Category Archives: Productivity

Do you stall at the start line?

It starts with ambition, and possibly talent.  You come up with this really good idea in response to a brief you were given, you’re sure you can finish it within the allocated time, you’re all fired up and ready to go kick ass!

Then you sit down to work and your mind goes completely blank.

Overwhelm is a wonderful thing

In fact, the larger and scarier the end product the better chance you have of creating something truly amazing.  Or doing the whole crash, burn, stress, scrape thing.  The beginning of a project around the time the actual work starts is always the scariest for me; once I’m working I can keep going without much trouble and create something on time.

The Unspoken Choice

When it’s time to work you can decide to stand by your plans, or chicken out and minimize them.

Phrased like that most people are going to say ‘of course we’ll go for the former!’.  I believe you.  Now lets move on and look at how we can actually do that without accidentally reverting to the other path.

Speaking as a Professional Minimizer…

The fear there is based around whether you can produce to specifications before deadline.  It’s not whether you can do it period, it’s the time element that makes it harder.  Because I absolutely hate being undermined by ‘silly fears’ like that, I have a few coping mechanisms:

Break the product down – Decide what you absolutely have to create, what would add value, and what would make it look prettier.
Focus on the Necessities – Write down what you need to do that day to get started.
Pick on the Smallest thing – Finish it as quickly as you can, and score it off your list.
Breathe, then do the next thing – The breathing is important.  Enjoy that you have one thing done, then launch into the next.

The Feel-Good Factor

Some people like to use the ‘Tackle the biggest part for a specified amount of time’ trick instead of the knocking out the smallest task.  That may work better for you; after some trial and error it doesn’t help me much unless I’ve already completed one task.

Either way, the point is to do something that can quickly give you a sense of accomplishment.  Once you have something it’s no longer ‘Oh god, how do I begin?!’ it’s ‘Ok, what’s next?’.

How do you get around it?

Project Management for Creative Perfectionists

Are you a planning fanatic or do you prefer to just dive in?

Since this post is based on a tweak to project management and how to use it to sidestep one of the most irritating design problems you can come across (in my opinion) it’s probably going to appeal more to the fanatics among you. If you do just dive in, it’s still worth reading – there’s something for everyone to take away.

For the duration of this post we’re going to define ‘projects’ as on-going, unique tasks that require you to be creative, and have a deadline of some description. This isn’t the only sort of project the concept applies to; it’s just the one I have experience with. Feel free to adapt, prod, poke, and squeeze it into your own situation as we go through.

Introducing today’s example

Our example refers to an Infomercial I have to create this semester in order to pass two (or more) of my classes. Up until now I’ve been horribly over-ambitious with every project I’ve undertaken, and this one is no exception. To pass it must have film footage, interactive elements, and be based on selling an existing product to a target audience.

The Famous Triangle

Step into any Project Management class and one of the first things you’ll be introduced to is the ‘Project Triangle’. While there have been some murmers of it becoming outdated, a lot of working project managers agree that it’s still a good way of viewing work and priorities.

Like all triangles it has three corners; Time, Budget, and Quality. The idea is that you can choose two of those corners to be fixed, and the last is where you’ll make sacrifices should they become necessary. For example, if you have to complete your project by a certain date then it’d be your main priority, and you could choose whether to sacrifice Quality and keep within budget, or sacrifice the Budget and keep within quality.

In another example you may choose to keep the Quality at all costs; then you can decide whether the budget or time is more important to the overall success of the project.

Whenever you keep the two corners you chose at the start of the project within bounds, even if the last corner gets blown out of proportion you can still consider the project itself a success. In theory this means that if your priorities are time and budget and the quality turns out to be very poor the project itself was still successful, though it’s possible others outwith the project may not agree.

Time and Quality

Continuing with our example I choose the two corners that most college students would; Time and Quality. Especially since I’m in my final year the Quality is important (that was a no-brainer decision) and with deadlines being more concrete Time had to be the overriding consideration.

However, there’s no wiggle room in the budget (unless I choose to spend out of my own pocket) because for college projects budgets don’t exist. Considering Time is our immutable corner, that leaves Quality as the only area in which I can cut back if necessary. Obviously this is flawed, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Let’s talk a little bit about the relationship between Time and Quality. Deadlines often mean that Time can’t move, or the project has failed. Everyone wants to do their best work to get the best grade possible. How many of us have, at some point, designed a project that was far too ambitious given the time available then had to scramble at the last minute to make it fit?

At that point, are we happy with the sacrifices we’ve made to get it done on time? If you’re anything like me, I doubt it. Sure, you’re happy you got it done on time and therefore haven’t failed – but it looked so much better when you imagined it! Oh, and if you’d had just a little more time, say a week, then it would have looked so much better!

Yet, when you have more time, you choose a more ambitious project. Same results, but a little better than before in technical capability (because you’ve learned a few shortcuts).

The problem there is that you always feel you could have done better, and never truly show your best work. Using whatever your piece was in your portfolio actually makes you a little sad, and you just know that no one else is going to see what you’re capable of based on that… right?

Let’s reframe!

Recognising that cutting Quality rarely left anyone feeling good about a project is probably what led to the modification of the triangle to what you see above. Quality has been moved to the centre as an ideal or goal, and Scope has taken its place as the third corner.

In real terms, this means that when you have constraints of Time and Scope, and you really need to cut Scope – you can remove features and maintain the Quality of the rest. For a student, that means you can cut out the ‘awesome’ extra parts and deliver your best on the main core of your product. When it comes time to add it to your portfolio, you don’t have to worry about how much better any particular area could have been with more time, and anyone looking at it can get a better idea of where your skills currently are.

Shifting Quality to an ideal or goal also gives focus to your triangle – the questions move from ‘How do I do x within y amount of time?’ or ‘How can I cut costs so that z will work?’ to something like ‘What’s the best way to get the right level of quality within x time/budget?’.

In short you move it from a passive ‘I’ll just do what I can’ to an active ‘How do I make this better?’ with regards to the level of work you’re producing. Emphasis moves from what you’re doing to how well you do it, and so far I see no downsides there.

What this also means is that the scope of your project is considered properly at the planning stage. If you know you only have a few months to create something, there’s no way it’s going to be the same scope as something you’ll have a few years to create. When you bring it into the discussion you can fine-tune your ideas into something manageable for the time or budget available. And you can do it without pulling all-nighters towards the end. Maybe.

As you go through a project it’s really tempting to add more and more features; small things that won’t take much time to implement but that could look really cool. Again, by bringing Scope into the discussion you have a way of analyzing these small additions and deciding (even if it’s further down the line) whether to drop them.

(For the record, this ranks very high on my ‘I wish I’d known before…’ list)

Getting to the point; How do we use this?

None of those concepts are new, in fact a google search for ‘Project Management’ will have you tripping over them before you can say ‘Search done’. If I’d really wanted, I could have just pointed you to various other websites and articles, wished you luck, and called it a day. Those parts were just the introduction; this next part is the bit that makes the difference.

Knowing about the updated triangle and the addition of Scope is great, but knowing how to apply it in the real world is better. I found resources on how to practically apply it to creative projects a bit thin on the ground when I was buzzing around like a headless wasp looking for answers. Having struggled with this for years (despite being organized with my projects to the point of obsession) I finally hit a realisation last week, the day before deadline (storyboard, not project – still a big deal).

With the infomercial I’m working on I’ve done more market research than in previous years; I got to know my intended audience, the product, the current audience, and method of communication. I looked at other advertising campaigns to see what worked and what didn’t, and I immersed myself in brand style.

Then I happily skipped off to draw up the first plan for the introductory video. Pitch one rolled around a few weeks ago, the first idea didn’t stick. That was ok, because it was horribly technical and anyway the new idea was much better.

The second pitch happened the day before the storyboards were due in (of course by this stage they’d all been drawn out). Attention was drawn to how ambitious all areas of the project were, how little time I had, and that the story itself didn’t quite gel properly.

Honestly? It was depressing. And demoralising. And with the deadline the next day I had a choice to make; try and fix it, or ignore an obvious flaw in the plan and carry on regardless.

The next morning I drew up a plan that I believe is actually possible and works better than the other two combined. The revised storyboard was submitted on time and I didn’t have to draw as many frames either. The only thing that changed was I suddenly started looking at time and taking it into account when designing.

Again, How?

Because I’d worked on projects involving 3D and Filmed footage before I had a pretty good idea of how long each part would take. Before while I was planning I’d plotted it all into a tighter schedule than I would have liked, telling myself that so long as I stuck to the plan I’d get through it.

When I looked at it that night when time was already critical I finally sat down and looked at how I could eliminate or scale back the more time-consuming elements. In this case it was the animation. I also re-worked the story and script, but how that works is the subject for another post.

Switching mindsets from creative designer to project team let me make massive time cuts and brought my enthusiasm back too (added side bonus).

More than enough about what I did though! Let’s break it down so you can use it too.

Step One – Define your timescale

It’s a good idea to work out how much time you have for each stage of your project before you start planning how to use it. Write down all the parts of your project (planning, design, parts of the product you need to create, etc) and your final deadline. Add any other deadlines you have before the final deadline as well; this will help when you have to schedule everything.

Working back from your deadline, write down each section and how long you can afford for it to take and still be finished on time. If it helps to have a rough idea of a project at this stage then work with that too, but at this stage the sections are more important than what you’re going to do with them. Once you’ve worked that out, see if there’s any wiggle room (in my project if I want a more complex video I have to make the game less complex) between sections and make a note of that too.

Step Two – Brainstorm

Sit and scribble for a while. See where you might want to take your project, write it all down, and hold nothing back. This is by far the most fun bit – have fun!

Important Note – Message

The most important piece of advice I can give you here though is to decide what the point of your project is before you go anywhere near the design stage. The point is to deliver the message, not always to create flashy, beautiful pieces of work (unless that is your message of course).

Step Three – Refine your Idea

Once you know what you want to do and how long you have to do it, take your idea and figure out how. This means (for me at least) writing down what tasks you’d have to do for your idea as it is, working out how long those would take, then seeing where you can make changes in the idea to use less time and keep the message.

Since all projects are different, I can’t tell you exactly what to cut and what to focus on. If you know your project and your message well, you shouldn’t have too much trouble with this stage; the point is to know that you have to go through it before you start work.

Parting thoughts

Simply following these steps won’t magically make your project a success, but it should help you free up the time you need to make it shine (rather than spending the duration scrambling to fix all the features you’ve added!). Practice. See if it works for you. Or better yet, if you have a method of your own share it in the comments.

It’s time to step up and make the things we could make ‘if we had more time’ with the time we already have. We can do it; and I get to say ‘I told you so’ when we rule the world.

Further Reading and References

Project Management PDF by Marion E Haynes
Project Management Basic Principles – Project Smart

Scope Creep Management – Project Perfect

Traue – Let’s grow your Business (first image was from here)

Graphing the Triple Constraints of IT Failure – ZDNet (second image)

Semester Scramble: Aftermath


So what do you do when you finish a huge project that’s been sapping your time and energy for months?

If you’ve ever been a student (or worked in an environment with tight, immutable deadlines) you’ll know exactly what that’s like.  You rush through everything right up until the last minute in order to finish it all on time.  Sometimes you work late into the night for a few weeks ahead of the deadline; not recommended for the record.  All your spare time is devoted to ‘finishing’ whatever it is you’re working on.

Then it all stops.  Deadline comes and goes, the work’s done.  You have time for other things.

Do you remember those other things now?  Or did you experience what I call ‘sudden lull syndrome’ (SLS for short)? Do the following apply to you:

  1. General feelings of aimlessness.
  2. Unable to define ‘fun’.
  3. Uncertainty over what you’d like to be doing.
  4. A deep desire to sleep for a week.
  5. Boredom.

Congratulations, you’re a fellow sufferer.  Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as serious as it sounds.  Plus, you get the awesome perk of saying to your parents or significant other that you’ve caught a bad case of SLS.  Treatments are as follows;

  1. Play something completely random and completely stupid.
  2. Sleep the day away interspersed with reading.
  3. Sit and do nothing at all.  I mean it, no new projects.

In short, have a break!  Holidays are there for a reason and this is the best time I can think of.  I’m off to take care of remedy number two – let me know your medicine of choice in the comments.

Overload; Here’s Why You Stop Listening

Mountain of Paper waits to kill unsuspecting worker

Information Overload is a disease.  Worse, it’s a silent one.  It can strike anyone at any time, and once its there it’s difficult to detect.  It affects students, Bloggers, 9-5-ers, rich, poor, old, young; everyone.

How to spot your information crash and burn:

Here are a few of the ways you can tell you’re headed somewhere unpleasant and full of boredom.  There may be more.  Feel free to add some you’ve felt in the comments below and I’ll edit them in here.

–         Thinking about checking your email/RSS/research makes you feel tired

–         You skim or skip over information sources more often than you read them

–         You no longer care about the best way to complete a task

–         Social Networking Sites seem torturous and trivial (!)

–         Work instills a desire to run away and/or sleep

–         Energy skipped town

–         Inspiration jumped out of the nearest window when it saw you coming

Solution:

  1. Remove all subscriptions
  2. Take a day away from all responsibilities (if possible)
  3. Play videogames or treat yourself to something you ‘never have time for’
  4. Resist urge to re-add all responsibilities and subscriptions
  5. Repeat as required

Maybe it seems a bit outlandish and draconian, but I swear it will work.  If not you can sue me.  Or, rather, you could if I had money and if this wasn’t an entirely advice-based blog.  Let me know how you get on!

It’s not you, it’s me

I’ve had enough of having so many information streams coming at me from all sides and suffocating the passion out of everything I do.  Thank you.  By the end of today I’ll probably have removed almost all of my subscriptions, and over the next month or so I’ll be avoiding adding most of them back again.  This doesn’t mean I hate you as people, this just means I’m not gaining any value from your blog/forum/newsletter at this exact moment in time.

As an extension of that, I won’t be tweeting things for the sake of tweeting them any more either (or sharing in general for that matter); this should mean that when I do tweet something it’ll be useful and interesting.

Let’s fight the addiction together and make the internet the place it should be!

Effort and Reward; No longer linked

It’s true, they’re not linked – you can bust your ass and put in as much effort as you can, and see no reward and vice versa.  Here’s a quick disclaimer for today’s post;

This post is very much a gripe I’ve been having for a while, and the people it is aimed at fall into two broad categories.  First off the people that don’t put in the effort and still expect the reward, or put another way the people that sail through life without really trying yet still manage to be good at things.  Second, people like me that are fed up of working hard all the time only to turn round and help one of the first category of people.  If you’re new to 3D (or whatever) and your work isn’t that good yet but you’re trying to learn; this isn’t aimed at you.  If you’re constantly learning and growing this post isn’t for you.  If you teach others for a living then this post most definitely isn’t for you as the issues within would drive you insane.  I’m under no illusions here, you’ll probably still read it if your interest is peaked, but you’ve been warned.

What is Effort?

Effort is working to make something/do something/be something.  It’s not easy by it’s nature.  Effort is that thing we’re all told from a young age that if we put in enough of it, we’ll be rewarded.  Money, good things, happiness – it’s all meant to come from effort.

‘Hard work’ means much the same thing; if you work hard you’re meant to be rewarded.  But what does it actually mean to work hard and really put the effort in?

It means heartache, it means pain, it means blood and guts.  It means feeling scared, it means being uncertain, it means being alienated from the people that like to work less hard.  It means being exhausted both mentally and physically every day in some form, or at the least on most days.  It means keeping going even when you want to give up, turn tail and run.  It means hardship.

I’ll say this now, anyone that says otherwise is a liar.  This may be intolerant of me, and if you can refute it after reading the rest of this post please do.  I’ll be happy to debate the matter with you.

What is Reward?

Reward is subjective.  One man’s reward is another man’s curse; how it manifests itself varies from person to person.  We’re taught again from a young age that we want rewarded, that it should be the main goal of our lives; to find what we desire and to work hard enough to get it.  We’re taught, knowingly or not, that so long as we get our reward then the quality of the work we produce doesn’t matter.

People can sail through life and still be rewarded.  We’ve all seen it; people that get up one day, decide they want to be an artist, or a musician, or whatever else, and turn into an overnight success with all the rewards they could ever ask for.  We’ve probably even seen people do this without putting in much or any work at all.

In short ladies and gentlemen our concept of work = reward is bullshit.  Pardon the strong language.

How the System Works

Right now, if you’ll pardon the expression, it’s the dumbest and the prettiest that get the most attention.  In college, or work, or life in general; if you do something stupid you hear about it, if you’re attractive you’re listened to.  I’d even add charisma into that mix.  People that put in the effort are rewarded far later, and in our schools the best and the brightest are left to their own devices while the rest of the class ‘catches up’

We reward people for the wrong reasons.  If you don’t put in the work at school, or don’t understand it, you’re rewarded with more attention, care and time.  If you happen to be a bit of a looker you’re more likely to be listened to than that person over there with the real information.  If you can network and learn to speak eloquently, fluidly, and in a way that engages people; lord help anyone trying to compete with you.  .  Since my beef is with people that don’t try, rather than any particular mental capacity or charisma I’ll be skipping past those other two points for the moment.  That’s an article in and of itself.

Lets recap that a little; Rewards are distributed based on how annoying/stupid we think the person is, how loud their complaints are, and how much attention they demand.  Of that category the people that bother me the most are the ones that whine and complain because they can’t do something, get the attention, have the answer handed to them on a plate, do part of that and then call their work good enough.  They are the people that demand our attention more often than not, and they’re the people that get it.  People that work hard don’t get a look in unless they also speak louder than anyone else in the room or have one of the other aforementioned traits.

How the System Should Work

Call me unrealistic, but is it too much to ask that we realign to support the people that work hard?

Too often these people, me included actually, are taken advantage of by the people that just don’t care enough.  Whether it is in a college class, a forum, a blog or your workplace – people care enough to want the end result, but not enough to put in the work required to get there.  Again, if you’re new to something, just learning the tricks of the trade and you ask for help you’re not going to be shot down; because you’re trying to learn.  However you can’t expect to come to the people that know what they’re doing, that work on getting better, and that (maybe) succeeded and expect to be given all the answers without a price.

Yet that’s exactly what we (or at least I) currently do.  Sure we’ll help the ones that care too, but for whatever reason we help those that don’t equally.  Sometimes even more.  Perhaps it strokes our ego, perhaps people that don’t care make us feel less threatened, or perhaps we’re just too busy trying to be liked to differentiate.  This tendency will be taken and raped for all it’s worth, until we could actually be instrumental in one of those people gaining the credit and reward for our effort.

I’m proposing we work hard, and gain our own reward.  While still spring-boarding the people that will work hard and continue to do so.  People with passion, people with drive, people with a better reason for doing what they do than ‘I need to pass this thing to get my qualification’.

My Plan

It’s up to you whether you follow this, but I’ve had enough of being taken for granted and wasting my time where it benefits no one.  Least of all me.  Call me selfish, but I’d like to start seeing my own rewards for my efforts; to that purpose I’ll be making a few changes.

  1. The people I help will be exclusively those that will use it, and learn from it.  People that settle for ‘good enough’ without a really good reason will be told to shove it.
  2. Unless they genuinely forget, there will be no repeat lessons when I’m asked something directly.
  3. I won’t count sub par work from myself or anyone else as acceptable.
  4. I’ll be more aggressive both on my own behalf, and on the behalf of the people that work for it with looking and asking for rewards.
  5. If anyone tries to blackmail me, or someone else, into helping them when they clearly don’t care enough to put the effort in to learn it themselves will be cut down.

Conclusion

This may seem harsh and out of character, but that’s my current standpoint.  This has been bothering me for a long while, as I mentioned, and enough is enough.  I certainly hope I’ve alienated a few people with this; if I didn’t my audience isn’t big enough and my post didn’t do its job.

It’s time for action people; what bothers you and why do you put up with it?

How to Hack Your Paperwork to Save Time

We’ve all been there.  You start your new classes, possibly even with some excitement over the titles of each unit, and suddenly you’re up to your eyebrows in reports, essays and general paperwork.  While there’s a HUGE temptation to just ignore the bulk of it until nearer the end of the semester, the best time to tackle them is actually now.

In some cases you’re not going to know everything you need to in order to create your report then and there; that’s what this guide is for.  My aim, with this post, is to show you that you can get 80% of the work done before you really have any idea what you’re talking about.

The Process – A Brief Introduction

When I get an essay or report that I have to write I’ll follow these steps pretty much every time.  Parts of it are fairly new but so far they’ve made things so much easier for me and I hope they help you too.  For all you bloggers out there, this could work in that context as well; let me know how you get on if you try it.

One quick note before we start; be careful.  Some of the steps here make it very easy to sound like a robot with each essay or report you like, and it’s missing the point if you do it that way.  The idea is to get the bulk of the leg work done before you need to go in and add the information, not to sound like an automated doodad capable of only one sort of written work.  You’ll know yourself what you can adopt safely and what you can’t – keep that in mind while you read through this.

Without further ado, here’s my paperwork process:

Basic Hacking

  • Read the brief. Obvious, I know, but this is the most important stage.  Without doing this, you’ve lost before you even start; take five minutes to really read and understand what’s being asked of you.
  • Get Clarification (if needed). At this stage you need to ask your tutor/lecturer if you have any queries about the brief.  Anything at all you’re not sure of, get it cleared up now.  Even final deadlines if they’re not clearly defined.  Take notes if it’s especially complicated.
  • Split the Report/Essay into sections. From your discussion with your tutor and the brief you should be able to group the requirements into parts or sections.  For example, if you had an essay that required you to address the anatomic structure of cats, dogs, and sheep; your sections could be cats, dogs, and sheep.  Or, alternatively, you could split that topic into skeletal, muscular, nervous, and surface if that took your fancy.  The point is that you need to cut it into smaller sections.

Intermediate Hacking

  • Set up your Word Document. Open it up, add a header and footer and save it somewhere sensible that you’ll be able to find it again later.  Create a title page, a contents page, and an Introduction page (if applicable).
  • Add your Sections. For each of the sections you split your report into in the last phase, create a title that describes it and add that to the contents page.  Once you’ve done that for all of your topics, copy the text in the contents page and paste it on a new page after your introduction.  Restart the numbering if you’d been using it, and create a page break between each heading.
  • Explain your Sections. Write a note to yourself for each section explaining what it’s going to be about, what you need to cover in that section, and some of what you’d like to include.  You can also add what you need to research in here if appropriate.

Advanced (Optional) Hacking

  • Split your Sections. If you can, split your sections down further into paragraphs.  I don’t mean write them just now, I mean split it out into what you think should go in each paragraph and write a short note for that under your main explanation.  (Para 1, Para 2, Para 3, etc)
  • Write your Introduction. Again, sometimes you won’t be able to do this right away, but for most essays and reports the introduction is only explaining what you’ll be talking about in the rest of the essay, what each section will contain, and possibly how you plan to deliver the information.  Normally you can find all this information from the brief, so there’s no reason to leave this any longer.
  • Write Standard Sections. This part is a little harder to explain but I’ll do my best.  Say, for example, you had a fairly standard report that required you to say much the same thing in each section but with different pieces of information.  If that’s the case there’s nothing stopping you going ahead and writing the paragraphs and leaving room for the information itself.  I like to do this with square brackets; it leaves me space to write what information I need to place into that part.  Example:

In [year] the town of [town name] was founded to meet [insert requirement; work, economy, industry, etc].  Originally the people there felt [insert opinion about town] about their new home; however over time they became [insert current opinion].

The Most Important Point

  • Read through and Edit. Once you add the information you needed, read back through it and edit some of your sentences.  The idea here is to make it flow more naturally, not to change the entire structure of the report.  Possibly the most important step no matter what you’re writing; that’s why it gets it’s own section.

Conclusion

After you’ve finished those tasks the work you’ve left to do on your essay will be relatively small.  You can then research at your leisure and drop the information in wherever you’ve left a blank for it; it helps to focus on the information you actually need instead of only the interesting parts.  The first two sections should be easy to do every time you get an essay or report that you have to write, whereas the third section will only be possible in some cases.

I started using this method about a month ago formally and it’s made a huge difference to the way I work and how efficient I am.  Previously I’d been using a mixed set of techniques, some of which I kept, but ultimately it left me feeling more stressed than when I wrote them ‘normally’.  I’d say that this is worth trying at least once to see if it makes your life easier.

Final Word

One last thing I wanted to mention before I end this post;  As of next week I’ll be changing my posting days to Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  This is because my Mondays have become incredibly busy of late because of my new timetable and taking up Tai Chi.  By the time I finally get a moment to write I’m usually really tired, so before my work starts to suffer too much I’m going to spare us all and move it.

Thanks for your patience everyone, I hope you enjoyed this post – let me know how you get on if you try it!  See you on Wednesday.

End Of Semester Scramble: Are You A Victim?

It’s that time again.  Your current classes are ending, you have a whole new timetable to look forward to, and everything should be great and fun, right?  There’s just that one problem that, no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t avoid.

Possibly it was because of work you’d forgotten about until the last minute, or maybe you’d been ill for a couple of weeks.  Perhaps if you’re really unlucky you were without a tutor for some of the time.  Or maybe you’ve just been distracted by all sorts of other, more interesting things, went on holiday with a pile of work left to do, then couldn’t get started again in the new year.

This is the point that makes or breaks you as a student (or would if there were any real physical harm involved!).  Welcome, to the End of Semester Scramble!

What it is, and Why it’s Important.

Semester Scramble is caused by these two things:

  • You have less than two weeks left of your semester

AND

  • You have more than one or two pieces of work left to finish

It can have a negative effect on your self-esteem, prevent you from doing the things you enjoy, and hang round your neck like a chain.  At the moment, I think it’s fair to say that there’s quite a large number of us (myself included, I feel your pain!) in this boat.

Here’s why it’s important to get as much of it done by the end of the Semester as possible:

  • In the Second Semester, classes always start much sooner than they do in the first Semester (there’s no need for further introductions).
  • There’s a higher workload in the Second Semester in general.
  • Sometimes you’ll be asked to build on work you did in the first Semester.
  • If you’re granted an extension on your work, you’d have a much higher workload than everyone else (and a higher likelihood of producing sub-standard work).
  • Stress.  Psychologically, knowing that you have more work that you have to finish by the end of the year and that you’re late on can feel like an anvil being held over your head at all times.  Your pulse will quicken, you’ll start to sweat whenever you think about the work, and all the fun will get sapped out of your course (and by extension, you) leaving a dry husk of unhappiness.  Let’s avoid that shall we?

You Won’t Blame Yourself.  Or Else.

Despite my best efforts, I’ve been here a few times over the last three years.  First off, being here doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lazy; you could have underestimated the time it’d take you to finish certain tasks, you may have spent too much time perfecting one element of the course and the rest has suffered, there’s a huge list of reasons.  They don’t matter; we’re not here to blame.  If I catch anyone with their head in their hands blaming themselves for falling so far behind (unless you really did sit and do nothing all semester), well, there will be bad things.  Yeah.

Joking aside, I have a plan to get us all out of this.  There are four steps to it, each simple, but each requiring a bit of work.  Following through all of them will help though, I promise.

The Intelligence

Planning, love it or hate it, it will get you out of this tight spot.  Rather than banging on and giving you a huge pile of text to read, here are my bullet points.  Follow as many of them as you can:

  1. Gather everything you have from the first semester that tells you what you need to submit
  2. Make a list of everything you haven’t already completed and handed in
  3. On that list, write down how complete each item is
  4. For the things that are half finished or more, put the materials for them to one side neatly and ignore them for now.
  5. Write down the requirements for everything else on your list
  6. From those requirements, break your list into smaller chunks (See the links at the bottom of this post for help doing this)
  7. Write down how long you need to spend on everything on your list (including the half finished stuff)
  8. Write the date of the end of your semester at the top of your page

The Groundwork

Now that we know exactly what we have left to do, we need to schedule it in before the end of the semester.  Don’t Panic.  If you’re used to using Calendars and so on, feel free to use your own method.  For everyone else, here’s what we need to do:

  1. Write a promise to yourself that you will stick to whatever schedule you make for the rest of the semester
  2. Get a Calendar.  If you don’t have one, consider using an online Calendar System (see links below, I use Google Calendars) or you can write your tasks on a piece of paper.
  3. For every day of the week, write down class times and work commitments.
  4. With the time that’s left, write down two half hour slots per day for relaxing and having fun.
  5. From 12 midnight until 7am block out time to sleep (I don’t care when you normally sleep, we’re doing this until your work is finished.  Just remember, I have to follow this as well).
  6. Block out half hour time slots for meals, including breakfast.  (Breakfast will be soon after waking up, say about 7.30am at the latest)
  7. Leave half an hour in the mornings to get up, dressed, etc.

The Plan

You should now have a mostly filled timetable for the next few weeks, this is a good thing.  Just go with it for now, you’ll see why in a minute.

  1. Look at your list of tasks now; How many of your half done tasks can be completed in class time?  Block them in to their respective lessons.
  2. If you have any half-finished tasks left over, then block them into the morning from 8am (for half an hour or an hour) or just after your dinner slot, depending on what you can manage.  Make sure these are as close to your schedule start time as possible.
  3. Leave Your Saturdays Clear!  We’ll be using these a little later, for now don’t even think about touching them (unless you already work, of course).
  4. For your other tasks, allocate time for them either in class (if you have a lot of available class time) or in the hour after classes each day.
  5. If you still have tasks left over, then leave a break between a work/catchup slot of about half an hour, then schedule in another hour for them.

Your schedule should be busy, but not crammed completely full.  If it is, go back through it, and take out some of the tasks.  We’re not trying to melt our brains!

The Execution

So we have a schedule, and we have our promise to stick to the schedule.  Here’s a few more tips that you can incorporate if you’re looking for ways to finish more efficiently.

  • Batch your Research.  Hopefully you won’t still have this to do, but if you do, try to do all of it in the same one or two slots.  From every class/assignment, I mean.  Once you get into the swing of researching, it’s better to do as much of it as you can while you’re in the mindset.
  • If you have reports to write, consider going through them and writing headings for each section first, and possibly a summary of what each section should contain.  This will make writing them up easier after you have your research.
  • If you have models/artwork/comparable projects to complete, take your time with them.  You’re already late, so you might as well make them good quality (while, of course, trying your hardest to finish them on time).
  • Make sure that you let your tutors know that you’re struggling to complete work.  Depending on your relationship with them, you may get a talking to, but it’s a better solution than showing up on the last day and saying you haven’t done it.  Show them your schedule too, they may have a few pointers or suggestions.
  • If you accidentally underestimate how long a task will take to finish, and you really need it done by the next week – use a little bit of time on your Saturdays.  Give yourself an extra hour to finish it, and see how far you get.

Conclusion

You didn’t get into this mess overnight, so you’re not going to get out of it overnight.  With these steps, you’ll have a plan for getting out of it within the next week or two (or more, depending on the amount of work).  Do not try to cram everything in at the last minute, and don’t over-work yourself too badly or you’ll have no energy for the next semester anyway.

All I can say is I wish you the best of luck.  Go forth, finish your work, I’ve faith in you!

I’ll see you again on Wednesday with the next part of the Feathers tutorial, though if you’re really busy you should consider skipping it this week.  I won’t hold it against you. 😉

Link List:

Mindset

What Are You Putting Off?  How To Get On With It In 3 Steps – Dumb Little Man

Getting Things (Re)-Started: Dealing With Mental Blocks – LifeHack

Coming Back From The Holidays: How To Get Back To Work – Freelance Switch

Productivity

The Little Rules Of Action – ZenHabits

Done: Reduce Task Friction to get to Task Completion – ZenHabits

Begin Your Work Day at the End of It – Work Awesome

7 Must Read Productivity Steps to Finally Getting Things Done – Dumb Little Man

Process:

Get More Done With Batch Processing – Work Awesome

Online Calendar Management Roundup: How Do You Plan Your Days? – Dumb Little Man

20 Tips For More Efficient Google Searches – Dumb Little Man