09 Aug

in pursuit of the perfect weekly planner

I’m a really visual person. I need to see my week laid out in front of me on a single page, and because I don’t use a paper diary, I need a weekly planner to do this. I like to have a visual map of my time so I know when I’m committed, and when I can be working on stuff that requires concentration (like my PhD).

On weekdays, I like to plan my day out in blocks of time, assigning an hour or two to particular tasks. These get moved around during the week, but allocating them time helps keep everything in perspective. So my planner needs to have time slots mapped out for weekdays and those time slots need to extend beyond normal business hours, because I start work early and finish late.

The bulk of my work right now is my PhD, and this means I need to focus on micro goals because looking at the big picture is scary as hell. So I need a space to make a note of one or two things I want to achieve in a day. I also need space to note down my focus for the week and to remind myself of my next deadline.

In addition to the diary-style weekday section, I need a section for work I plan to tackle on Saturday (because the reality is I really need to work six days a week). And I need space to write a list of the fun things I’ve got planned for Sunday. This last space is important, because having plans for Sunday helps me keep on track.

I am also trying really hard to stick to a weekly menu plan, and rather than have a separate menu planner, I want to keep track of this on my weekly planner.

That is an extensive list of criteria. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been hunting for a weekly planner that does all of these things for a long time. I’ve looked on Etsy and scoured Pinterest in search of a downloadable planner, but none of them did what I needed them to do. So I finally made my own.

It’s not an example of awesome design but it’s also not ugly. And it’s functional. I’ve tweaked it over the last three weeks to evolve it into the perfect planner. I’ve shared it with a couple of colleagues who have found it useful, so I thought I’d post it here, too. Here’s what it looks like:

thumbnail

If you would like to use the Word version (which will allow you to customise the planner), you will need to install three fonts:

I’ve made a number of different versions for myself and a couple of friends. Here they all are:

  • The Kate: This is my version of the planner. It includes space to note a focus for the week, upcoming deadlines, a goal for each day, and lunch and dinner plans for each day. Times run 7.30am to 7.30pm. Sunday has space for me to note down fun plans. Word | PDF
  • The Dinnerless Kate: This planner has all the same spaces as the one above except meals. Word | PDF
  • The Kate In Reverse: This planner has all the same spaces as The Kate but the day starts and finishes later and Saturday is fun-day, instead of Sunday. Times run 8.30am to 8pm. Word | PDF
  • The Miss 11: An orange version, with a space for a name. I made this one for a friend’s daughter who has lots of activities to track. Times run 7.30am to 7pm. Sunday is the fun day. No spaces for meals on this one. Word | PDF
  • The Miss 11 Version 2: Another orange version with a space for a name, but this time with times running 6.30am to 8pm. No spaces for meals on this one. Word | PDF

Happy planning!

17 Jul

holy shit! sabbatical is here and i am not ready

Tomorrow, I am officially on sabbatical. Like, holidays over, time to knuckle down and kick this thesis to the curb.

There are three problems with this.

1. I didn’t do all of the things I wanted to do while I was on holidays.

Actually, I didn’t do hardly any of the things. The things were all about getting me sorted so I would have a good, tidy, organised workspace as well as good habits, good routines and a good frame of mind for my thesis writing sprint.

There are various reasons why this didn’t happen. Which leads me to problem number two.

2. I may be on sabbatical from work, but I cannot take a sabbatical from my life.

It sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? But this is something I only just realised, and I only realised it because I’ve just had one of those periods you have where shit just goes wrong and even the easiest things are way, way too hard.

The everyday stuff continues. Food still needs to be bought and cooked. Appointments at sundry medical practitioners (physios, doctors, dieticians) need to be made and attended. Houses need to be cleaned. Washing needs to be done and folded and put away. Children need attention – lots and lots of it. But it’s not these everyday things that worry me.

It’s the little things that shouldn’t be hard but take up ridiculous amounts of time. The photo frames that are faulty and need to be returned. The cabinet doors that don’t fit that need exchanging. The birthday presents that are too big to fit in Australia Post boxes. The children that choose Lego as reward gifts and are too young to assemble it themselves. The clothes ordered online that don’t fit, need to be returned and rebought. The wedding presents that need to be sourced and sent to unknown addresses in Europe. (Shit. That one is well overdue.) The paintings that fall off walls. The TV antennas that die and need replacing and the technician that wants to spend an hour explaining the mechanics to me when I do not care.

It’s the big, random, complete pain in the ass stuff. The fridges that break and stay broken for weeks while the extended warranty companies make decisions about repairs (and meanwhile you have to call them ten times and eventually shout “I’m calling the Office of Fair Trading” to get some action). The shade sails that tear in bad weather, the insurance claim that results, and the banging of the broken shade that keeps you awake all night. Discs that slip, get better, slip again. Siblings that get sick, get hospitalised, come home, need care.  Shit happens and needs attention.

I want to take a rain check on everything that is not essential until the thesis is written. Birthdays, social events, life milestones… Can we just hit pause and I’ll make it up to everyone early next year? Yeah. I didn’t think so.

Also, I would really appreciate it if we could just not have any other minor disasters in the next six months. Really. I think we’ve had our fair share.

I had this vision of a nice calm life and a finished thesis. But this is *my* life we’re talking about, and it is never calm (is anyone’s?).

3. I have absolutely no idea where to start or how to plan for this beast.

That’s not quite true. I know where to start. I need to start with analysis. But I’m not sure how that happens, really, and I’m not sure how long it will take. And I’m not sure what will come after that or how long it will take. Everyone says doing a PhD is like eating an elephant. The only way you can do it is one bite at a time. But which bite do you take first?

The end

Actually, that’s not the end. Because after I wrote about these three problems, I had an…

…epiphany

I have been saying to myself (for a very long time): “Go go go! You’ll be on sabbatical soon and then you’ll be HOME so you can cook and eat properly and get up in the morning and exercise and take time out to be creative and pull your weight around the house and…”

Who the hell was I kidding? The start of a (slightly less than) six month thesis sprint is not the time to try to transform my life. Yes, I’ll be working at home all the time, and yes, I won’t be teaching at night, and yes, in theory, I should be able to cook dinner every night. But transforming my life is not something I could I am trying to undo four years worth of bad habits and I’m trying to do it all at once, at possibly one of the most stressful times of my life. *RE-OW-RE-OW-RE-OW* (In case you didn’t hear it, those are the alarm bells.)

When I took this job, I thought being an academic would mean I would have time to read and think. Haha. I haven’t been more wrong about anything since then. Until I decided that sabbatical was my chance to transform my life, as well as right my thesis.

I have just packed that idea up into a little box and thrown it in the bin.

Let’s just get the thesis done and come out the other side alive and well(ish).

Ready or not, here I go.

03 Jun

why i’m blogging my way to my sabbatical start date

On Saturday, I mentioned that one of the reasons I’m starting this blog now is that I’m about to go on a thesis-writing sabbatical. The plan is to have a full draft of my dissertation by Christmas, with a view to sending it off for examination before Semester 1, 2014. I have 27 days of work between me and my sabbatical. I have an absolute bomb load of marking to get through in this time and a whole lot of things to put in place so that I don’t take any non-PhD work with me into sabbatical.

So why, in this frantic lead up to my hibernation, do I think it’s a good idea to start a new blog?

I am pretty panicked about the prospect of doing nothing but PhD for eight months. Apart from the pressure of knowing I need to churn out tens of thousands of perfect usable words each month for the rest of the year, I am also conscious that I need to put some things into place to make sure I don’t fall down a black hole of writing and thinking and insularity and oh-my-god-I-can’t-write-another-word-ness. I have never been in a position in my professional life where I have had only one thing on my to do list. I am actually pretty worried about my capacity to get stuff done when ‘the stuff’ is actually just one enormous thing. I do recognise that writing a thesis isn’t just about writing – there’s a whole lot of administrivia I can distract myself with when I need to. But I’m not going to have the usual variety of things to do. No classes to plan for. No slide decks to beautify. No meetings to juggle. And no email. (Actually, I must say I’m looking forward to that last one. No more living out of my inbox.)

If there’s one thing I know about myself, it is this: I need to be busy and busily creative. I can only do a certain amount of thinky-thinky work in one day, and then it really is all over red rover. But if I can mix that thinky-thinky stuff up with something that’s creative and challenging, I will get more of the thinky-thinky stuff done. So over the next month I’ll be putting together some plans for some creative projects I can dip in and out of during my sabbatical. I have a vague plan of spending an hour a day making something – something completely unrelated to my PhD and preferably not involving technology. Among many other ideas, I plan to make a quilt. My PhD quilt. Something pretty that will remind me of this time in my life. Because let’s face it: although it’s going to be a hard slog, it is an enormous privilege to have this massive stretch of time in which I can focus solely on my research. I want more than a thesis to remember it by.

Something else that worries me is how I’m going to manage my time and my self through this intense writing period. The peaks and troughs of the academic work cycle combined with teaching a couple of nights a week in semester time mean I have absolutely no routine in my life. Zip. I work any where and any time. On the days I go into the office, I have a normalish day: up, shower, breakfast in the car, long drive to work, late lunch, teach an evening class. On the days I work from home (most days right now, as semester is winding down), I start my days in the worst way possible. I check email on my phone in bed and there’s usually at least one thing in there that I need to follow up on straight away, so I usually head straight to my desk and start working. Do not pass the shower. Do not collect a coffee. Go directly to jail my office. Generally the call of coffee pulls me away from my desk a couple of hours later. On weekdays (when there’s no one else at home to make it for me), I don’t usually have breakfast and if I do it ends up being closer to lunch time. It snowballs from there. Lunch, if I have it, happens late and is generally whatever I can prepare fastest and it gets eaten at my desk. At 6pm or 7pm I usually unplug my laptop and move to the lounge, where I catch up on email and administrative stuff that can be done in front of the tv. This non-routine happens probably three days a week. It’s not ideal but it works okay.

But I am increasingly aware that I cannot do this every day for eight months straight. I need to sort out a morning routine, start planning meals that I actually cook, set aside time for, and actually take, a lunch break… The little things that normal people do without thinking about it. I love the flexibility my job gives me, but sometimes a little bit of routine goes a very long way. I crave it. I crave structure and orderliness.

So this month, I am planning on putting some things into place to give me some structure and some opportunities to be creative while I’m on sabbatical. My plan is to blog about them here. You know, saying it out loud means I actually have to do it, etc. The challenge of blogging every day in June will help me to make some small progress each day towards my goal of getting organised, getting some routine in my life, and setting up a bunch of creative projects to keep me sane while I write.

Here goes!

30 posts in June: 3/30