Oct 232003

Time to Smash the SystemI did a seminar at Canzine, a zine fair in Toronto. It focused on the paradoxical notion that if you want to live without bosses, you have to be self-disciplined. I attribute my productivity to being well organized and hopefully I passed on a few pointers to fellow anti-authoritarian types, complete with absurd graphs and diagrams.

I’m happy to do it again, so get in touch if you’re having an event that you think it might be useful for. I’ve put my notes and images online — feel free to add your own tips and problems in the comments.


-I know for lots of anti-authoritarian types like myself, being organized and productive is a big challenge — people with a rebellious streak tend to be more creative and less focused, and often have an inherent dislike of structured thinking.
– but most ornery people I know hate having bosses most of all. ‘Cause when you think of it, what a boss does is take a cut of your labour for managing the employees. If you have a job, you’re kind of paying a boss to discipline you.
-once I learned how to make my own structure, I was able to kick my expensive boss habit and work on my own.

Agenda Books are Weapons

-Make sure it’s small enough that it’s easy to carry: the Slingshot organizers are really good, as are the OM Festival ones.
-or DIY organizer: write in the dates yourself into a blank sturdy notebook
-as well as a calendar, you’ll want a place list of things to do that aren’t time specific that you can jot down when you think of them, and refer to them every so often.
-phone numbers? don’t necessarily have your whole phone book there, but write down numbers as you need them & build it up that way. You don’t want to put a huge amount of time building a perfect agenda book with every conceivable thing you need in it: because you will lose the agenda book at some point. It’s almost inevitable. More important than the book is building up habits of writing stuff down and refering to it, since with these you can start building it again without too much trouble.

Power to the Imagination

-when you develop a habit of writing down stuff, and refering to it often enough, you’ll find out an amazing thing: you can let it all go. You can forget about missing appointments, not getting stuff done, and have your brain back to think about creative, interesting stuff. If you’re worrying that you’ll forget to get copies done before some event, then you’re not able to think about what images you’d like to put on the flyer, what projects you want to work on next, whatever.

Smash the State by Breaking Down Tasks

-some of the things that will make it onto your to-do list need to be broken down to be approached both logistically and psychologically, because big tasks can really intimidate you. So you have to break ?em down. “Make a short movie” for instance. You might want to give it its own page in your agenda book, and think through what you would have to do for this. Write a script. Send it out to the people you want to be in it. Find locations. Schedule a day for shooting.
-once you have a huge task broken down, now you have to figure out when you’ll do them.

Deadlines Are Your Comrades

-Most people hate them, but I love deadlines. In my life, deadlines are immovable objects that are really useful since everything else is flexible. So say that movie you wanted to make, you decide that you want to submit it to the Splice This festival. Find out when their deadline is and work backwards. Figure out how long each task will take and stack them against the deadline and you’ll end up with the date you have to start writing the script if you want to have it ready for the festival.

Self-knowledge is Power

-Quantify your life. Sounds a little cold, but if you can figure out how long things take, you can do all sorts of fun stuff: leave stuff to the last minute, for instance. More on that later. For instance, it takes me about two and a half hours to write 1000 words. It almost always averages out to that. So because I know that, I can predict how long a writing project will take. A few years ago I took my bank statements and figured out how much I spent over six months — rent, food, entertainment, other expenses — and was able to figure how much I costed in a given month. Not how much I should cost, or would cost if I wasted money less, but an actual figure on what I costed to maintain in a way that seemed dignified and relaxed to me. With that figure, I’ve been able to decide pretty accurately what projects I’m able to take on and which ones I have to pass up. I don’t waste a lot of energy worrying about not being able to finish writing a novel because I run out of money — in fact, I worry about money less than a pal of mine who literally makes ten times what I make in a year.
-so, for instance, a lot of people have a dream of quitting their job and writing a book. If you want to move that from dream to reality, you have to look at the numbers. If you know it takes you a week to write 5000 words, and it costs $300 to support you during that week, you know you have to save $6000 to take the six months off you need to write a novel-length work.
-that’s pretty macro stuff, let’s go back to the fun stuff:

Leave it to the Last Minute

-I hate the bullshit moralism connected with being organized. All this stuff about get started early. If you know how long something takes you can indulge yourself and leave it to the last day.
-it’s harder to do something ahead of time because you know it’s ahead of time, so you’re likely to procrastinate
-if you don’t know how long an aspect of a project will take, do it first
-pay attention to how long it takes so you know the next time.

Take it Easy on Yourself

-Give yourself a really relaxed, really easy schedule, so much so that you can’t imagine not being able to finish each task in the allotted time. You can cram a project into a week and end up burning out and hating it and dreading the next time you do it, or you can do it over four weeks, intersperse it with other things and projects, and not even feel like you’re working. Variety is the spice of life, and being able to switch from one type of work to another is a break in itself
-don’t pack stuff in in an effort to maximize your efficiency, make sure you take your time with family and friends as seriously as you take your work.

“Lazy” is Bullshit

-I don’t really believe in lazy, I don’t really know any lazy people. I know people with low self confidence who find it really hard to believe in their own projects. I know people who have never learned the pleasure of stimulating and engaging work. I know people who are too worn down by eight hours of pointless, meaningless tasks to take on new projects.

No Gods! No Masters! No Martyrs!

-Even ornery people, who have been saying no to the system all their lives, find it hard to say no to their friends when their friends ask them for help.
-the main reason for this is because people don’t really know to assess if they can take on a new project
-if you know how long something will take, you can look at your current commitments and decide if you can add another, and then tell the person how long it will take — sometimes they won’t have any idea how long something takes, either.
-if you have no idea how long something will take, odds are you’ll make a decision soley based on emotional criteria and either the work for the other person will be rushed, or your own projects will fall by the wayside — no one wins.

Parting Shots

I’d like to finish up by saying that the only thing you need to get started organizing yourself is this and this. A $15-20 investment in an agenda book you really like is great, but blowing $1000 on computer stuff so that you can get more organized is counterproductive. My take on it, biased as it is as an admitted gadget junkie who uses Outlook, has a Palm Pilot and all that bullshit, is that anyone who tells you you need to buy something to get organized is trying to rip you off.


  12 Responses to “Time Management for Anarchists”

  1. This is a method that works for me:

    -Tidy up your working place not only on the surface, but also structurally – that’ll help you stay organized longer. Sort all of your stuff into cathegories and give each of these a permanent place in shelves/crates/drawers. Then you don’t have to waste your time looking for something before being able to start whatever you want to do when motivation hits you.

    -Spend a week working on your various projects by doing exactly what you want exactly when you want to, not paying attention to what you ought to start with. Then you’ll probably figure out what kind of circumstances make you want to work on your respective projects.

    -Then, try to figure out which days in a normal week of yours stimulate which kind of activity. Assign the day in question to the activity in question. For instance you might find that your Mondays tend to be good for planning future events, Tuesday is a day for zine work, Wednesday for making prints, and so on. It doesn’t mean that you have to follow the outline rigidly, but it might give you some focus while you don’t have to make detailed plans for each day in order to get everything done for the various fields you’re involved in.

    Oh, and I like the revisions to the site. Did you ever get the zine? (‘konstruksjon’)

  2. I did, thanks! Haven’t gotten to it yet, but I will. I’ve never seen a Norwegian/English zine before. Thanks too for your advice.

    Alan O’Connor reminded me to let people in the Toronto area know about the anarchist bookfair happening Oct 24th-26th:

  3. I tend to want to get involved in a whole bunch of things and help out friends etc. etc.

    But the more I get involved in, the more I dilute what I can do for the things I do get involved in.

    So, the hardest thing for me is to say no to people/projects I like.

    That’s it.


  4. I’m seeing a section title…

    You’ve Said NO to Authority, Capitalism, and The System: Now Say it to Your Friends!

    It’s just as helpful for me to hear about problems as well as solutions… I’ll change the entry to reflect that. Thanks Christia!

  5. Seems like an obvious, dumb comment. But it’s easier to stay organized and on top of something if you really, truly, honest-to-God enjoy what you’re doing. Probably an important point in that, when you start to work at home for yourself, you wind up starting to take projects that pay the rent, as opposed to things that you’re passionate about. Hard to do, especially if you’re into ‘niche’ projects that don’t really generate a lot of money: oh, say, reviewing CDs or that kind of thing.

    The trick is, I suppose, to ‘sell out’ just enough that you can make some cash — I’m writing a Web site for high schoolers on Aboriginal issues that has turned out to be absolutely fascinating, and extremely profitable — without losing interest entirely in what you’re doing. Not what I thought I’d be doing right now. But still fun.

    Also: You might be working with friends, per the above poster’s comments, but the standard corporate rules of business still have to apply. They have to pay you. And you have be on top of them to ensure they do — don’t bend on that. In fact, it’s probably better to say no to your friends. You might end up losing a friend or two by working with them and finding out that they have no money to pay you, which I have. The hard way.


  6. Organized while sleeping: I used to keep paper and a pen beside my bed for 3am random thoughts – but I now use a tape recorder. Pressing record and speaking into the unit takes less effort and requires less conciousness. It’s also funner to listen to myself drone out “b-u-y-p-e-a-n-u-t-b-u-t-t-e-r” than decipher my “buy peanut butter” scrawl.

    Organized on the computer: if I’m deep into work on my computer, but an unrelated thought somehow works its way to the forefront of my mind, I’ll quickly do a “Ctrl-Esc r notepad ” (or even just a “Ctrl-Esc r ” if possible) and then type “buy peanut butter” and then Alt-Tab back to whatever I’m working on before losing my roll. Later on, I’ll transfer my notepad notes to their appropriate spots.

  7. When I get home from work at the end of the day I often forget what things I’m working on for fun. I find if I write down a list of 20 different things I feel like doing and keep it on my computer desktop, I can just look at the list and choose an item that takes about the amount of time and energy I have to spare.

  8. The follow-up system:

    I work at an insanely corporate corporation and I work on too many projects at one time. There are several people involved with each project and at all times I’m always awaiting information or action from someone so I can continue my bit. I have no clout so most of the time I have to remind people to get back to me on everything.

    Using Outlook, what I do is use the follow-up system. Whenever I send an email requesting something from someone, I copy that email into the body of an appointment called Follow-up that’s set for 11am two days in the future. Then everyday at 11am, outlook reminds me to follow-up – I open this appointment and within it are the emails I sent two days ago. I go through them, and any for anybody who hasn’t gotten back to me, I send them the email again “are you gonna get back to me on this??” and then copy that email to the follow-up appointment two more days into the future.

    When it’s an urgent issue, I’ll copy the sent email to the next day, and when I know the person is going to need several days before they can get back to me, I’ll copy it to a follow-up appointment the following week etc. I’ve even got reminders to follow-up with people several months from now.

    I use this system for all my personal going-ons as well. I don’t necessarily do everything by email, so I might just put the statement “call that guy” in the appointment.

    To give you an idea of how dependant I am on this system, it’s Tuesday today, and

    Wednesday I have 12 things to follow-up
    Thursday I have 11 things to follow-up
    Friday I have 0 things to follow-up
    Monday I have 1 thing to follow-up
    after that I just have the odd thing to follow-up once a week or so

    Once the reminder is in a future Follow-up appointment, my mind is clear and I can focus on more productive stuff. Like figuring out ways to get even more organized.


  9. Yes lazy is bulshit.

  10. Thank you for this article…

  11. Hey, Jim… do you mind if I translate this to spanish and publish it on a site I’m working on?

  12. Sure! But you might also want to check out the other tmfa related things at timemanagementforanarchists.com, as this post is quite old.

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