Last week, I told you about my first steps toward reprioritizing to give the people (family and friends) and activities (writing, reading, play time) of most importance a more prominent place in my life. To achieve this, I have to prioritize the way I spend my time, and for me, that means building a schedule that includes these priorities.
I know, I know, a schedule can be a slippery slope. It can add to stress rather than relieve it. There have certainly been times when I have let The Schedule intimidate and overwhelm me. This time, to make sure my schedule is a tool that helps me prioritize things I want to do like writing, instead of a weapon that I turn on myself at the first sign of failure, I’ve come up with some mantras for my schedule-happy self.
Get perspective. The first thing I have to do to set up a reasonable, workable schedule is take a few steps back and look at the big picture. I have three levels of time sink for my job: normal, which I can fit into close to 40-hour work weeks; busy, which tends to happen as soon as I start working on an intense project with a tight timeline; and crazy busy, which usually happens when something isn’t working right on a project.
I can’t expect to have as many things on my non-work schedule when I’m crazy busy as I can when I’m working at a normal pace. I need a plan for each of these scenarios. When I’m working a normal schedule, I can add in all the things I want to do, and maybe a few things I should do every now and then (springtime weeding, anyone?). These are the times when I need to take maximum advantage of writing, reading, and play time.
Get real. When it comes to time planning, I have some blind spots. I was convinced that it took 45 minutes from the time I woke up to completion of my 45-minute workout. But it turns out I also do a few extra things like change out of pajamas and into workout clothes, tie my sneakers, maybe even make a protein shake. My 45-minute workout really takes an hour.
I was sure it took me another 45 minutes to finish getting ready for work. I think this was true at one time in my life, but for the last week, I actually timed it. It takes me another hour. So there I was, thinking I could get up two and a half hours before leaving for work to complete a workout, get ready for work, then get in an hour of writing. But doing the math, you can see my hour of writing nirvana was cut in half, leaving me feeling frustrated and cheated. Making these erroneous assumptions throughout the day, I could easily lose an hour of time or more, meaning I was overscheduled. A lot. By actually measuring how much time many of my daily tasks are taking, I’m getting a better idea of just what I can (and can’t!) do in a day’s time.
Get Zen. In this case, I’m using the Zen in the sense of recognizing that the only thing that is permanent is impermanence. Nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. When I have times when my schedule is beyond full and I have to start sacrificing things I want to do in order to accomplish those I must, I need to remember that this, too, shall pass. A lot of the schedule-related stress I feel when I’m so busy that I can do little more than work, shower daily, and grab the occasional meal comes from the resentment I feel toward the project or circumstances robbing me of my time.
By ‘baking in’ time for the things I love – hanging out with family and friends, writing, reading, discovering things about the next story I want to write – under normal circumstances, I hope to reduce that resentment. As long as I have my priorities straight during less demanding times, I can remind myself that in a week (or a month, or two) I’ll be able to reconnect with the things most important to me.
Get help. No, I don’t mean professional psychiatric help. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think I’ve reached that point with my schedules yet. But sometimes I enter one of those crazy-busy modes, and despite scheduling appropriately and letting go of things that aren’t essential, I still can’t get to all that is essential. I have a bit of a mental block against paying other people to do things I can reasonably do myself, but that attitude only contributes schedule overload.
So in addition to asking my husband to take on more of our life stuff when he’s not also ‘crazy busy’, we need to bring in professionals. Rumor has it you can hire people things like vacuum, dust, and generally remove allergens from your house; weed flower beds and cut lawns; prepare dinners you can pick up on the way home from work. Heck, there are even supermarkets that will deliver groceries for a nominal fee.
Do you have any good time management or schedule decompression tips? Do you find time in your day to write or create and if so, how?