January 03, 2012

I still have time to do it, or ‘The Student Syndrome’

We’ve all been there. You’re in college, you’re having the time of your life, and you don’t have a care in the world. Then one day, you are told that you have three months to get ready for your final exam. Three months? That’s ages away! You’ve got plenty of time! And what do you do over the next two months and 29 days? You go out to parties, try to drink at least three pubs dry, and brush up on your guitar skills - you do anything and everything, in fact, other than actually sit down and study for the exam. Then the last day “suddenly” arrives. All of a sudden, you realise that you might have made a slight miscalculation, and that the three months AREN’T as long as you thought they were. Like it or not, now you have to get through a year’s worth of studying in 24 hours, or you might very well have to start the whole business all over again. Panic sets in, and you start cramming like mad.

Unlike what most Hollywood college movies have taught us, there’s no guarantee here. You may get lucky and scrape through your exams, or you may very well fail and have to start all over again.

This is called the Student Syndrome, or “putting things off until the very last possible minute”. There were three whole months to get ready for the exams, but you just kept putting it off. ‘I’ve still got plenty of time’, or ‘Tomorrow I’ll start for sure’ are just a number of excuses we tell ourselves to avoid sitting down and actually doing what we were supposed to.

Funnily enough, life is just the same.

Think about it. As a family, you have chores to do, and you need to get them done by the end of the day, or week, or whenever. A new chore just came in, and you have to get it done quickly. But you have tons of chores. And you need to work. And you need to take the kids to school. And you need to make sure your kids do THEIR chores. Starting to sound familiar? So, do you start on the new chore? Put it on one side, to be dealt with ‘later’? And when exactly is this ‘later’?

I’ve seen so many cases of chores and tasks being put to one side, or even completely forgotten about, until the last possible minute. Then you realise that you’ve got this task to complete right now, and you start working on it feverishly, and usually, you don’t manage it as well as you should. Some of these tasks are vital - say, you have one night a week to sit down with your son and play a game. This isn’t a task that you want to leave to the last possible minute - but when you do, the results aren’t good, are they?

So, because you put off everything to the last minute, your efforts aren’t as good as they could be. For parents, that’s a make or break kind of deal. Especially if you are trying to get your kids into Agile at home - leading by example, remember?

Luckily, it’s a surprisingly simple situation to solve. Really. All you need are two things:

Priority. That way you know what’s more important to do right now, to get the best possible results and avoid pressure in the future. Do you REALLY need to play the guitar right now, or can it wait until you make sure that you have enough time for your son??

Focus. Working on just the task at hand makes it easier to complete, and complete properly. Playing with your son while checking your email every five minutes on your phone isn’t exactly focusing on him - and believe me, he will notice right away, even if you think you’re being really discrete.

So how do you achieve focus and priority?

Well, as you’ve started practicing Agile at home, go to your task board. Make sure that you not only put the tasks on the board (sticky notes are your friend), but that you’ve also got them sorted by priority. Don’t think too big - ‘family time’ won’t really help you, but ‘do a puzzle with Ben’ will. The most important tasks go on top, the not-so-important in the middle, and the ones you will-do-one-day-but-aren’t-urgent down the bottom.

Easy, right?

Now, when you suddenly have a new chore - a light bulb needs changing, you need to take the kids to the dentist - you don’t just put it on one side, leaving it to the last possible minute, nor do you have to start working on it straight away. Just look at your board, and decide. Is the task THAT important? Are there other tasks that you can postpone a bit to make room for this new task that has just come in? Do you need to start working on something else?

Of course there are always going to be more tasks than you can handle. You will ALWAYS have to postpone some to another day, or next week. But having all the tasks out in front of you helps you manage your time much better, and you won’t find yourself checking your email while changing a light bulb while playing with your son.

Which is a good thing :)


  1. Great ideas.

    I'm adding a twist, I prefer to keep my tasks on my phone's sticky note app, I'm able to go over my tasks whenever I have spare time, in addition i go over my tasks at the evening as a preparation towards the next day.

    Just my two cents

  2. true.. and you can use this application : http://agileandfamily.blogspot.com/p/apps-books-stuff.html

  3. @Efi that's an excellent idea - and as Shirly said, there are a number of cool apps out there for the iPhone and Android crowd :)