Planning

Professor Peg Syverson is Director of the Computer Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. One of her Tinderbox documents simply keeps track of her tasks and commitments. At the bottom of the map, there's a large inbox of incoming material to be considered and classified, and a second large container of tasks that require attention and action. In the middle row, containers organize ongoing projects into broad categories: person, professional, teaching. Above these, additional containers record inspiration and reflection.

Much discussion of planning centers on short-term matters of scheduling and calendar management. A much more interesting and challenging problem, however, is finding tools to help manage long term planning. A calendar or an errand list may help you plan a busy afternoon, but these seem insufficient for planning over years.

Inside the central category of Topics, Syverson has built a Tinderbox map of the ideas that underlie all her work.

400/SyversonTopics.jpg

She writes:

These are topics I am or have been interested in and actively studying. They are what I think of as "deep background" to whatever project I might undertake, from directing the Writing Center to redesigning the Learning Record to teaching a class. The topics on the circle are general "neighborhoods" into which I put notes about what I am reading, critical questions that arise, names of key figures and resources, references, and notes. Language is at the center of this circle because, as Lanham points out, rhetoric is centrally implicated in all of these topics: it is the architecture on which they are built, the "glue" that connects them with each other, and the arena in which their conflicts are played out.
The topics move clockwise from internal, individual studies (psychology) outward toward progressively more external, collective, environmental/cultural, and finally universal and abstract studies (Power and ethics), with teaching and learning at the top of this progression. The ultimate challenge of these topics is how to transmit and share what we have learned, as well as the ways of learning, for future generations.

But this map is not a fixed or rigid snapshot. It's easy to add new topics, to rephrase, to reposition. And it's also easy to use the map to organize tasks and plans, or to evaluate whether everyday activities are in fact aligned with overall goals.

For me, this entire structure is itself resting on the foundation of my Zen practice and study, and Zen, like all forms of Buddhism, rests on the twin pillars of wisdom and compassion. So my notes related to Zen, wisdom, and compassion cross all disciplinary and topical boundaries. They might come from any source in any field, and they might challenge any of the sources or ideas in the other topical areas.
Theories, methods, practices, questions, and habits of mind in architecture, psychology, design, teaching and learning, etc. have value in my universe only where they are grounded in wisdom and compassion, as well as the Zen qualities of openness, curiosity, friendliness, and willingness to abide in uncertainty and not knowing. It is the groundless ground, you might say. But what keeps this view from nihilism or barren emptiness are the deep foundations of wisdom and compassion. There is a lot of openness around the circle, because new topics arise and become the focus of attention, but they are always emergent from these foundations. I use this visual layout as a map and a reminder of these relationships.

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