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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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