Planning activities: today or never…

I was crawling through my long to-do list (that sadly doesn’t look like the Pink Panther’s):

Source: novaplanet.com

… and I noticed that there are two main categories:

  1. things I do every day/immediately,
  2. things that I postpone.

A handful of activities (luckily for them) fall into a third category of properly planned items, that are to be done regularly (often thanks to a calendar reminder) or at least in the near future and with a good certainty.

I don’t like the prevalence of the first two categories. It basically means I’m not properly planning, so I simply improvise, picking things from the to-do list depending on the current mood/energy level, and leaving all the rest to wait forever, like dogs in a shelter. The only time I plan is actually today. This of course can’t work for any activity that has a longer cycle (cleaning, for example) or lasts more than one day. I manage to do these things too, but more because their urgency makes them finally eligible to be done today, not because I planned them. On the opposite extreme, I have had planning-intensive moments in the past, but I tended to over-fill my schedule and it was simply exhausting.

I would like to find a level of planning that is right for my current energy availability, while allowing me to set goals in the future. A reasonable balance is to plan activities for a few hours of the day (around half of the day is OK) and leave the rest free for improvisation (for example it is a sunny day and I can spend the free hours at the park with a book; or it’s raining and I can do the house cleaning I planned for later). It would also work to leave one day per week completely free. It is also meaningful to coordinate activities with a partner, so that the common free times are planned together. On the longer run, I tend to plan a week ahead in detail (write down all planned activities), two weeks ahead in less detail (intentions, but no fixed dates), and occasionally plan events for a more distant future. I think this somewhat short planning is able to give me positive feedback when I manage to complete my weekly items, and motivate me to continue, and plan more accurately according to my energy stock.

How do you process your to-do list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

A visit to the aquarium

A few days ago I went to Berlin aquarium with my sketchbook, I ended up staying in for 4 hours, one of which by the Arapaimas:

They are huge freshwater fish, growing up to 2m long (exceptionally 3 or 4) and weighing over 100kg. They moved around with little or no movements of their fins, like living submarines. Many people looked at them for a minute or two, fascinated by their size, but then walked away. I decided to stay and draw them, as they moved so slowly. I was therefore able to see them interact with each other and with other fish in the pool, and had a lot of fun when they flocked to observe people who sat next to their glass for longer than a minute – it was a very slow (5min? more?) alteration in their swimming patterns, from random to focused, so that in five or more passes near the person they finally stood with their head oriented to them, in a group of six and more. One guy leaning on the glass, busy on his phone, didn’t notice the slow formation of that fish crowd until other people pointed them to him, and he turned around to see the curious arapaimas then disperse with a powerful move of their caudal fins. One fish came to me to check my drawing kit, I showed it every piece closer to the glass, it observed everything and then swam slowly away.

DSCF3097

I tried to draw and note as much as I could (in Italian – it goes faster for me!) and, as John Muir Laws suggests, to describe details, even if they seem obvious, and note questions. For example I observed the pattern of pink spots of several fishes and imagined if it could be a pattern that changes with age. I was not able to draw the texture of fins and head, so I described it in the notes. I liked spending that time immersed in observation. It felt a way of respecting these animals, even if they are living in unnatural conditions, hopefully pleasant for them anyway.

 

On time visualisation

Last year I experimented a bit with visualisation of time, both past and future. I was not really happy with agendas: one page per day doesn’t give enough overview, one week per page misses the monthly overview, one month per page doesn’t allow to zoom over my occasionally very busy days. I don’t find electronic formats and programs especially useful either. Now my present setup is: online calendar with all appointments and monthly view, and a simple paper notebook where I use a page a day with all the things I plan to do that day. I also have a blackboard with colour chalks where I write down what I want to do that is not yet allocated in time, or I didn’t manage to do that day. I have cyclical checks of what is to be done in next weeks/months and fill my brain RAM accordingly.

(Do have a look at Pretty Pretty Planners, from Calvin Was Right. I find them so cute!)

Still, this setup misses an overview of the whole year. Therefore, two years ago we used the Berlin transportation yearly calendar: an A3 sheet, with one line per month and one yellow dot per day. We hanged it in our kitchen and marked each passing day with a cross.

For 2015 I wanted to have more content for each passed day, so I bought a plain A3 light cardboard sheet, completely black. I then replicated previous year’s layout and created a table, with a cell for each day and a row for each month. Every day I had fun drawing the most relevant event of they day, or simply the day number. It ended up as a very colourful picture of the whole year.

As last year I made a lot of changements in my life, I felt the need to see where I was and where I was going, with the broadest perspective possible: so I made a A3 calendar of my whole life. The inspiration came from Tim Urban of Wait but Why.

I don’t post pictures here as it would be too easy to grab content out of it; but the overall feeling I got when I filled it with my school milestones, the countries I lived in, the big events, the big decisions, and see where on that piece of paper was my today, was the same feeling you get when you see Earth from space. It looks meaningful, gracious, finite. And you see the space around it. There is no such perception when you struggle on its surface | with everyday battles. From space you don’t see the dust, the details, the disasters (except the very big ones), the anxiety of all life forms. I highly recommend to do a similar calendar, especially if you have already several years to fill, and take time in observing it, as if it was someone else’s life. I have come back to my everyday chores with much more perspective – and therefore serenity.