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Tools : Plan

Tools : Plan opens a schedule manager that should help you stick with optimum proportions of time devoted to individual activities in a selected period of time.

Schedule manager can help you find optimum proportions between learning activities in your 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 - repetitions in SuperMemo

Schedule manager can also be used to plan your whole day. It works best for people who are not limited by meetings, deadlines, and can freely plan their day. It is less useful for people whose days change at a minute's notice or days that are not composed of regularly repeating activities.

Probably, future society will strongly drift towards deadline-free, creative work that will excellently fit dynamic scheduling currently used in SuperMemo. Until that happens you may prefer to use more advanced scheduling tools (e.g. Above&Beyond).

The main purpose of the schedule manager in SuperMemo is to keep optimum proportions of time devoted to particular activities in your schedule (e.g. 1 hour for e-mail, 1 hour for surfing, 2 hours for learning, 1 hour for sports, 3 hours for family, 5 hours for work, etc.).

An optimally adjusted schedule is a powerful tool that can help you understand your time-management efficiency. 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 lack of 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. It is highly recommended for people with low-stress tolerance and perpetual problem with organizing their day.

This text tells you briefly how to optimize your learning time or your entire day with Tools : Plan in SuperMemo.

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 the start time of your schedule template or leave it as 0:00 if you often change the start time. The schedule in the picture will begin 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 a plus sign on the left in the gray column). The exemplary schedule, apart from the start time, keeps only the hours devoted for Work fixed; the rest is composed of floating activities that are 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 (I wish there were two of me!). In the picture below, Learning with SuperMemo begins at 6:30. The plan 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)(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)

Using the schedule template on a given day

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.

  1. At the beginning of your working day, use Tools : Plan to start the schedule manager in SuperMemo
  2. Choose the schedule template in the combo box in the top-left corner of the schedule manager (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 in the schedule manager (the menu button is listed on the toolbar)
  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 in Windows 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 puts the current time in the Start field of the selected activity
  6. See the ActLen field of the first activity. This tells you the actual allocated length of the activity in minutes. Set up your timer (if any). For setting up the timer, use the activity length from ActLen field and subtract a few minutes from the end (this practice prevents constant delays in the schedule). Alternatively, inspect the Start field of the next activity and use it to set up your alarm clock (if any). Again set the alarm shortly before the end of the activity. If, for any reasons, you will have to complete the activity faster or it will be somehow interrupted, set the alarm at earlier time or do not set it at all. If the activity is very important for your today's schedule and you would rather increase time spent on it, set up the alarm at a slightly later hour than the beginning of the next activity
  7. Once you complete your first activity, click on the second row and click Set again. This will update the start time of the second activity. The whole schedule will then be rebuilt and optimized. You will see changes to the actual length (ActLen), delay (Delay) and other columns in the schedule
  8. Set the alarm clock or timer to shortly before the beginning of the next activity
  9. Upon alarm, click Set on the next activity and execute it. 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)
  10. At the end of the schedule, select the last executed activity and choose Menu : Terminate. Check Use current time for termination. Your schedule is complete
  11. Choose Menu : Archive (Ctrl+Shift+A) to save the schedule in the archive 
  12. On the next day, go back to Step 1

This is how the schedule could have looked after its execution (as exported with Export on the schedule manager toolbar):

Oct 09, 2000, Mon (16.5 h)

The above file can be provided with comments (e.g. fixing the sink) and is directly importable to your daily 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.

Schedule analysis 

You will often notice that your schedule requires fine-tuning. You may always want to reduce the time for breakfast and increase the time for sports or education; however, your plans may be unrealistic and you will find yourself doing 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 (probably as a result of being late). 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 manager 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 figure 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 you plan 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, go to the activity that is closest to the expected time of the additional event and press Ins (or choose Menu : Insert). Type in the length of this activity or type in the expected start time and end time. All activities before and after the inserted activity will optimally be 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. TV news 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 them to make sure that one follows 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 try to merge same kind 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 and not be able to run an analysis of that day's efficiency 
  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 after to before the cinema
  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 is a valuable material for drawing conclusions as to whether the activity should be removed, shortened or moved to a later hour (and be more subject to potential delays)

Other options


SuperMemo Plan is not of much use beyond SuperMemo (#6190)
(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

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

What is the interpretation of colors in the plan?
Gray indicates areas that cannot be edited. Yellow distinguishes the start time. Green indicates zero-length activities (e.g. terminating activity or skipped activities). Dark selector indicates the currently edited cell (press enter to start editing or just start typing). Orange distinguishes the activity that corresponds with the current time (as indicated by your computer)

(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 should start with using Tools : Plan to prepare 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: