Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Big Picture

One of my weaknesses, which I revel in, is that I am genuinely interested in many different topics. In academic circles this is usually referred to as the dilemma between generalization and specialization. I do not view this as a simple dichotomy, but rather choices from a rich tapestry of possible patterns.

From a time perspective, it is a matter of deciding what to do next. Time on one task is time not available for another task. Time, like oil, is a finite resource.

From an organization and planning perspective, I find it helpful to draw a "Learning Activities" map that shows the various possibilities, thereby helping me select my activities for the near future. Here is one such map, drawn using a software package called Inspiration:

The first category shows four sub-categories under the umbrella term of "professional" topics. The next major category is "personal interest" which I have sub-divided into "academic" and "life". The academic group includes 6 topics and the life group has 5. There is one other meta-topic, which I call "time-management" as I spend explicit time on this as well as on the actual Learning activities.

In addition to identifying the main topics and sub-topics, I also use color to help highlight the identity of each group while also adding a special level of detail to some items. For example, I use red to emphasize that "math" is my top priority in the "personal interest" group, and turquoise to identify "literature", which usually means reading a novel, short story or poem, as a different kind of activity from the other items which have more of a knowledge dimension.

In addition to Inspiration, which I have been using for over a decade, I also use two other software packages for drawing such concept maps: MindGenius and cmap. The latter is a free open source product. More information on any software that I happen to mention can easily be found by googling the name.

I then use this map to remind me of possible entries when I build my table of Learning activities. This table is divided into a top and bottom half, the top containing activities for the current day and the bottom containing activities that I should consider moving up to the top half when I think I can realistically fit them in. It is also possible to move an item down to the bottom half if my priorities alter due to changing circumstances.

As you may notice, I have just used the Learning Activities map to identify a number of potential future activities which I have added to the bottom half of the daily table which I update each morning (or at least on most mornings).

I make use of color with this table as well. I make a green square to indicate that I definitely plan to complete that item today. I add a "Y" (short for Yes) to indicate that I have completed the item. For today by 9 am I have completed 2 items and still have 5 more items that I hope to complete, one of which is making a post to this blog. I will be adding a "Y" to that row in a moment.

Creating a daily table first thing each day only takes a few minutes since I simply copy the previous day's table and then make a few modifications. One could use Word or Excel to make these tables although I prefer using the web authoring package Dreamweaver. One may also save each day's table as a file and then refer to them for some form of review when the mood arises.

Although this may appear to be a laborious activity it is actually very efficient once one creates the initial chart and daily table. The main challenge is that of establishing the discipline to maintain the process (almost) each day.


At 4:47 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

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I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!



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