As promised last week, an update to my self-experiment. After a week of battle testing, consulting with Lina (my university counsellor) and observing myself, I can report success in with my self-experiment. But first, lets backtrack to the “theory” behind my idea.
Last Friday, I came up with an idea to deal with creating continuous spans of work time in an environment that distracts and fragments time into sections. Fragmented time caused by distractions, creates a feeling of disorganization, confusion and frustration between switching. The greatest problem I found with switching between small tasks and my main (course) work, was the inability of getting back to the work. After some problem, I realized that I encountered this problem and a solution in another place, operating systems design.
Modern operating systems seem capable of multi-tasking. Yet the majority of computers have only one or two processors (hyperthreading and multi-core acting as two processors each in some degree). So how can a single processor run two servers, a media player, a web browser, and office suite at once? It doesn’t! The operating system switches between individual tasks rapidly creating the illusion of multi-tasking.
The CPU can switch between tasks without loosing its place by logging. Before the processor switches tasks, the operating system notes what the processor worked on, how far it got and other relevant information. I applied this same idea to enable fast personal context switching.
Before I switched from a major task to another one, I logged what I worked on. The log details the task, what I needed to do next and any ideas I wanted to remember. In its basic form (one form I use along with an activity log) I note the name of the task, what I was to do next in the task, and a bullet form list of notes. Additionally you can jot down the importance, due date, urgency and personal emotion (look at my modified activity log sheets) on the task log.
When I discussed this with Lina, she was quite impressed. She pointed out that this method, deals with the three issues in time management: organization, motivation and prioritization.
The task logs firstmost are organizational tools. They behave sort of like more advanced todo lists, and help you organize your thoughts about a task. Task logs also help motivate you. They show your progress, set your mindset toward the task and motivate you to finish off the task quickly. Finally task logs help with prioritization. Sitting with number of task logs in front, can help you decide which needs the most attention in a given time. In the short I have used them, task logs helped me switch between activities efficiently.
I like task logs, in that by helping me switch from and to a task, I can work on different tasks without a long “warm-up” period. Anyone who deals with lots of writing knows how difficult it can be to put pen to paper. And if something interrupts you, when you come back to writing you need to get back into the mindset of the task. The task log shortens the warm-up time, effectively “stitching” my shorter fragments of time into a single time span. With a task log, I don’t have to sit and think “What do I need to work on again? And what did I want to do?”. Instead I can look, and say “I did this, I need to do that… so… lets work on that task now.”
But even a super-fast CPU finds switching between tasks expensive. Taking task logs takes more time than doing without them, if you never needed to switch between tasks. In an ideal world, we could work on one thing at a time. Unfortunately, the ideal does not exist and so we need to deal with issues like fragmented time. And I believe task logs can help with fitting long term projects into shards of times and making me more productive.
Check out this page on mindtools.com on activity logs.
I will post a sample of “emotional” activity log and and a sample of my task log, sometime tomorrow.