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Time Management For Anarchists

Time Management For Anarchists

    A while back, Jim Munroe started giving a talk called ‘Time Management for Anarchists.’ The talk evolved into a Flash adaptation, complete with historic anarchists Emma Goldman and Mikhail Bakunin. From there, Jim teamed up with Marc Ngui and turned the whole concept into a comic book, now available as a PDF.

    The comic, the talk and the Flash presentation all focus on a surprisingly simple dilemma focusing anarchists: how do you get things done when the Man is no longer setting your schedule?

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    Agenda Books Are Weapons

    Jim puts it simply:

    The job and school both provide deadlines, purpose, peers — it’s like the fit you in an exoskeleton at the age of five. You grow up within these structures and while you gain a lot of experience doing projects, you never really develop your own muscles.

    Whether you’re an anarchist, or simply someone with no desire to listen to upper management, it takes a surprising amount of self-discipline — and time management — to make sure that you keep producing. Without some sort of discipline, it’s hard to even start all those things that we clear out time for. Sure, you can go back to that exoskeleton — that external structure provided by work or school — but who wants to do that?

    For Jim’s titular anarchists, then, there has to be a way of internalizing that structure. While ‘Time Management for Anarchists’ seems incongruent, it may be the only way an anarchist — or someone else outside of the normal employment system — can succeed. The logical conclusion is that the greatest tool for bringing about the end of oppressive employers is the agenda book or calendar.

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    While the concept took me a bit by surprise, it does make sense: being able to prioritize and plan is the skill necessary to run your own business, remodel your house and generally do well at anything. It’s only when you’re working on someone else’s projects that an inability to manage your time won’t cripple you. After all, who needs to manage time in college, when we can simply pull all nighters? Depending on what kind of excuses we dream up, we may even be able to get extensions — why bother starting a project until after the due date?

    The same holds true, to an extent, for employees. It’s generally the responsibility of someone higher up the food chain to make sure that you’re on track and that a project will be done on time. These days, it seems like it takes a concerted effort to do otherwise. Many freelancers and small business owners soon go back to the 9-to-5 grind because it’s easier — they don’t need self-discipline to follow a supervisor’s directions.

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    Jim’s work is based on experience. He was a novelist with HarperCollins before leaving to create and promote independent presses. Writing for a big publisher HarperCollins fits the idea of working for an employer: deadlines are set externally, and it’s more a matter of keeping with a schedule someone else sets than striking out on your own projects. But publishing a book through an independent press, on your own, is entirely an act of self-discipline. If you don’t meet your deadline, no one will come around waving a contract. Your project will just fail.

    Deadlines Are Your Comrades

    The comic gets into a truly novel concept. One of the characters proposes that responsibility to yourself is a social act: when you work for yourself and you actually accomplish things, you’re benefiting everyone. While I don’t really identify with the left, I personally like the idea that spending time on my own projects (and actually getting them done) does some good beyond making me happy. The example that really works for me is the production of an album. Sure, the reasons a musician puts out an album aren’t precisely altruistic, but other people certainly benefit — if only by having some new tunes. More often, the benefits are of a higher level, though: once a musician has made his own album, he can show others how to do it, give other the inspiration to make their own music and more.

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    But before a musician or anyone else can be responsible to himself, he has to have the self-discipline to meet deadlines and finish projects. Altruism isn’t going to be the driving force to create an album or finish another project. Instead, it’s the ability to make a decision to follow through on something and the skill to manage the time necessary to do it. Jim manages to show a few other benefits to time management, as well, although the comic’s discussion of the concept is fairly shallow because of its format. His Flash presentation has a fairly in-depth consideration of the topic, however.

    All in all, I think that ‘Time Management for Anarchists’ is well worth a read for anyone in need of a reminder of just why self-discipline is a useful skill. The Flash presentation is also quite useful, and does clear up some of the questions I had after reading the comic — a few concepts were dropped in order to adapt the overall idea to comic form. Furthermore, the Flash adaptation has a great run down of just what you should look for in an agenda book or calendar. And who doesn’t love the idea of Emma Goldman explaining time management?

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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