Details, Details, Details: Time Management Lessons from Haiti

Between scheduling appointments with relevant stakeholders such as local officials and NGOs, independently collecting, processing, and presenting information to my colleagues across the Atlantic, and traveling around a 120 KM region to complete these daily tasks, my internship became quite a handful. To top all of this off, the mission of collecting my thesis data closely hovered over my head. The pressure subsided when two little words called “Time Management” came to the rescue and brought the lesson of a lifetime, well sort of.

Before my internship, I was sure that I had mastered the fine art of time management. I arrived to Haiti armed with a travel-friendly planner, a box of pens, and a brain full of tasks. At the time it seemed simple enough, write down the tasks on the appropriate day and fulfill! Fine skill accomplished. Honestly, in my mind I was a pro with experiences from Undergraduate and Graduate school. My craft was years in the making from prioritizing to planning ahead. I was ready to flex my organizing muscle, Haitian style, when my supervisors informed me how independence is crucial to my success during the internship. During the interview, my main supervisor gleamed about me leisurely planning my days, simply coordinating with the technical agency on the ground, and traveling through the lovely beaches and mountains of my homeland. Daydreams of my extended vacation to a tropical island with a splash of work here and there filled my mind as the days to my internship began.

About two months into my internship, I crashed and burn. Piles and piles of reports, un-sieved documents, meetings to coordinate, buses to catch, and new partners to collaborate with from Haiti and elsewhere all collided at once. I was weeks behind on reporting, processing waste audit data, and wrapping up on an old law and policy report. I had hit rock bottom with feelings of helplessness, as I drowned in a pool on ill logistics and confusion. Then my supervisor shared some wise words of experience about what it really means to do field work months at a time. She explained that being in the field is like constantly being on stage preforming for your host family, your colleagues, and even citizens in the region. Managing these interactions served as my lifejacket and became an integral part of my time management skill training. My supervisor suggested that I split myself in two, almost as if I had a “little me” monitoring my emotions and ability to accomplish a given tasks.Therefore, I am essentially measuring when I am most efficient and trying to re-create that environment for myself as often as possible. This would allow me to separate managing relationships from managing my work.

From then on, I became more aware of what had to be done, what was most important, and how to cultivate key personal and professional relationships to make my life easier. The next months I put my “little me” to work, while continuing to use my trusty planner. For example, I learned how to build a relationship with the secretary at the agency so she could facilitate any administrative documents I needed. I also penciled in informal yet constructive talks with colleagues and citizens for my thesis and the project. Finally, I always remembered how to prioritize my assignments, mix and match appropriately, as well as recognize when I can physically and emotionally work efficiently.  Most importantly, I realized that “time management” was more then a fancy planner and some pens. Little details such as sitting at a desk to building a bond between the secretary and myself made a world of a difference for me.

About Rachel