Every year lots of us try and set some plans up for when we’re going to work, how many hours we’re going to do, how much reading up of lecture notes after lectures we are going to do. These are usually unrealistic and unfollowed. A first year friend of mine says that she’s going to work 9–6 each day and that’ll be enough, but (no offense Anna if you’re reading) I don’t have particularly high hopes for this because Things crop up. There are talks or social events or unexpected meetings and we all want to—and should—take advantage of our position as students controlling our own schedules which makes this sort of things possible.

That said, I’m going to be a third year and so I feel I should know enough to put some plans in place to make things better. I have a lot of stuff I want to do this term: do a lot of work, look after freshers, actually read non-academic stuff, write blog posts, play StarCraft, my (final term of my) JCR role, and see my friends. It’s impossible to do all of these of course so I’ve got to consider what’s valuable. A big driving force here is that I want to be better at relaxing because I’m not good at this and I think it’s probably bad for me. This is why I have StarCraft as an actual planned thing: it’s really fun, and not vegetative, and also social (lots of people in Balliol play it) which is great. The big thing I’m going to drop, then, is ‘researching’ random things online (Wikipedia-ing) and messing about with my computer setup. Amazingly I think I do these during term, basically as procrastination activities, but I’m deciding to cut them out right now. They’re great, but any computer messing is basically time-wasting and the reason I know this is that my setup is ‘there’ and this is clear to me when I don’t have a task I want to avoid waiting, and Wikipedia-ing is a great thing to do but there just isn’t time for that during term and I should make the sacrifice. Why sacrifice this? Because it ends up taking up time I’m supposed to be relaxing and it’s not all that relaxing (not compared to other things anyway) so I think it’s a good choice to cut out.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to fall out of the loop on interests because I still have lots coming in via RSS.

How am I going to fit this together into the day? I prefer not to work in the evenings, but I’m no longer naïve enough to believe that it’s practical to cut out evening working. There are going to be days where it has to be done because there is a talk at, say, 5pm, cutting into my time, or because the work is hard and I need the extra time. So I’m not going to set myself something that’s unrealistic. Instead I have the following guidelines for myself. I think that they will dramatically reduce my stress levels and make me enjoy all my activities, work and play, a great deal more.

  • In general, work is 8:30–6, with frequent breaks.
  • Breaks are OUTSIDE or WITH A PIECE OF FRUIT. Take advantage of living and working (library) in college.
  • My number one productivity tip is: have everything come in by e-mail, process e-mail rapidly and efficiently at 12pm and then at some point 6–8pm, and then never touch distractions again. To this end:
    • Excluding when there’s something to go to in the early evening, do e-mail at 6 then go to Hall. Don’t work until Hall and do it after, because then e-mail eats into evening more easily.
    • Don’t let e-mail eat into lunch hour-and-a-half, because it’s not important enough. Process process in order to have a proper break.
    • It goes without saying no e-mail before 12.
  • Try to restrict going to talks and things in working day. Filter out which ones are actually good.
  • Get into a good habit of sitting down to read. E-mail will involve a lot of “send to e-reader”; make sure you don’t end up forgetting to read and build up a backlog.
  • Socialising in Oxford is normally reactive rather than proactive for everyone; this means you can lose time because you might not get to see someone otherwise, so you hang around instead of getting on. Actually get good at organising things, breaking the trend, because it’s less fun to be seeing your friend with work hanging over you than it is otherwise.

My big issue right now is having a day off. A good idea? Certainly. Practical? Will depend on how my deadlines fall.