Data Visualisation #6

My week of tangents

Have you ever met someone who runs their day using a to-do list and finishes everything they said they’d do? Me neither. 

My to-do list had grown exponentially and I had already looked at the distractions in my life, so I decided to track any tangents that diverted me from my original daily work plan. I wanted to see whether I was sticking to the tasks I had set out, following my plan, or whether other tasks and activities that popped up at short notice were taking priority. How often do I stick to my plan? And perhaps I need to move away from to-do lists?

After last week’s haphazard data collection, I opted to pin a sheet of paper to the wall and record my data there, in an attempt to keep it all in one place I recorded the day, the type of tangent activity, and the length of that tangent. The visualisation itself is loosely based on a tangent of a circle, the circle representing the work day, and the tangent line representing the tangent activity. The length of the line represents how much time I spent on this tangent, taking me off plan. Unfortunately, the visualisation is not mathematically accurate as I had no compass to hand!

Visualisation legend

I also had my biggest data void on Friday, after a surprise announcement in a meeting caught me off guard and put one of my projects into a complete spin. All thoughts of my original work plan went out of the window, as did any thoughts of recording my tangent activity. I’m not sure if I ever went back to my original plan for the day so I illustrated the tangent line going into a hole, which represents this data void.

My week of tangents

Reflecting on my week, I have found that you cannot plan for everything and although a to-do list helps structure my activity, I need the flexibility to go off plan when the need arises. I go off on tangents on a daily basis, however, these tangents represent either reactive and necessary moments of change, or represent the natural flow of my learning process.

For example, on Tuesday, a project meeting veered off into a discussion on media literacy and a sharing of articles, one of which I read after. Although not directly tied to my current work, this context and understanding have now influenced how I will approach one aspect of my project, to tie in some of the learnings from this, and shape the direction of my research. It highlights how collaboration and innovation cannot always be planned, and going off plan can produce meaningful and insightful work.

Reflecting on the wider theme of teaching, I am not sure how comfortable teachers would be allowing software to track and scrutinise whether they adhered to their planned structure, the tangents their activities led to, and whether they were sticking to the curriculum. It could reduce a teacher’s autonomy and contribute to a feeling of unnecessary surveillance and governance, restricting freedom and creativity. On a personal level, I thought it was a useful and insightful exercise, which has encouraged me to look beyond to-do lists as a planning tool. However, I would feel uneasy sharing this with my manager who might question some activities, their worth, and expect me to justify their inclusion. While some of my tangents led to dead ends, others inspired further thought, learning, and innovation. If this was scrutinised on a daily or weekly basis, I would be less inclined to go off plan unless necessary.

One Reply to “Data Visualisation #6”

  1. Tracking the tangents from your to-do list was an inspired idea. I especially like the Friday tangent disappearing into a hole. The issue of “data voids” is actually a very important one–missing data can have significant consequences as this report demonstrates: In the educational context it would be interesting to consider where we find data voids that could lead to harmful consequences (e.g. learning management system data that lacks inputs of frequent engagement could label a student as “risky” and lead to sanctions?). But to come back to your tangents example, I think we can imagine how tracking and identifying the points at which students “go off on a tangent” (if that was technically possible) could be used as a way for teachers to assess the adequacy of their materials or set tasks–or for others to assess them.

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