour every day was necessary, though. I’ll of course adjust these two values as I go along. My theory is that, given enough such time, you can distribute your remaining time among activities and accomplish them. A third feature is prioritization. I make sure to set apart the most important activities so that I can choose to do the critical things before less important activities. In my example, all those things highlighted in grey are generally more important than the others.

Each day I write down my daily activity quotas on some old note cards to carry with me. Priorities on the left, the rest on the right. Boxes and circles next to them represent hours and half-hours, respectively, and I fill them in as I accomplish them. At the bottom I write notes on what happened. So far they have only been reasons for not doing everything, but in theory I could also write what the “catch-up” activity was, blogging topics that come to mind, and other useful info that I want to remember or record.

Finally, I record my activities on another spreadsheet. Same rows, but one column for each date. Intersecting cells record time spent. I can later use formulas to determine how much time I’ve spent on activities (and compare to how much I planned on doing those), see what reasons I most often gave for breaking the quota (so I can tackle those issues in a different way), etc. You know, data mine the results of my little project.

In the future I’ll talk about possible improvements once I get more ideas and more experience with this funky system. Please share any suggestions you might have, I’m open to all ideas.

Go ahead and read Part 2 if this post tickled your fancy, and Part 3 if you really liked it.

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One thought on “Current personal organization practices

  1. Pingback: Newest system | Thoughts From Whence

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