Refining my PKM Schedule – Time to Think

I’m limiting myself to 30 minutes to write this post.  Whatever state it is in when my timer goes off is the state it gets ‘shipped’ (i.e. posted) in (as Seth Godin says ‘real artists ship’ – and I ship less in the form of blog posts than I would like).  Limited myself to a shorter time period to write a post is a little ironic as this post is about the value of creating larger blocks of time for learning and Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) activities rather than cramming it into small chunks of time completed between other activities.  It’s just that I’ve had an insight that I wanted to capture in the moment, with a sense of immediacy and none of the usual hyperlinking, polishing and refining that goes into my posts.

Two week’s ago I started another of Jane Hart’s Modern Workplace Learning courses – this one on Modernising Training content.  I’d previously read / viewed the Week 1 content during my daily commute on the bus and train, and started doing the same with the Week 2 content.  There is an activity to complete each week which involves creating a piece of content.  I’ve been so busy with work and parenting that I’d not started the Week 1 activity.


Today, a Sunday, I found myself alone for several hours and decided to go back over the content for Week 1 – on the topic of ‘micro content.’  I have just spent two hours of sitting at my desk looking at various examples of microcontent, bookmarking and commenting on articles and examples in Diigo, learning to use Diigo’s Outliner function, and taking notes in Evernote.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this block of time to concentrate and do some decent sense-making as opposed to the short grabs of time I tend to use while commuting or between evening washing up and my child’s bedtime to get online and read / view content.  It’s important to highlight that the course is not presented as a ‘micro-learning’ program, although all of Jane’s programs lend themselves to being able to consume content on the go on mobile platforms.  Nonetheless, I thought it ironic that my experience was that a longer focussed block of time on the topic of ‘micro content’ was far more enjoyable and effective than the mobile, short attention span blocks I’ve been allocating to this activity.

I’m now reflecting on my PKM and networking routine, which I’ve been trying to follow this year.  During my commute I’m mostly seeking through Twitter and Feedly, and doing a little sharing where I find and read a resource that I think worth an immediate share.  However, due to the morning and evening routines involved with walking my dog and solo parenting for about 90% of the time I can’t actually fit in the number of one hour blocks of time required for decent sense-making and high quality sharing as I have put into my planned routine.  The only way I could do this is by getting less than my target 7-7.5 hours of sleep per night, which I find essential to think clearly and work productively.

I’m going to halve the number of blocks of time I try to allocate during a typical week for concentrated sense-making and network management activities.  I think this will be more realistic than the current unachievable objectives I’ve set for myself.  Giving my brain a few more breaks (e.g. more nights off, and more commutes where I simply listen to music and start out of the window) could well result in better quality thinking and higher productivity.  Not to mention greater presence in the moment, especially when I’m with family.

  1. #1 by Lynette Curtis on April 20, 2015 - 2:50 pm

    Well done…. writing becomes more purposeful when under time pressure…. Nothing like a deadline Michelle!
    Your point around scheduling longer blocks makes absolute sense to me. I am finding irritating inefficiencies through constantly changing of focus areas. I am in this space

    • #2 by Michelle Ockers on April 20, 2015 - 8:47 pm

      Not only can it be inefficient to switch frequently between small tasks it is also quite draining on the brain. David Rock presents the research on this in his book ‘Your Brain At Work.’ I certainly find it more productive to block out larger chunks of time early in the day for activities that require solid thinking and writing – which doesn’t include emails or most meetings. Interestingly, the time during the week that I have available for sense-making as part of my PKM routine is all evening time – when my brain is most tired and in need of rest. Tricky to bring it forward with working full time; however, on weekends I’ll seek to use morning time for PKM activities rather than getting the washing, shopping and other chores done first.

  2. #3 by kmensor on April 21, 2015 - 1:07 am

    Thanks for this Michelle. I am looking to refine my PKM activities as well ( and your thoughts are helpful. When you figure out how much time your are targeting to each activity, would you mind sharing? I am still struggle with time management and trying to do to much ; )

    • #4 by Michelle Ockers on May 4, 2015 - 6:50 am

      Hi Katie, I apologise for taking so long to acknowledge and reply to your post. This delay does align with some of the challenges I reflect on in my post. Here’s the thing about the P in PKM – it’s personal. PKM is a personalised set of processes, so what works for me is not necessarily going to be best for you. I can see from your blog post on your PKM routine that, like me, you like structure, organising and planning. Helmuth Von Moltke, a Prussian field marshal, commented in the mid-nineteenth century “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” (He used fancier words, but this was the crux of wha he said). And so it is with my PKM routine. The extent to which my routine is followed in any given week depends on what is going on in my life. For me it makes a big difference whether I use public transport or drive to work. My energy levels vary, as do a range of my personal commitments. So in reality my routine flexes a lot – and I’m okay with that so long as I’m making conscious choices about where to put my energy, focus and time.

      One change I have recently made is to switch the 1 hour blocks I had allocated for sense-making in the evenings to early morning. I’m simply too tired to use the time effectively by the time I’m through the evening family routine. So now I walk my dog at 5am and spend time sense-making (i.e. solid thinking and writing time) from 5.45-6.45am when my daughter wakes up. I’m much sharper mentally at this time of day. Like I said earlier, the P in PKM is for personal – this is working for me, but may not be optimal for you.

      I’ve followed you on Twitter. Please ping me if you post or tweet further on your PKM routine – am interested in how you figure out and adjust it.

  3. #5 by tanyalau on April 23, 2015 - 10:25 pm

    LOVE this post Michelle!! I soooo need to do something like this too! I think you’ve done a great job for a 30 min post and great to get insight into how and when you fit this stuff in – I’m much the same, generally cramming between tasks or places. I have a very short commute to work so often don’t get a chance to do more than scan briefly, and am often left doing this stuff in the evening, which as you say, is less than optimal. It’s interesting how much one gains from getting insight into someone else’s routine, challenges and experiences. Thanks for sharing : )

  4. #6 by Bruno Winck on May 4, 2015 - 3:23 am

    It’s interesting how time comes as our limitating factor. I reached the same questioning while reviewing the answers to the survey I’m running. Times comes again and again. For me too but I thought it was because I’m engaged in too many things.

    Writing takes me hours too, reading as well. 30 minutes sounds like a good deal. Very pomodoro style. I start to imagine how to rearrange things: publish half baked ideas and use comments to update with a combination of tweets.

    I came to this post accidentaly by reading Simon Terry stream to learn about Working Out Loud. In the back of my head a small voice was saying “Enough reading Bruno, now a short post and move on”. Was thinking. How to make our work observable without taking again even more time. Only solution micro posts.

    Full circle. Time to stop and think.

    Thank you Michelle.

    • #7 by Michelle Ockers on May 4, 2015 - 6:36 am

      I wonder how short is too short a time burst to spend reflecting and working out loud. Micro posts definitely have their place. Sometimes I ask myself late in the day ‘What have I learned today / recently?’ and I tweet this with the hashtag #learning. I’ve set up a recipe using If This Then That (IFTTT) which sends a copy of every tweet with this hashtag to a notebook in Evernote. Having had the thought that I tweeted enter my head it swishes and swirls around with everything else going on in there, no doubt contributing to future insights and choices about what and how I do things. Having a collection of these tweets in an Evernote notebook then gives me material for deeper reflection on the patterns of what I am learning and more substantial insights. The micro thoughts/posts become more valuable when I allocate the time to reflecting on them for longer. So these longer blocks of time are vital to my development.

      It’s a bit like exercise in some ways. Incidental exercise is good – take the stairs instead of the lift etc – perhaps similar to micro posts. However, longer periods of sustained effort are important to develop strength, endurance and sustain health. I used to think if I didn’t have an hour available to exercise it wasn’t worth it. At some point I recognised that this was removing many opportunities for 20-30 minute blocks of exercise which were long enough to get some benefit. I’m starting to feel the same about my Personal Knowledge Management / professional development activities. Still, it does feel wonderful to occasionally carve out a longer solid period of time to read and think deeply.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and reflect on my post.

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