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New Semester, and Already Behind

January 13, 2010

Today is the first day of the new semester, and I’m already behind on getting work done for class.  Late last week, the professor for my Thursday class posted his syllabus, and then the first assignment expected to be ready for the first day of class.  Over the weekend I checked the syllabus and the assignment.  It was another lesson in sifting through mountains to find the gems.

The assignment was to read the first two chapters of the professor’s work-in-progress textbook on the subject of the class, as well as from another text-book, prepare a short case, and do some problems from the second textbook.  It really didn’t look like much, except for two problems. 

Until syllabus was posted I didn’t even know what the supplemental text would be (and I won’t have it for another day or so, yet; buying textbooks new from a college bookstore is a fast-road to an empty wallet and wastefulness when used ones are available for less than half price online).   So there’s little chance I’ll have those chapter’s read and those questions worked before class.  (Frankly, in the age of textbook buying online, expecting students to have a textbook by the first day of class is stretching matters, but expecing students to complete assignments from those texts borders suggests to me a disconnect from the everyday reality of evening students.) 

Then there’s the problem of the professor’s incomplete textbook draft, the first chapters of which were posted online for the class to read.  The first chapter was 50 pages long.  The second: 79 pages.  That’s an enormous volume of reading material to expect of students with full-time jobs to work during the day – even given nearly a week to read and prepare before the first class.  If there’s to be two chapters covered a week, that quickly rises to the level of nigh-impossible to keep up with.  Extrapolating those figures, I would expect the full, 19-chapter behemoth to be well in excess of 1,200 pages and several hundreds of thousands of words.  Unfortunately, it was pretty tricky sifting through the material in those two sample chapters to find the nuggets of truly crucial take-aways.

Don’t get me wrong, though: the professor of this class has an oustanding reputation at my school.  Besides our well-regarded school, he’s taught at (and earned degrees from) a top-tier and world-renowned business school.  He’s widely regarded as one of our best professors.  And his writing style is interesting and entertaining, even as it delves into such arcane topics as statistics and decision modeling.  I knew when I signed up for this class that it would be a very challenging course.  And I don’t mean to shy away from that challenge, or complain about how challenging it’s really going to be.  I knew you don’t get a reputation for excellence at a school like mine without being a very demanding professor, and I know that my best learning takes place in courses that are challenging.

The first lesson I’m going to have to learn from this course is to review and analyze more quickly what’s most important from a large volume of material, and to focus the limited available study-time on those things that are most important.  I don’t think it’s feasible to read several hundred pages of text each week for class (on top of whatever assignments I might expect in my other class) in the few short hours I have available.  I’m no speed-reader when I’m reading for comprehension.

As I alluded to previously, if my work on my short story extended into the start of the new semester (it has), it was going to multiply significantly the time it would otherwise take to complete that work.  That realization has now come home.  With the mountain of work waiting for me before the semester has even started, a full-time job that has now been made more challenging with the departure of one of my team-mates, and the irrevocable fact that a new baby will be arriving to put the finishing blow on the end of the semester, the one thing I won’t have time for at all in the coming months is writing.  Once the baby arrives, all other bets are off.  There’s no telling what time management challenges I will face then.  I feel a twinge of regret that I failed to meet my self-imposed deadline.  The story was looking to be in great shape.  I was excited for the progress I was making.

But reality has returned with a vengeance.  For the next few months, this blog will likely be the only writing I do that isn’t for class or work.  If a few odd moments come up that allow me to work on the story without sacrificing other high-priority tasks, I’ll try to take them, but I’m not expecting much.  If I’ve learned anything about Time Management in the past month, I will need to bring all those lessons to bear to make it through this semester sanity intact.

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