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Segmenting time

Wednesday, 01 May, 2013

Now that I've finished the Bible overview slideshow-to-video project, I've got a little bit of time in between projects and thought I'd try to get few blog posts into the pipeline.

I've been thinking recently about ways of working—different approaches to time and tasks. Sometimes I think the world can be divided into two groups of people: people who think in terms of structures and people who are more unstructured. The structured people are (to stereotype heavily) generally more organised, and tend to think naturally in terms of categories, grids and segments. The unstructured people tend to be more spontaneous: they live in moment (or so it seems to me; I confess I'm in the former camp) and they take things as they come in whatever form they come.

The advantage of being structured is that it allows you to divide and conquer easily, and get quite a lot done in the most efficient way possible. The disadvantage of being structured is that it can result in inflexibility and an inability or unwillingness to change or look at things from a different point of view. (Note a lot of structured people work in bureaucracy. Think Hermes Conrad from Futurama.) It can also result in planning fatigue: sometimes you just get so sick of planning and organising, you let certain things go that perhaps should be more of a priority (e.g. scheduling in things like holidays and time off).

In comparison, unstructured people tend to be good at flexibility and improvisation—changing tacks as the situation demands. Unfortunately, being unstructured also means they tend more towards disorganisation and chaos because that's what they're comfortable with, so to operate differently requires a great deal of effort and thought because it doesn't come naturally. The problem is, being unorganised, unstructured and unplanned usually starts affecting their lives negatively at some point.

Structured people can learn things like flexibility, spontaneity and alternative ways of thinking from unstructured people; unstructured people can learn things like organisation, planning and efficiency from structured people. I'm not saying that being one or the other is any better; it's just that both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Certainly when it comes to getting stuff done, the structured people have the upper hand, and from what I've learned from talking to people who are naturally unstructured, they tend to employ strategies typical of structured people to achieve their goals.

(By the way, if you're more of an unstructured person and you employ unstructured approaches to get stuff done, I'd love to hear how that works for you. From talking to and observing unstructured people, the approaches they take seem to consist of the following:

Because I'm a structured person, those don't really seem like proper approaches to me, but they seem to work for my unstructured friends!)

What sort of strategies do structured people employ? Well, I can't speak for all structured people, but here's what I do:

As I wrote the above, I kept thinking back to the post I wrote about “What I wish I knew about writing when I was in my 20s” (particularly some of the later points where I wrote, “To write, you have to make time to write”) and the one where I reviewed Rachel Power's The Divided Heart: Art and motherhood. Children make writing time much more finite, which means you need stamina and some degree of organisation to make it work. (But on the other hand, limited time may result in better use of that time simply because it is limited and there is no way you can extend it.) However, in my experience, most creative people tend to be unstructured people. So if that's you, what works for you?

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