Nancy: Changes Part 2 – The Schedule

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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?

14 thoughts on “Nancy: Changes Part 2 – The Schedule

  1. I’m a stay-at-home, full-time mom to two little kids and despite the fact that they’re in school all day, I have a hard time finding time to write. I’ve been thinking a lot about your posts and am trying to figure out where the time is being sucked out of my day and it’s come down to “errand” things, like getting the car fixed, picking up dry cleaning, grocery shopping, taking kids to tae kwon do, helping at school, etc. I’m also the “do-er” in the house, as my husband is the primary breadwinner, so if there’s anything that has to be done (preparing our taxes, getting things fixed, replacing light bulbs, putting out trash, the dishes, laundry, etc.), I either do it, manage it, or schedule it. My husband has also been traveling a ridiculous amount the last couple of months, so I’ve been holding down the fort solo. Still…I continue to struggle with that nasty problem of everything else coming first and writing coming last. Heck, I just spent the last three days knocking out laundry and cleaning out my office (a motivation from your post last week!), throwing out or shredding about 20 pounds of paper, just so I could 1) see my desk again and 2) not be distracted by non-writing things. Fingers crossed it works.

    As for finding folks to do things for you, go for it. Frankly, I can’t live without my lawn guys and our house cleaners. IMHO, if they allow you time to put the things that are most important to you upfront and center, that’s priceless.

    • I’m glad you were inspired to clean out your office! That paper adds up quickly for us writer types. I found early drafts of my story that came out in 2008 when I cleaned out my desk. Jeesh, what did I think I was going to do with all that junk?

      As for your schedule, don’t underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to change gears. I find the days that I have a number of ‘quick’ little things that require me to constantly refocus are some of my least productive. I’m going to build in one ‘whatever’ day (for the weeks that are not crazy busy!) as a catchall for just that reason. Of course, that’s much easier for me with no little ones inn the house. My hat is off to you for all you get done. Raising kids is SO much work – awesome and amazing but also all-absorbing.

      • So I thought more about what you wrote and decided to create “writing blocks” on my calendar. Basically, every day from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 12:30 – 2:30 are marked off as dedicated writing time. Because they’re in my calendar, I’ll see them when I have to schedule a dentist appt or something. The idea is that those writing blocks are sacred and I use them for writing. I’ll cram the rest of my life into the other days (which is actually a fair amount of time — three afternoons each week, evenings, weekends…I think it can be done). Fingers crossed!

  2. These are great guidelines, thanks Nancy. When I consider all the stuff I have to do, it’s a wonder I have time to sit down and write at all. Full time job sucks up 45 hours a week (sometimes more) right there. I run the house, errands (weekends get sucked up with these) and I have no professional help, cleaning or otherwise. I also have a very ambitious exercise schedule which doubles as fun (not).

    I intend to look at some of these strategies to lighten my own load and make more time for what I love best. Writing.

    • I hear you on the ‘fun’ exercise schedule. I’m ususally very disciplined about my workout schedule, but 2014 has been so crazy that I’ve let it drop off the list far too many times. If only we could hire someone to do our workouts for us ;-).

  3. I was schedule-happy for decades, trying to live my life in preset 15 minute blocks. It doesn’t work for me. My life refuses to be scheduled.

    Here are some strategies that have actually worked to free up some of my time for writing:

    Be patient. A small example- I broke the handle off my comb. I could make a quick trip to the drug store to buy a new one, five minutes there, fifteen minutes in the store (because I’ll want to look at all the combs and then I’ll have to wait in line), and five minutes back. It’s only half an hour. But I can save most of that time by using my husband’s not-quite-as-right comb for a week and getting the comb when I go on the pre-planned drug store run that I do only twice a month. When I apply this concept to everything, it saves a LOT of time.

    Make everyone else be patient, too. Unless it impacts their health, my husband and daughter (almost 15) can also wait until it is my errand day for whatever they may want me to pick up. If they want it sooner, they can easily go get it themselves. It’s amazing how what was a life-or-death need when I was the one fetching suddenly drops in priority if they are the fetcher.

    Do without. One example- I don’t really need six baskets of geraniums hanging alongside my front walk every summer. I have to shop around for a good price, plant, and hang them, water them every other day all summer, then remove them at the end of the season, dump the dirt, and put away the pots. Three years ago I bought some colorful spinners to hang there instead. I keep them in a box in the winter, it takes me five minutes to hang them in the spring, and five minutes to put them away in the fall. They’re not as nice as the flowers, but they are nice. I’ve applied this principle to dozens of things around the house and recouped hundreds of hours.

    Make everyone else do without, too. Not do without everything, of course, but I’ve started requiring at least a little effort from the person asking me to do something before I agree to do it. If they don’t want to put even ten minutes of their own time into a project, then it is not of enough value for me to put hours and hours into it.

    Have less stuff. Stuff is a time sink. You have to shop for it, buy it, clean it, store it, and dispose of it when you don’t want it anymore. How much time do we all spend dealing with stuff? Which do we need more, the stuff or the time?

    Stop offering to help everyone on the planet. This is hard, because everyone really can use the help. But I have to give myself some priority. So it is my policy to NEVER offer to help ANYONE and to say NO when I’m asked. I repeat this mantra to myself all the time, and as a result I’ve only offered to help out three people in the last month and agreed to one large volunteer project in the last two months. 🙂

    Would love to hear more strategies from others!!

    • I have started to back off on the “helping everyone” policy. For example, this week is “Teacher Appreciation Week” in school and I’d typically be volunteering in the classroom or something, but I decided to buy my appreciation. A few gift cards and a basket for the teacher raffle, some fruit for brunch day (pre-purchased and assembled…I just have to bring it in), and I’m loaning blender to make smoothies (but not actually making them).

  4. I am reminded of a story I heard about Utah Phillips, a folk singer. He says he was sitting on his front porch, playing his guitar, when a neighbor came out told him he should get a job. And when Utah Phillips asked why, the neighbor said so he could work and save his money so that when it came time for retirement, Utah Phillips could sit on his porch and play the guitar.

    I find Jennifer’s tips really great because they’re about saying no. This is something I try to practice, but I definitely can work harder at. I’m a freelance editor, so I can sort of choose my work. I recently accepted a second job from a client after the first job didn’t go well. I thought at the time that it was just first-time getting-acquainted blues. Now the second job isn’t going well, either. The third time I’m offered a job from these people, I’ll know to say no. And I should have said no this time.

  5. The easiest thing on your list, Nancy, assuming you can afford it, is ‘get help.’ Time is your scarce, precious resource, so see how many tasks on your list you could outsource and how many hours you could save. You’re working to save fifteen minutes here and there, and I bet you could free up hours by having somebody else clean your house, weed your garden, help with your laundry, deliver your groceries etc.

    My suggestion would be that you block out the time you would have spent (say) cleaning, and mindfully spend it writing or reading or visiting family. If you don’t ring-fence that time, it too will get eaten up by work.

    Good luck!

  6. I have a friend who uses “Silver Service” to take care of her yard maintenance. She has a teeny lawn, but these senior citizens could use the chance to get out of the house and make some pocket money. And in fact, one of the guys used to be a professional gardener — he dosed her cherry tree last year, and now it’s the best-blooming one on the block!

    It’s such a hump to hire help, but you’ve got to remember that it’s not only freeing you for other things, it’s also good for other people who need and want work. And, you might get lucky and find someone who can do the job 300 percent better than you can. You never know until you gamble and take that risk.

    For me, driving takes up a lot of time that I often don’t count. I have the fond misconception that driving to The Big City takes 30 minutes. It actually takes 35 to 45 minutes, depending. Saving up errands really is a big time saver for me — and even making myself wait until Wednesday or Saturday makes a huge difference in what time I get home.

    Another thing I have to consider with my commute is if things that seem time-consuming are actually that bad. Let’s say it takes 90 minutes to go to town and buy some bread. Well, with flour in the pantry, it about 150 minutes to take bread, and during much of that time, I can be doing something else. Like writing.

    (-: I got lots of theories; I’m not finding very many practical solutions, though. I get derailed so easily — especially by underestimating the time it will take to accomplish a task. I guess good record keeping is a way around that . . . .

    Good luck, Nancy!

  7. I’m also a “scheduler” and a list maker. There is just something about them that gives me peace (when creating them). When it comes to actually following them or checking the things off I usually fall short. Like Justine, I’m also a stay at home Mom with my kids in school. Technically I should have plenty of time to get all aspects of my writing in but that never seems to be the case. I’ve found that if the house is a mess, or there is something that needs to be doing (errands or housework wise) I feel guilty sitting and writing. So I end up putting off the writing till the tasks get done and then by the time I’m ready to write again I’ve got to stop because the kids have gotten home. It’s a viscous cycle lol If you want to check out the schedule I try to stick to you can find it here http://darlagdenton.com/2013/12/11/a-weekly-writers-schedule/

  8. Pingback: Nancy: Changes Part 3 – The Career | Eight Ladies Writing

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