Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Scheduling Tetris: Long Days, Short Nights

So, this is one of the many things I do in my life.  Volunteer scheduling.  In this case, I am scheduling about 150 volunteers across four different locations.  This image is only page 1 (of 3) of my scheduling tetris.  The process to complete this schedule happens three times per year (after making an impassioned plea to go from quarterly scheduling to trimesters last year).  It takes a month and a half to go from beginning to end on a schedule.  The color coding here indicates this is a draft from about a month into the process.  I changed the font so the names would not be identifiable, however, every line represents one person.  The grouping is in reference to the teams the volunteers work in.  There are now 21 different teams across the four sites that I am responsible for in terms of recruiting, hiring, scheduling, managing, and training.  Each of the teams is designed to maximize the diversity of the individual members to better serve clients but also improve the volunteer experience.  I also have to balance the number of students in training with more seasoned professionals, and new volunteers with ongoing volunteers.  There are three different types of volunteers with three different roles. 

Each volunteer indicates their open and preferred volunteer availability for the upcoming term.  Then I remove people who have indicated they are finishing, move the people who have requested to be moved, look at the availability of people who have been interviewed and ok'd and then place them on teams if their availability fits.  It is essentially a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, but the idea of scheduling "tetris" is amusing and keeps me sane.  The tetris concept is very useful when volunteers start making numerous requests to be moved back and forth or for special consideration or demand a slot and then quit three weeks into the term etc.  I am also responsible for finding substitute volunteers when someone can't come in.  Ha!  On 20 (paid) hours per week, that is a stretch at times to say the least.  Luckily, this type of scheduling has helped me practice my skills around organizing my own life.        

I sometimes get bogged down in my own frantic schedule, which leads to complaining and stress.  The stress is understandable, the complaining is annoying.  I got myself into all that I currently do: grad school, teaching, non-profit volunteer coordination, clinical work...and the list goes on.  The basic framework of my weeks looks like the calendar below.

I took a screenshot of it a couple of days ago, and I've already added an additional advising meeting, a volunteer interview, and another volunteer training.  I've also got 30 short papers to grade.  It doesn't show that I get up between 4:45-5am each morning or that I often stay in one of my offices until 7-8pm to read/write etc. before going home to read/write some more.  I had to stop trying to schedule a lunch and dinner time for myself because it was just taking up space on my calendar and not actually reinforcing taking a break.  I really appreciated the comments of a former professor this week when he said, "You can't do all of those things in one semester (prelim exams including oral defense and paper, dissertation proposal, internship applications, teach, work, see clients)."  I said, "Watch me."  His reply: "Maybe you can...but you shouldn't."  It made me think a bit.  

I now understand what they mean when they say some advisors don't know how to protect their students.  Well, part of it comes down to protecting myself.  I might be too good at scheduling tetris for my own good; I manage to line my blocks (tetriminos) up and create space before they pile too high.  So far, the fall hasn't started out with a downpour of s and z blocks, so I might make it.    

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