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Getting Things Done

Psst...want to hear an awesome way to manage your life? I will tell you, it worked for me. It is very simple, not like those other systems you may have seen before.

  1. Make a big, long list of everything you need to do, want to do, and have to do.

  2. Look at the list daily, and make note of the things that you need to do that day, and select eight of them to completely ignore.

  3. Go and do other stuff.

Simple, eh?


Yes, I know what you are thinking. Let me explain with a metaphor, OK?

So, you are likely familiar with the concept at least of the videogame Guitar Hero--you stand in front of your TV and hit colored buttons and a strum key on a stylized miniature guitar in close timing with a series of colored bars or dots streaming down the screen. Simple, no? Right. So, last year, and for much of the summer and even the first week or so of this semester, I was doing that (metaphorically, remember), and damned well if I may say so. I was hitting almost every note, I was in the groove, the crowd was digging me. Well, a few weeks ago, an cause of indeterminate value and origin snuck up on me, and suddenly I was a quarter-second off the beats. When this happens in Guitar Hero, you tend to start missing notes. A lot of them. In fact, it is much like opening up the floodgates on a dam--seemingly limitless amounts of things blasting past without any real hope of stemming the tide or even diverting it minutely. Suddenly, I was missing every note or almost every note, and I could not figure out (still am trying to figure out) how the hell I was going to get back onto the beat and not fail the song.

You may already have grasped this metaphor for what I am really talking about, but I will list it out plainly, mostly so that I myself have a simple, clear declaration of the symptoms of the problem.

I have six (and a half) courses this semester. Five of them have regular homework assigned, four of which are collected and graded for upwards of 10% of the final course grade. These five also are technically-dense, fast-paced courses in which a day or two (much less a week or more) of dulled attention causes irreparable (hold on hope, there may yet be light) damage to the purpose of the course (ie, to learn). This builds up to the point where, listed below, are my dingy achievements thus far this year:
CRN| Course| Achievements| (Est.) Current Grade
CS2141| Intro to C++| Completely flubbed one test based on subject matter I missed or forgot, wrote off a program due to a massive mental block on the algorithm for it.| 78%
CS2311| Discrete Structures| Missed two out of five homework assignments due to procrastination and forgetting my schedule.| 80%
EE2150| DSP| Flubbed one quiz (retook) based on a brain fart regarding rounding, flubbed another quiz (not counted in grade) based on not knowing 90% of the quiz material.| 100%
EE2173| Digital Logic| Doing pretty much OK, actually. Material is old-hat, assignments are simple.| 100%
MA3160| Calc III| Big one: Submitted one assignment thus far in the year, of fifteen or so.| 71%
W1700| Calc III Mathlab| Doing pretty much OK, no homework and easy work is good.| 100%
PE0152| Beg. Social Dance| Besides the fact that I am too out of shape to do the polka for more than five minutes at a time, doing OK.| PASS

This all makes me feel like life is sliding away from me, and I know all too well what happens if you let a technical course's material to drift away like this (witness the failure in Diff. Eq. two semesters ago). It does not help that I have been, through little fault of my roommate, staying up way too late at night for the courses I have. I am in bed, trying to sleep, and all that comes to mind is a stream, for several hours, of various ideas, and projects and algorithms and plans. It seems that the creativity that I was longing for a few months back has returned, but only when I am trying to sleep. I try to soothe the torrent by writing the thoughts down on one of my whiteboards, but there are so many and they come so quickly that that rarely helps. I eventually fall asleep around 0100-0300 from sheer physical exhaustion, only to be roused by my alarm at 0715 for either my 0800 or 0900 classes. I have tried meditation, but I seem to have lost the ability to take myself down far enough for it to do me any good. I have tried to do what the experts say--that is, limiting the amount of caffeine in one's diet, getting exercise, not doing things with glowing screens close to bed, etc.,--and though I have a Dew maybe once a week or less, and ride my bicycle over five miles a day and walk everywhere else, and try (I am a CpE major--computers are my homework, and homework is done [when it is in fact actually done] later in the evenings due to my current perceived schedule) to maximize the amount of time I have between my computing and my sleeping, I have had very little success. This lack of sleep has dulled my attention and ability to grasp what the instructors are projecting upon us to the point where, of the three classes I had this morning, I understood perhaps a tenth of anything that was actually said.

Needless to say, I need to figure out a better way. A better way to get things done, a better way to get sleep, a better way to live.


September 24 2008, 19:23:45

Sounds like you need an outside hobby... I don't know how most CS majors do it. Drop the LUG stuff, and like go hiking or something. And uh yeah, 6 courses in a semester is ill-advised, you should know that by now.

Goodluck! Eat good too, that'll help.

September 24 2008, 19:24:22

that was me above, apologies

September 24 2008, 19:34:42

It is not so much the LUG stuff actually... it is really more me just not doing stuff I really ought to. But yeah, more outside activities would help, and I could probably start eating a little better.


September 24 2008, 21:00:34

When I read the short version of the method, all I could think of was structured procrastination. This is also known as the "nothing gets my room cleaner than a paper due tomorrow" phenomenon. The idea behind structured procrastination is that not all procrastinators are lazy, we are just avoidant. If you give us a better task to avoid, we will finish everything else in an attempt to avoid it.

Also, I see nothing wrong with those grades, but as a student im mediocre at best :)

September 24 2008, 22:04:03

I do that too, but this has been a case of me simply not doing whatever it is that I need to be.

Yeah, and I would personally be OK with them too (after all, I do have a company that already wants to hire me for life), but for two reasons. First, my membership status in the MTU Honors Institute (which, quite frankly, I am soon to not care about--too little benefit for far too much work) is based on a continued holding of a 3.5GPA or better, and I am currently at a 3.3. If they decide to check at some point, I am out. Second, though there is a stated "Whatever you get, so long as it is your best work, is fine" policy by my parents, it usually boils down to anything lower than a B is a travesty. This I can deal with, but I would rather not...I do not want to have to add my parents to an email blacklist...

September 27 2008, 02:36:47

I don't know about the others, but 70 or 80 percent in CS2141 and CS2311 really isn't good. Those are both basic courses and they build up, so if you're not strong in them, you're going to do very badly on the ones afterward (which, if I remember right, as a CPE you have to do Comp Org and probably Intro to OS as well). And especially for 2311, the key point is mostly just going at it. It's kinda mathy.

You should really try sleeping earlier. If you find that you have a nice torrent of ideas then, sleep earlier, think about them, and then you'll have time to wake, write them down, and still sleep enough.

As for doing homework... just do it. It's gonna be mean and evil, but you'll have to man up and do it sometime. xDDD

September 28 2008, 16:52:21

I know it--I am getting caught up again.

I could try that.


(sorry I missed you this morning--last night was quite a late night, and I think I may be coming down with something)