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?
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.
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.
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.
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?