Planning Like a Boss


Organizing the Kanban Board

“Do good work well.” 

I’ve tried everything to organize my life, work, and productivity. I’ve kept planners that organized every little detail of my life right down to the minute. I’ve kept huge calendars planned with colored pens and highlighters. I’ve written copious amounts of “Master To-Do Lists” that I systematically broke down into “easily digestible portions” everyday so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. I’ve kept a notebook where I wrote everything: plans, thoughts, research ideas, contact information of important people and places, writing plans. This year, I resorted to getting an undecorated planner that I religiously decorate with washi tape, inspirational stickers, and drawings just to get me “excited” about my week.

Let’s face it, I’m an awesome planner … but I am — and will always be — a horrific procrastinator. I’m the type of person who will spend months researching and reading only to pull an “all-nighter” just to get a paper written on time. My dissertation advisor told me to go to a writing class because she thought that I was terribly uneducated in grammar. What she didn’t know is that I spent eight years in Catholic grammar school dissecting sentences. What I was terrible at wasn’t grammar, but planning my time and actually getting things done. Those papers that frustrated her were always written the night before with no editing because I ran out of time. Instead of a writing class, I wish she would have sent me to a time management class — something that all graduate students really need, especially if they’re going to be successful in their academic careers.

My problem is two-fold: 1. When I feel overwhelmed and tired, I shut down. I never plan a day off to relax because … “oh my gawds! I have so much to do!” As a result, I get resentful of my ever-growing to-do list … and do nothing. And when “urgent” tasks and emails come in from work I get downright emotional. I never block off a “drop everything to do this” time in my schedule, so when it happens, it completely throws me off. And, most importantly, I never schedule moments to relax or to chat with colleagues either in person or via Skype or messenger. Being social is extremely important to me … I need the human interaction. 2. Ahem … I never look at my planner, “to do” lists, everything notebook, or the like. If it’s not in front of me, it might as well not exist.

Yes, yes … it’s a wonder that I got this far. Honestly, my time management system never worked, but I did manage to get stuff done in a crazy, “chicken-with-its-head-cut-off” way.


The Kanban Board with the End of August and September’s Goals

So you can imagine my panic and desperation when trying to manage my new and more intense schedule as a full-time professor. I have classes to build and maintain, things to grade, office hours, Live Lab duties, research and writing, my service to MAPACA, my editorial service to Response, conference papers, and other assorted things. I had to finally come to terms with my lack of organization and my inability to stick to a planning method. Enter Kanban.

As you can see from the above photos, Kanban boards are divided up into sections, or “lanes,” that reflect the stages of a task. The idea is to break down a project into its individual parts or stages, and then, move each part along the board according to where it is in the process. This type of planning: 1. forces you to break a project down into manageable parts and become visually aware of where those parts are in the process; 2. makes you visually accountable for the process, itself. For me, it’s nice to see everything laid out in front of me and it’s really satisfying to move those Posties across the board to the “Done” lane. I’ve only been using this method for a couple of days, but it’s been a good experience so far. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I walk out of my office at night, and I like to see my projects come to fruition. I have the feeling that this method is going to allow me to take time off for myself or for other activities without feeling guilty because I can actually see what I’ve done and what’s left to do. I won’t — and don’t — have that overwhelming feeling of guilt that “things need to get done,” because I can see that they are getting done. I’m not quite sure how this will affect my work and production going forward, but for now, it’s good. I’ll keep you posted.

What methods of organization do you use to keep yourself on-task?

  2 comments for “Planning Like a Boss

  1. 24 Aug 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Yes! Why don’t grad students all have a class on time management?!
    What worked for me in writing my MA thesis was dedicating time each day to research and writing, putting it on my Google calendar. Lots of times, especially toward the end, I didn’t keep to that very well. (Grad students also need a class in self-forgiveness.) Breaking the task into manageable chunks was important, too. I am a Google Calendar devotee — I call it my brain — but I like how this Kanban method breaks things down visually.


    • The Curious Professor Z
      5 Sep 2017 at 10:55 am

      I’m horrible at time management … just terrible. I follow a number of senior scholars on twitter and I’m constantly amazed at how effortlessly they schedule their time and stick to it. They have every minute of every day planned, including time to rest and sleep. Me, I’ve tried that method, only to give up in complete frustration.

      So far so good with this method. Things seemed to be stalled, but that’s probably because the semester started and I’ve been focusing on getting my classes together and rolling. Let me know if you try this out and how it works for you.


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