I recently gave a bootcamp course on organization and time management, and it was really interesting to hear what people found the most useful.
Following through with planned activities is a common stumbling block. Generally, people love planning and creating a beautiful outline for their day or week. But often we don’t feel so motivated once it comes to actually doing the work, so we do something else instead, and our pretty planning falls apart.
One person, let’s call her Jenny, had a really interesting approach. She has tried multiple ways to organize herself in order to get herself to do the things she planned. But she never quite succeeded, and it made her feel like a failure.
As a part of the bootcamp course, I asked people to take Gretchen Rubin’s quiz about The Four Tendencies. This was an eye-opener for Jenny. She found out that she was a Rebel, somebody who resists both internal and external expectations. That meant it was difficult for her to get herself to do things. Even when she truly wanted to do something, putting it on the calendar made it feel like something she had to do instead of wanted to do, so she wouldn’t do it.
For Rebels, it’s important to do things on their own terms. They will do something when they feel like it or because it aligns with something that’s important to them or the person they want to be. No surprise, then, that Jenny didn’t want to do something that was being imposed on her (since that’s how she viewed it).
After we discussed this in our bootcamp, Jenny took a different approach. At the beginning of the day, she would take a look at her to-do list and see what tasks were important for today. Then, she’d start working on whichever one she felt like tackling at that moment.
Sometimes, Jenny felt like reading a book in the morning, so that’s what she did. She went to work around lunchtime when she actually felt like working and stayed there until late in the evening. (One of the perks about being a PhD student is that often we can work whenever we want to in the day.)
Jenny said that this new approach is changing her life. She works when she feels like it, and she’s actually getting a lot more done. Jenny loves her work, so when she’s given the freedom to do it because she enjoys it, she produces better work.
This is quite amazing to me because the uncertainty would kill me. “When will I work on this task? And will I have time to also do that other task? And how will I divide my time between all my tasks?” My mind would keep chattering on. But I’m not a Rebel, I’m an Upholder (somebody who enjoys sticking to a schedule), and the difference in strategies is striking.
But I can also relate to some aspects. Sometimes I schedule myself too full, and I get a little suffocated from all the expectations I’ve placed upon myself. In those cases, I can learn from Jenny: I can cut back on the things I’ve planned and give myself some space. When I do that, the things I enjoy doing come back to me, and I remember why I planned to do them in the first place. I chose to do them because I like them.