Business as Usual

Two jars. One overloaded with sand coming first and one filled with bigger rocks coming first then covered with sand.
Always start with the largest stones, then fill the rest with sand. source

It’s March. Class after class begin to shut down and awkwardly reemerge online. Happily, I happened to be part of a lucky few who barely felt the change in academic dynamics. I’m guilty of having less-than-perfect attendance and a hard time sticking to an overwhelmingly strict schedule; but before you cast the first stone, hear what I have to say. I believe that switching to online lectures significantly boosted my productivity, and if you’re not a fan of neither strict discipline or extensive flexibility, you might benefit from a block-routine schedule.

My luck this pandemic stems from my lack of it in High School. My school’s reputation wasn’t exactly stellar, and for that reason, I had to learn how to learn independently. I also took a gap year to grow my knowledge with no constraints, and with all this freedom in my hands, I had to find ways of motivating myself to work.

What settled as my preferred daily structure was a combination of a strict set of routines and a flexible set of tasks to create what I call a block-routine schedule. The driving concept behind this technique is to take advantage of a routine to form habits while maintaining flexibility to add work as needed. First, we must create a “core” routine. This should be composed of a few healthy habits you will repeat every single day. This will be the strict part of your schedule, and can include eating, exercising, taking naps and calling it a day. Second, we organize variable tasks into blocks. These will fill up the time between routine items and can be either self-contained (doing three textbook problems) or free-form (reading the textbook). Self-contained items should go first in a block and optimally be finished before the next routine item. Free-form tasks should “pad” blocks, such that you can end all tasks without running into the next routine block.

This proved to be very effective in university, where lectures, practice tests and quizzes were self-contained and reviewing course material or coding was free-form. With the introduction of asynchronous lectures, this strategy became even more powerful. The main advantage of this scheduling technique is being able to separate what you can’t miss in a day from what you can more flexibly move around. Introducing more freedom to format my day allowed me to substantially increase my efficiency of work.

It seems like for once “The Rona” turned things in my favor, and I’m very thankful for having struggled with these before; past hardships became present strategies. While there is a lot more nuance to the actual reality of things, I believe a schedule is just a way to “program” your day. Yes, you will need to “bodge” when there is not enough time, and yes, you will require the occasional all-nighter to handle an unexpected error, but in the end of the day, the program will run, and hopefully, it will do so well.



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