Staying Organized When You Control Nothing

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Apparently, I’m a Type A personality — I love a well organized list. When pen hits paper and I can finally cross something out, I feel ecstatic. Whether it be a single line, an elaborate spiral or a series of exes, nothing compares to that moment when I know I’ve completed something. Unfortunately for me, that feeling has all but disappeared over the past two weeks.

In early 2020, before COVID-19 forced the world to halt (and catch fire), I decided to take a risk and pursue Software Engineering as a potential career. I’d spent years in positions that didn’t fit, and I was finally ready to invest in myself. After visiting several campuses, reviewing all the free resources I could find, and weighing my utter dissatisfaction in my career against my savings, I picked a bootcamp program and threw myself into the admissions process. I created spreadsheet after spreadsheet to track my progress through intro courses and admissions requirements. Order was a crucial part of my life. Now that I’m actually in the program, it’s become evident that I control absolutely nothing. How am I supposed to proceed?!

If you’re asking yourself that very question, I have a few pointers for you!

Make Some Sort of List (Seriously)

When there seems to be a never ending stream of lessons, lectures, and labs (oh my!) deployed on a daily basis, it feels impossible to keep up. During the first week of coursework, I felt so behind and didn’t know how I’d survive. This is when Google Sheets saved the day. Though tedious, I manually entered each incomplete task into a spreadsheet and organized my workload.

With a little quick math, I was able to see how many lessons I still needed to review, and divided my work over the course of a weekend. By Sunday night, I’d completed all of the required reading, and I had a strong enough grasp on the concepts to move on to the additional practice.

This goes without saying, but you can only complete tasks if you’re aware of them. Sure, you may not know how you’ll accomplish x, y, or z, but knowing that they’re on the docket will provide a starting point.

Assess! Assess! Assess!

Once you’ve created your list and have some idea of how much you’ll need to do each day, it helps to take a moment and assess what’s in front of you. While you may not know everything, you’ll know something and it’s important to recognize this. The things you don’t know will require a bit more time.

In my case, I reviewed each block of work and identified which lessons I could complete in a small amount of time, which lessons introduced brand new information (spoiler: most of them), and which lessons were actually labs.

Just like traffic lights!

Color coding the lessons allowed me to quickly see how much I could tackle right away, and gave me an idea of how much time I’d need to allocate to different “levels” of study.

Do What You Can

All Done!

The idea of leaving anything unfinished bothers me. Deeply. So much so that I couldn’t stop working until every single lab on my list was marked as “Done”. I’m glad I did it, but I’ve quickly learned that breaks are important and necessary.

It’s easy to get so invested in the work that you forget to take a breather (or eat a decent meal until 7PM, or call your grandmother back…), but there’s no shame in calling it quits for the day and clearing your mind. If you don’t complete everything, that’s fine, but make sure you’re taking the time to understand what’s being presented. You can always pick things back up in the morning once you’ve had a full night’s rest and a gigantic cup of coffee.

Conclusion

As much as it pains me to say this, we all have to accept that there’s only so much we can do at any point, and there’s only so much that we can control. While I wish I could predict the future and have a list of every single thing I’ll need to do for the next few years, reality says I can’t. The old adage about accepting what we cannot change remains true, but with these tips, hopefully we’re all able to face the uncertainties with confidence.

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