can't pin me down

What's on your oil change sticker?


I have been doing a lot of driving lately, and I can't stop thinking about my oil change sticker. For those who haven't driven a car lately, when you get your oil changed professionally (or if you have your own stock of stickers!), they often place a sticker in the corner of your windshield with the date and mileage that you should come back in for your next oil change. It looks like this! 

It's easy to look past the sticker - it's small and the windshield is big and you're meant to be focusing on the road as you drive. But, if it isn't a completely effective tool in getting you to prioritize changing your oil! You can estimate how many miles you have left, or how much time. You can drive past that point, obviously, but the sticker is there to give you a sense of how far you've gone past the target. It's a constant reminder, but unobtrusive. A firm deadline, but you're still in control of when you actually change the oil. A simple, easy to use tool for something that you could easily forget to do. 

For so many of us, we don't need extra motivation or to be told WHY certain things are important to do. I don't have to lecture any grad student I meet about why time spent reading, writing, or working on professional development is important, or why it will serve them in the long term. It just rarely feels urgent, until it is very urgent. Sort of like how changing your oil seems important, but only urgent once that check oil light is on (or the car is on fire.) Habits are great for making the decision to work on an important thing automatic (I always write on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; I revist my goals at the start of every month; I read for one hour every day) but sometimes, you need a reminder to do those things. 

I would argue that you need more than a reminder - you need an oil change sticker. You need the milestone, the important thing, the next checkpoint, written out somewhere where you can see it. You can look past it, sure, but you can see it regularly. It's there, reminding you of where you set out to go, even if you're choosing not to go there right this minute. Make it easier and easier to remember the things you know are important, so that when the situation is stressful (and in grad school, this is so often) the important things are in the same field of view as the urgent things. 

So I ask you - what's on your oil change sticker? What maintenance tasks can you schedule? How can you put reminders in your work flow, or in your work space, to remind you of what's important? 

Here are some of the ways I use this technique in my own work flow, that won't take too much time or space, but are effective little nudges! 

  • Post-it notes - I use these EXTENSIVELY because I like colors and they blend in - lots of people have post its! It isn't weird at all! But a post it above where I park my laptop at night, or on the case when I close it, or even taped onto the keyboard in more desperate situations have all kept me on track and focused. 
  • Sticky note app - Put reminders on your computer desk top - choose to have it floating, or hide it behind screens - just like a physical post it note but you can never lose it and you can minimize it away from prying eyes! 
  • Set a digital reminder in your calendar app, or set due dates for items way in the future. Put it in your task management flow (or better yet, set it to recur!) so that you can have reminders pop up regularly without having to plan them out. 
  • Include questions or prompts in your regular goal planning / evaluation sessions. Are you an agile user? Do you review your goals at the top of every month, or at the end of every semester? Add your long term important things to those checklists so that you have a regular time set aside to visit your goals and evaluate your progress. 
  • Set regular time aside. Literally make time in your calendar, and set it to repeat as often as you need. You can choose to keep it (I suggest it) or give that time over to other things, but taking the pressure off of if you should schedule it, and shifting it instead to keeping that commitment. 
  • Set it as your background. Make a design with your target deadline, your mantra, the words you repeat when you need to hear them. Put it where you can see it. 

Whatever you do, I encourage you to take time to make your goals visible. Make it easy to remember why you're working, and the steps you need to regularly take to get there. Put it on your oil change sticker, just at the corner of the road ahead.