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Planning my sabbatical schedule

I've got a year-long sabbatical coming up, and I needed some flexible yet systematic way to make sure that I'll spread my time reasonably among many different projects.  Here's what I came up with.

During my sabbatical, I'll have lots to do, and time to do it, and no particular deadlines at all.  I won't be teaching or doing administrivia.  It's not a question of scheduling specific times of day and of the week for specific tasks; it's more a question of just making sure I make headway.

Usually, I'm either tending to teaching, or sitting in meetings, or pushing paper around.  That consumes most of my time, so I just plug those few holes in my schedule with other things (usually research oriented things) that I really want to do.  But now that I'm "off" for a year, I've got 'way more time for all kinds of things that I couldn't even allow myself to think about before.

Still, it doesn't make sense to schedule, say, research only on Wednesdays, because I don't know what else might come up.  And even with all the time I ought to have at my disposal, I'll probably not get everything done that I'd like to.  After all, it's been 7 years since my last sabbatical.

I should also mention that I use Toodledo to manage my tasks, and I have this neat "rolling tasks" trick that I use to make sure I eventually spend some time on all the various projects that I have on the go.  The trick lets my cycle through a list of undated tasks, so that I know that eventually I'll spend some time on them.  I want to leverage that into my sabbatical planning.

I don't want the system to be complex or nuanced because I really don't like those kinds of systems. I'm more an autofocus guy than a GTD guy.

So here's what I've come up with.

First, I reconstructed all the contexts that I use in Toodledo.  I used to have very few contexts: Home, Work, Errands, and Online.  Now I have 11 contexts, but they correspond to the general classes of tasks that I want to spend time on during the sabbatical.  They are:

  • Home (house related jobs, of which there is a neverending supply)
  • Teaching (there's a whole bunch of modifications I want to make to my courseware, to various assignments, etc. that I can't do while my courses are "live.")
  • Research (well, yeah, right?)
  • Writing (writing research articles is not at all the same as actually doing research)
  • Blogging (usually unrelated to my research)
  • Reading (I'm usually far too tired to read much research material during work time)
  • Catch-up (I've got thousands of links stored in Pocket that I've never had a chance to deal with, as well as all kinds of old notes that need cleaning up and putting somewhere sensible)
  • Online admin (tending to my computers, my android devices, etc)
  • Students (my grad students continue to be my responsibility even when I'm on sabbatical)
  • Work admin (the odd bit of work related junk that I have to keep track of and can't escape except in death)
  • Other (anything else that needs to get done but doesn't really fit in any other category)
The biggest pain was going through all my Toodledo tasks and reclassifying them into the new category system.  Still that only took a couple of hours.

Next, I create a table of all these categories.  I did this on dot-grid paper, in my A5 journal binder, because I can't do it in Toodledo. The table is shown in the image to the left.

There's not much to it yet because I'm going to start this schedule in a few weeks (there's still a pile of lingering administrivia hanging over my head).

The categories are listed across the top of the page, in no particular order.  Order doesn't matter because they're all equally important categories and so long as I keep cycling through them, I'll get to them all.

I'll start with the first category, House.  I'll then go to Toodledo, pull up all the tasks I have filed under House, pick one, and do it.  It may take 10 minutes; it may take all day. It may even need several days - in which case, I'll only work for it a while - this is what I call a task requiring multiple sittings.

Once I've done a House task, I'll put an X in one of the dot-grid boxes below "House."

Then I'll move on to the second category, Teaching, pick a Toodledo task, and do it; finally, I'll put an X under Teaching.

Once I get to the last category, Work Adm, I loop back to House and begin again.

Since there are no deadlines or other forces pressing me to work on a particular schedule, I'll be free to take breaks as and when needed, either just to rest, or to go for a swim, or watch some TV or whatever.

The only daily goal I've set for myself is to spend at least five hours a day working on tasks that are covered by this chart.  That's a low-ball estimate of how much I want to work, but it also makes things flexible, to accommodate whatever else may come up.  This is because, again, I have no fixed schedule and I don't really know how long any given task will take.  Setting a minimum number of hours work is better, in this case, than setting a minimum number of tasks.

I've never tried this technique, so I don't know how it'll go, but I think it should help make sure I remain productive without overworking myself and without stressing out over how much (or how little) I get done in a day.  I'll update things here, as my sabbatical proceeds.

Wish me luck!

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