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Tools : Plan

If you think "I wish there were 20 of me" or "There aren't enough hours in the day", SuperMemo can help you with Tools : Plan.

Tools : Plan can help you do two things: first (1) say what you would like to do, and then (2) compute what can realistically be done within a day. When using the Plan you produce a list of activities and the desired time allocations for these activities. SuperMemo then checks the available time, and shortens all activities in proportion. If your days are repetitive, you can fine-tune your schedule to the last minute. If they are not, you can still benefit by planning in advance and tracking your progress as you go.

Plan can be used to plan your entire day, or it can be used to plan shorter slots, e.g. your daily learning slot. For example, your 2 hours learning time in the evening could look like this:

  1. 30 min - surfing the net (searching for interesting articles)
  2. 30 min - reviewing articles, quick reading, importing the most valuable articles to SuperMemo
  3. 30 min - reading in SuperMemo, introducing new articles to the learning process, topic repetitions, extracting new topics, generating cloze deletions
  4. 30 min - core material item repetitions in SuperMemo

Using Plan to plan the entire day works best for people who are not limited by meetings, deadlines, and can freely schedule activities throughout the day. But it can also be used by people whose days change at a minute's notice or days that are not composed of regularly repeating activities.

Future society will strongly drift towards deadline-free, creative work that will excellently fit dynamic scheduling offered by Plan

The main purpose of Plan is to keep optimum proportions of time devoted to particular activities in your schedule (e.g. 35 minutes for e-mail, 25 minutes for web surfing, 95 minutes for learning, 40 minutes for sports, 2.3 hours for the kids, etc.).

An optimally adjusted schedule is a powerful tool that can help you understand nuances of time-management. You can make one-minute daily adjustments to the schedule in order to maximize the effectiveness of your work, your health, your family life, and minimize stress and chaos introduced by poor planning. It will give you a quality insight into your own life. It will help you see the connection between your activities and their results. Plan is highly recommended for people with low-stress tolerance and perpetual problem with organizing their day.

With Tools : Plan you first create a schedule and then execute it.

Creating a new schedule

  1. Choose Tools : Plan or press Ctrl+P
  2. Click on the hours field at the top and type in the length of your schedule in hours (e.g. type 16.1 if you want your waking day to last 16.1 hours)
  3. Click on the Activity field in the first row (the one which starts at 0:00) and type in your first activity of the day, e.g. Washing and breakfast
  4. Press Enter to move to the Length column
  5. Type the length of time in minutes you would like to spend on your first activity (e.g. 40 minutes for Washing and breakfast)
  6. Press Enter to move to the second row (second activity). Ignore all other fields. At this point they are mostly meaningless!
  7. Type in the second activity and the time you would like to devote to it (e.g. Learning with SuperMemo, 100 minutes)
  8. Press Enter again to create the third activity, type its name and time
  9. Keep on typing in your activities until your schedule is complete. Do not look at the sum of times of the activities. Always use the length of time you would want to spend on an activity; even if it is not very realistic
  10. See the picture below for an exemplary whole-day schedule
  11. Type in the start time of your schedule template (Start field in the first row) or leave it as 0:00 if you often change the start time. The schedule in the picture begins at 6 am
  12. If some activities must start at a specific hour, click the Start field of these activities and type in the start time (fixed time will be marked as an F on the left). The exemplary schedule below, has two activities begin at fixed time (Work at 8:00, and Lunch at 15:00) ; the rest is composed of floating activities whose timing is optimized by SuperMemo
  13. You can now inspect other fields of your schedule. ActLen will tell you how much SuperMemo can actually allocate for a given activity. This will often be less than Length. After all, we nearly always have greater plans than we can squeeze into 24 hours. In the picture below, Learning with SuperMemo begins at 6:30. The desired length of this activity is 120 but there isn't enough time before Work. SuperMemo must then reduce the time for this slot down to 90 minutes. If fixed activities squeeze other activities too much, you can reshuffle activities by dragging them (grab the activity by the gray field on the left)
  14. OptLen indicates how much SuperMemo could allocate for an activity if there were no fixed-time activities. For example, SuperMemo could allocate the requested 120 minutes for Learning with SuperMemo if there were not fixed-time Work slot at 8 am
  15. Opt Start indicates the optimum start hour for an activity if there were no fixed-time activities (OptStart[n-1]+OptLen[n-1]=OptStart[n]). If Learning with SuperMemo indeed lasted the optimum 120 minutes, the optimum start for Work would be 8:35 (instead of the fixed 8:00)
  16. Delay indicates the delay in minutes of the actual activity start (the Start column) as compared with the optimum start (OptStart). In other words, Delay=Start-OptStart [min]. For example, Work begins 35 minutes ahead of the optimum time. On the other hand, Lunch is 2.8 minutes late compared with the optimum. The delay of other slots is proportionally reduced down to zero as the schedule progresses towards Shower
  17. The Percent column tells you what proportion of time has been used for a given activity as compared with the optimum time. In a schedule without fixed activities, this column always shows 100% for all activities. Due to the fixed-time Work slot; however, morning activities are squeezed to 77% of their optimum value. At the same time, evening activities have some more slack and get 101% (i.e. 1% more time as compared with the optimum schedule without fixed-time activities)

Executing the schedule

Your schedule template defines your optimum at which you should strive. However, in real life you will never reach this optimum. This is why you will always need to start a day with your schedule template and modify the schedule in real-time as you go. The process of executing the schedule may also use the sound alarm that will help you terminate activities when their time is up.

  1. At the beginning of your working day, open Tools : Plan (Ctrl+P)
  2. Choose the schedule template in the combo box in the top-left corner (on the first day, you will probably only have one schedule listed there: your original schedule template created above). You can use Ctrl+Alt+T to select the schedule using the keyboard
  3. Choose Menu : Save as (the Menu button is the first button on the toolbar) or press Ctrl+Shift+S
  4. SuperMemo, by default, will name your today's schedule by using today's date (e.g. "Oct 09, 2000, Mon.txt"; note that each schedule is a simple text file that can be inspected with Notepad)
  5. If the present time differs from Start time for the first activity, click on the first activity and click the button Set (the one with the clock icon). Set inserts the current time in the Start field of the selected activity. If you have chosen Menu : Alarm : Auto, Set will also start the alarm timer. The alarm will sound shortly before the end of the current activity. You can determine the sound file to play at alarm time by using Menu : Alarm : Choose MP3. Warning! To prevent a keyboard mishap, SuperMemo will freeze for 2-3 seconds at alarm time. You will be able to prolong the activity by a few minutes if necessary, or terminate the alarm by typing 0 in minutes till the next alarm. The ActLen field of the first activity tells you the actual allocated length of the activity in minutes
  6. Once the alarm sounds or you complete your first activity, click on the row corresponding with the next activity and click Set again. This will update the start time of the newly started activity. The whole schedule is automatically rebuilt and optimized. You will see changes to the actual length (ActLen), delay (Delay) and other columns in the schedule. The new alarm will be set to ring shortly before the end of the current activity according to the new optimum
  7. Upon the next alarm, click Set on the next activity and execute it as well. Repeat these steps until you reach the end of your schedule or until it is forcefully terminated (e.g. by other obligations or by the time you should go to sleep)
  8. At the end of the schedule, select the last executed activity and choose Menu : Terminate. Your schedule is complete. At Terminate, answer Yes to "Use current time to terminate?". "No" is reserved for rare cases when you fail to Terminate at the end of the schedule due to an emergency, and you still will want to keep accurate data for the sake of statistics or diary records
  9. On the next day, optionally, process the schedule, e.g. execute schedule analysis, compute schedule statistics, export the schedule to the diary, etc. In the end, choose Menu : Archive (Ctrl+Shift+A) to save the schedule in the archive 
  10. Go back to Step 1

This is how the schedule could have looked after having been executed (as exported with Export on the toolbar):

Oct 09, 2000, Mon (16.5 h)

The above file is directly importable to your diary providing a daily record of your performance. Note than none of the activities lasted as long as planned (100%). The figures in the parentheses indicate the actual length (ActLen field) and the percentage of time devoted to the activity as compared with the optimum. Note also that the total time was increased to 16.5 hours on this particular day due to going to sleep 30 minutes later than planned (22:30 instead of 22:00).

Schedule analysis 

If you keep overrunning your allocated time slots, the remaining activities of the day will progressively gets squeezed. This is the main problem with using Plan. The problem, naturally, does not come from the system of optimizing your day with Plan. The problem comes from our natural tendency to add time to enjoyable slots, from being late, as well as from being interrupted by unexpected events (e.g. phone calls). If you do not religiously stick to the schedule, schedule optimization will not work! A vast majority of users of Plan report doing well only in the first half of the day, while activities scheduled for the evening usually get squeezed beyond usability. This is where schedule analysis with Delays comes handy. It helps you better understand your weaknesses, as well as weak spots in the schedule (i.e. activities for which you allocate too little time, activities which you tend to overrun, etc.). 

Not only at the beginning, your schedule will require fine-tuning (i.e. adding a few minutes here, taking away a few minutes there, etc.). You may always want to reduce the time for breakfast and increase the time for sports or education; however, your plans may be unrealistic. In the exemplary schedule above, you may find yourself spending an average of 48 minutes for washing and breakfast as opposed to the planned 40 minutes. To prevent this from happening, you should use the button Delays to honestly analyze your schedule and realistically adjust the length of activities that you never manage to complete in time or which never get enough time as compared with the plan. The delay analysis of the schedule presented in the previous paragraph would produce the following outcome:

Delays: Oct 09, 2000, Mon (16.5 h)

(exported: Monday, October 09, 2000, 10:31:46 PM)

It is easy to notice that Rest and newspapers was the greatest schedule offender. You have devoted 109 minutes instead of the optimum 30 minutes, which stands for the 363% overshot. Your lunch also lasted 71 minutes instead of just 30. In conclusion you may decide to either improve your discipline or increase the desired length of time devoted to lunch and the postprandial rest.
On the other end of the spectrum is your e-mail slot which was cut from 30 minutes to just 9 minutes (e.g. as a result of being late and tired). In other words, you devoted only 30% of the planned time to e-mail. If e-mail is important, you might increase the length of the e-mail slot, which would make it less vulnerable to delay. Move the e-mail slot to an earlier hour (e.g. before surfing the net) or reduce the length of activities preceding the e-mail slot. Best of all, you should by all means avoid delays which call the whole idea of schedule optimization in question. You have to realistically adjust the lengths of activities and strive and completing individual slots ahead of time. This will prevent end-of-schedule activities from being a constant casualty of delays.

Once your schedule stabilizes and you can efficiently stick to its timing, you can use the button Adjust on the toolbar that will copy OptLen fields to Length fields. This will help you adjust realistic length figures upon schedule analysis (usually, your first plans will by far exceed your abilities; hence the importance of the Adjust option).

Schedule exceptions and emergencies

The following circumstances may call for special action in the schedule manager:

  1. Moving an activity - if you need to change the sequence of floating activities, you can drag one ahead of another (e.g. you may drag e-mail ahead of web surfing if you expect your colleague to send you an important URL to explore). To drag an activity, press the left mouse button down on the gray column on the left and drag the activity up or down
  2. Adding an activity - during the execution of your schedule, you might figure out that you need to insert an additional activity (e.g. an unexpected family visit). For that purpose, select the activity before which the new slot is to be inserted, and press Ins (or choose Menu : Insert). Type in the length of the new slot or type in the expected start time and end time. All activities before and after the inserted activity will optimally be stretched or compressed (with the assumption that no activity will be split). If compression is disproportionate on one side of the inserted activity, move some floating activities away from the overcrowded part  
  3. Splitting an activity - if you want to insert a short break into an activity (e.g. breaking news on TV in your learning slot) you can choose Menu : Split. This will help you execute an activity in two portions. SuperMemo will ask you about the length of the first sub-slot in minutes. For example, if your learning slot is 120 minutes and you want to split it into two 60 minute parts, type 60 minutes at Split
  4. Merging activities - if you want to conglomerate activities, move one of them to make sure one precedes the other. Choose the first activity and select Menu : Merge. For example, if you want to exceptionally take the kids to the cinema in your "kids" slot, you may figure out that the slot is too short. You could then give up your "rest and newspapers" and merge it with the kids slot. If this is still not enough, you could merge in "house tasklist". Naturally, you should avoid consuming strategic slots by less important activities. If you decide to merge your learning slot with house tasklist in order to make orders in the shed, you will lose your learning slot. Not only will your education suffer. You will also not be able to effectively run the schedule analysis for that day 
  5. Fix the starting hour of an activity - if you plan to take kids to the cinema at 18:00, you can click the "kids" slot and type in the fixed hour. All your activities before that slot will be extended proportionally. Follow-up activities will be shortened. You can reduce the resulting imbalance by moving some activities from more crowded to lesser crowded portions of the schedule
  6. Removing an activity - if you want to skip an activity due to delays or due to its lower priority, you can delete it with Del. For the sake of schedule analysis with Delays, you would better use Menu : Skip at the moment you arrive to the activity that should be deleted. Skipped activities will still show in the delays analysis as 0% executed. This may help you draw conclusions as to whether the activity should be removed, shortened or moved to a later hour (and be more exposed to potential delays). Alternatively, in Delays, you can focus only on adding time to activities that take more than you plan. In such cases, deleted slots will gradually be squeezed in length in the original schedule by expanding the slots that gain time upon the delete
  7. Rigid activities - if you happen to adjust the time of a single slot again and again, and you know precisely how much time you want allocated to that slot, you can save time by clicking the R column and making that slot rigid. Rigid slot will always take as much as you plan for it. For example, if you always overrun Rest and newspapers due to the lazy human nature, and you never want to allocate a minute beyond the originally planned 30 minutes, set this slot as rigid 30 minutes and never worry about adjusting it again 

Activity statistics

If you would like to keep statistics of individual activities, group activities by starting their name with the same keyword. For example, name your SuperMemo repetition slots as Reps A, Reps B and Reps C. If you select Totals on the toolbar, SuperMemo will add up the time used for repetitions by adding the length of the three slots starting with the keyword Reps. If you want to modify the length of the activity in the statistics, e.g. due to a short break, list the corrected length immediately after the keyword. For example, if Reps B lasted 23 minutes, but you had to leave for the toilet, you could correct it to read as Reps 18 B. SuperMemo will then add 18 minutes of Reps to statistics instead of 23 minutes.

Activity parameters

If your schedule is overcrowded with multiple slots, you can group some of them together, and make SuperMemo randomly choose one on a given day, another on another day, etc. For that purpose choose Menu : Edit or press Shift+Ctrl+P. List the activities in individual rows of the Activity parameters dialog box. Specify the length of individual activities and the maximum length of the slot in Length (min). On saving the new schedule with Save as, SuperMemo will randomly select one of the listed activities and choose its proposed length in schedule optimization (on condition the length is not longer than the maximum length allowed for that slot). For example, if you would like to alternatively browse New Scientist, and Scientific American websites, and your time is too short to go to all these places in your reading slot, you can ask SuperMemo to randomly assign a single site on a given day, so that you could explore them individually. SuperMemo may then list the following entry in the schedule:
{#R: 16 Read NS | 10 Read | 13 Read SciAm} 
This indicates that Plan will try to allocate randomly 16 minutes for NS, 10 min. for or 13 min. for SciAm. Naturally, as always, the actual length of these activities will depend on the allocation of time for other things on this particular day.

Other options : Toolbar

Other options : Menu


Use incremental reading instead of Plan to optimize time allocations to different subjects
Tasklist vs. Plan

SuperMemo Plan is not of much use beyond SuperMemo

Gray fields cannot be edited

SuperMemo Plan is not of much use beyond SuperMemo
(zm, Tuesday, August 28, 2001 10:14 PM)
I would like to see better integration of Tools : Plan with MS Outlook. For example, export plan and import it in MS Outlook
The main idea behind Tools : Plan is to perfectly adjust proportions of time allocated to individual activities during a day or during a learning time block. Those proportions are continually adjusted as you proceed with the execution, and such a plan is of little use beyond SuperMemo. If you only need a record of your daily activity, you can use the Export option among plan manager buttons

Gray fields cannot be edited 
Why can I not edit the Delay field?
Delay is computed automatically by SuperMemo and depends on the start time of a given activity as compared with the optimum time. Once you set the start time of an activity, it's delay (in minutes) is fixed and cannot be changed. Only Start, Activity and Length columns are editable. The remaining columns are determined by SuperMemo

Use incremental reading instead of Plan to optimize time allocations to different subjects
(Luis Neves, Brazil, Dec 4, 2000)
I would like to spend five hours on effective reading and learning starting at 6 pm. However, my interests are wide. Here are some things I would like to read:  3 daily newspapers, 1 daily Dilbert comic strip, 1 daily Linux news journal, 1 daily Internet news journal, 2 weekly magazines, 2 monthly science magazines, 1 on-line book of C language, 1 on-line book of TCL/TK language, 1 site for Kylix and Delphi, 1 neuroscience site and more. What would be my optimum strategy assuming I want to use SuperMemo and incremental reading?
You could could best prioritize your learning with incremental reading. This would help you optimally adjust reading proportion. However, Tools : Plan can also be used for that purpose. You should start with preparing a good daily plan of action. This could be your exemplary schedule:

Reading&Learning (5 h)

The plan above was built using the following assumptions:

Tasklist vs. Plan
(Dobrowolski, Jarek, Poland, Fri, Aug 25, 2000 16:43)
Tasklists are an interesting concept but they are too trivial a model of reality to be universal. For example, how can I best split 9 hours into the optimum amount for sleep and jogging? Should it be 8+1 or 8.5+0.5? Tasklists do not help!
Tasklists work well for a subset of optimization problems you will meet in your daily schedule. Your example is indeed entirely unsuitable to be handled with tasklists. Tasklists demand tasks to be well-defined, uniform and with good estimates on value and time. For example, they work great for prioritizing investments. SuperMemo has always been developed with the use of tasklists. However, you cannot prioritize your house chores and your shopping list using the same tasklist. This fails the uniformity criterion. You need two tasklists for that. Tasklist do not work well with deadlines (even if deadlines are included in the concept). Tasklist are not good at reflecting dependencies between the tasks. In other words they are far from universal. For the problem of optimizing your day, you should rather use Tools : Plan. There you could include 30 minutes of jogging, 8 hours of sleep, 2 hours of incremental reading and 30 minutes of repetitions. Using delay analysis, you can easily make minor adjustments to your schedule on the daily basis. If jogging made you too tired, you could have shorten the distance and the time slot. If you did not get sweaty enough, you could add 3-5 minutes and see the results on the following day. You could add some sleep time if you do not wake up within the slot. You could also add some time for repetitions if your incremental reading floods the learning process with topics and results in low retention. Tasklist fit well with the Plan within a single uniform time slot. In that slot, you can prioritize your reading, writing, making orders in your house, etc. To sum it up: the model proposed by SuperMemo will regulate the length of the time slot with the Plan. Within your uniform time slot you can use tasklists to prioritize individual activities