02 Jul

switching gears

Today’s the day! I am officially on annual leave for two weeks. I am, however, working today to catch up on some stuff. And if I’m honest, I will probably work tomorrow too… And I will probably work for half of Thursday. But this is okay with me, because what I’m doing by working for these first few days of my leave is switching gears, progressively. When you’re driving, you don’t drop straight from fifth into second. I guess that’s what I’m doing here too.

The whole point of working over these few days is to make sure I can actually have a proper break for, starting in a few days time, knowing that loose ends are tied up and I don’t even have to check my email. And most importantly, I’m working these few day so that when I finish annual leave, I can start my sabbatical with a completely clean slate.

Getting into a position where I can actually see the possibility of a clean slate on the very near horizon has taken a lot of effort. Late last year when found out my sabbatical application was approved, I started saying no. To everything. I started handing stuff over and clearing the decks. It’s really taken me six months to get to a point where I can go on sabbatical without taking any work-work with me. As long as I get through these last few things in the first few days of my leave, that is. It has taken an enormous effort and lots of planning to get to the point where very soon, I will have only one (very big) thing on my to do list: my PhD.

Now that I’m almost at this point where my to do list just says PhD, I am very scared. I know I’m very luck to have the opportunity to go on sabbatical. I probably wouldn’t be able to finish my PhD without it, and if I did manage to pull it off, I would definitely be using my entire six year candidacy. I’m lucky, and I know it.

But the concept of having just one thing on my to do list scares the hell out of me. I have a very short attention span, and I’m used to juggling many, many balls. I’m worried I won’t be able to focus on the same body of work every day for more than six months.

But I can forget about that for now, because I still do have a few work-work jobs on the to do list to get through before I can officially switch gears all the way down to neutral.

The first thing I have to do is de-Kate something rather large. You know how when you started something, and you’ve been working on it for a long time, it just turns into your thing? I have a few of those, but one big one in particular. So right now I’m working on de-Kate-ing it. It is going to take a fair bit more time and thinking. I hoped to have it done by tonight, but my day got derailed with a couple of things.

I am also tying up some loose ends from the Sixth New Librarians’ Symposium, which happened all the way back in February. This includes finishing up the final report to the ALIA Board of Directors, preparing the website for migration, and getting all the files that were created through the planning process organised and sent off to ALIA. It also includes preparing the session recordings for editing and uploading, so stay tuned for that!

I am just about to write some end of semester messages on my course sites from Semester 1 – a little thing, but still on the list.

I need to redirect some email.

I am going to write a summary of information that appeared recently on a discussion list, which I offered to do for my colleagues, but never quite got done. Ooops.

And I have a journal article to edit.

I have a 1pm conference call on Thursday, and if I really get my stat on from now til then, I will be able to properly be on holidays from then.

I already put my out of office on, and I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to basically say “I’m away, and then I’m back, but I’m not really back, and I won’t really be back til next year”. Who gets to do that?!

05 Jun

old skool organisation (even though we are liiiiv-ing in a digital world)

I am the original gadget girl. On any given day, you’ll find a bazillion pieces of gadgetry in my handbag. An iPad, an iPad mini, an iPhone, Flip camera, external hard drive, a pencil case full of USB storage devices, various iDevice and MacBook friendly VGA adaptors, at least two headsets (I seem to breed them), power cables for all the devices, a couple of stylus, a presentation remote, and an ethernet cable (really have no idea why I carry an ethernet cable – I think I picked it up in a hotel and in came in handy once so now it lives in my bag).

But when it comes to getting organised, I am definitely not living in a digital world. I have tried ALL the productivity apps. Every now and then, I have another go at running my life with Remember the Milk or Asana (both of which I love). But the reality is I feel much more in control of my life and my work if I manage my workload old school style. And here’s how I do it.

Until recently, I was carrying a few pieces of paper with all my notes and lists of little jobs to do. I generally like to have a notebook for this stuff but my last one ran out and I didn’t get round to replacing it for ages. There are three things I look for when buying a notebook: the pages must be plain, unlined; the paper must be good quality (like sketchbook weight) because otherwise my favourite pen (Uni-ball eye micro) bleeds through the pages; and it must have an elastic strap to hold it all together.

Moleskine notebook

My Moleskine notebook, Uni-ball eye micro pen, and my iPad

My notebook is full of the little things that need to be done from week to week that aren’t big enough to warrant blocking out a whole day in my diary (or rather, on my wall planner). I have a lot of these little jobs to catch up on and clear before the end of the month. They are things like giving feedback on draft articles, preparing ethics applications, updating my publications list, tidying up my professional portfolio site. At the moment I also have a post it on the front of my notebook that has a growing list of things I need to do to get organised for sabbatical: setting up email rules; cleaning out my Gmail so I can see stuff that gets forwarded based on the rules; changing my voicemail message; setting up different contacts for things… Yadda yadda.

The big stuff goes on a wall planner. Until recently I’ve been using the Kikki-K A2 planner which I love, but it takes up a lot of space on my pin board, which means I have to take down the pretty things I like to look at every day. I have a couple of ugly cork boards waiting to be covered in fabric and when I finally get round to doing that, I think I’ll go back to the A2 planner because I’ll have more pinning space. But anyway, I digress. Recently, I’ve been using a Word template that I update and print out and pin on my board. I started using this template when I was trying to work backwards from my PhD submission date to plot out milestones. I was in the office on this particular day which means I didn’t have my A2 planner with me, and I felt this overwhelming need to map out these timelines right there and then. So I found a template and off I went, and I’ve stuck with it for several months.

I try to run about three months of planners at once – so I know what’s coming ahead of time – and I generally have these up on my pin board (although at the moment I’m just focusing on June, because I can’t think about what I’ll be doing next month til I get there or I think I’ll drowning in overwhelmedness). At the beginning of each month, I sit down and start locking in days on which I’ll work on particular tasks. I also make sure I’ve blocked out some days off. Then, if I need to, I start blocking out my Outlook calendar to preserve the stretches of time I need to get the big jobs done (ie I stick meetings in so people can’t book me – or at least, to deter people from booking me).

My wall planner

Printed Word document wall planner, mapping out what I need to be working on each day in June

This particular Word template I’ve been using has a ‘goals’ section at the bottom, which I originally thought was naff and silly. I’ve started using it, though, as a way to keep focussed on what is most important in a given month. So this month, my goals are: complete marking; finish building a course site for next semester. These are the two big things that I have to do this month. Noting them down does help me to keep focused.

This month I’m working from home a lot while I’m marking. But during semester, I also map out where I’ll be working because that impacts on what kind of work I can do. It also means my family can have a look at my planner and know where I am going to be on any given day.

The critical thing with the wall planner is updating it. When I use my Kikki-K planner, I put every big task on a post it note and stick it on a day on the planner. I do this so I can move the post its around if something comes up and I need to do something I didn’t plan to do. If this happens, I shift the post it to the side and I know I need to find somewhere new to put it. With the Word template, I just edit the document and reprint it.

The other thing that makes this system work for me is that I don’t differentiate between work and personal. It all goes on the one planner and into the same notebook. When work bleeds into personal, you kind of need to let personal bleed into work. Or rather, you just need to be able to see it all at once.

So right now, all my self-organising is focused on one goal: clearing the decks completely by 30 June, and developing some good habits. The only time I’ve ever had completely clear decks before is when I’ve left a job. I’m daunted by the prospect, but it has to be done. I’m tentatively planning a two week break (holidays, without going anywhere) at the beginning of my sabbatical. This will help me shift gears effectively. I will plan to do a whole bunch of stuff to organise my workspace and my work tools in the second week of my break, but in the first week of July, I am checking right out of work mode.

To get to that point, my trusty wall planner and notebook are going to get a serious work out. Ugh. I feel frantic just thinking about it!

PS. This post should have been published yesterday. Behind already in week one!

30 posts in June: 4/30