The Organisation Series: Tracking

I’m going to kick start this Organisation Series by talking about multitasking. I’ve just entered one of the busiest weeks of my life; I have an exam today, a trip for work tomorrow, an assessment centre on Thursday, the Department’s annual Ball on Friday, 10 major deadlines coming up, I’m flitting in and out of the lab to finish my research project, my dissertation is due in 3 weeks, and exam season is fast approaching. It’s the kind of to-do list that makes you sit bolt upright in bed around 4am every day, terrified that you won’t get everything done in time.

So I’d like to share a technique with you, that I have found quite helpful in eliminating those 4am moments. During a moment in which I was feeling particularly overwhelmed, I made a list of all the things I needed to keep an eye on. The simplified list was as follows:

  • Dissertation
  • Research Project
  • Job
  • Time to relax
  • Job searching
  • Social life
  • Housework
  • Group project
  • Exam revision
  • Dissertation presentation and other assignments

As you can see, I have included things like downtime, housework and social life, as I think it’s so easy to let these things slip when you’ve got other priorities, but ignoring these things can make things a lot worse and increase stress levels unnecessarily. Even if it’s making sure I’m doing work in the same building as my friends, so we can meet up during our breaks, I try to make sure that I don’t shut myself off completely – personally, I need something to look forward to to break up my day.

Anyway, as you can see, I have 10 things that I need to keep track of. Next, I drew out a Radar, or Spider diagram with 10 axes, numbering each one, and splitting each axis into 5. The numbers around the outside correspond to my list, which makes this technique even quicker. Then I looked at each of my ongoing tasks and rated how happy I was with my progress for each one, out of 5. Finally, I joined these dots up.

It’s by no means the most intricate or informative graph, but it served its purpose; to show me, at a glance, how much progress I’m making. It’s also blatantly obvious if you’re not doing so well in one particular category.

On particularly busy weeks, I might draw one of these out every day, so I can see whether there has been any significant change in progress from one day to the next just by looking at the shape. The larger the shape, the better I am coping. Just remember, if you are drawing several of these over the period of a few days, make sure each axis is exactly the same. You won’t be able to make any comparisons if the tasks or the number of axes are different every time!

So this is how I deal with this particular problem. I like it for three reasons:

  • It’s quick. I can draw one of these out in a minute, so I know I’m not wasting time.
  • You can customise it to have as many axes as you like.
  • You can use it to track any ongoing tasks you have. I’ve used it for tracking my final two months at university, but you could also use it for health and fitness purposes, for family life, or monitoring mood.

Thanks for reading, have a good week!


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