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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 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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