organizing your time part 1: the inner work of scheduling

clockworks – from wikimedia

Hello, Reader. Today (tonight) is the perfect day (night) for me to write about organizing time because my organized time got upended by a sore throat today (someone else’s throat, not mine). (UPDATE: two sore throats, still not mine. Tender mercies… ). So, right off the bat, a friendly reminder: you can organize ’til you’re blue in the face and sometimes the system has to give.

I started writing about organizing time (let’s just call it scheduling) and realized that I might be able to write a book on this topic. Well, most writers probably could, since most of us seem to have a tortured relationship with time in that we always want more of it for writing. So, I’m going to take it slow here, a step or two at a time and we’ll get through it eventually. Anyway, who has time to read a really long blog post, right!?

So, what I’d like to say today (tonight) is that the most important part of scheduling time to write (or time to fill-in-the-blank-with-your-passion) is the work we almost never do. I’ll call it the inner work of scheduling.

The inner work of scheduling has nothing to do with calendars or clockworks. It’s legwork, heart-work, soul-work. After you’ve done the inner work, it’s much easier to pull the calendar out and start plugging things in. For years, I never did the inner work, so the part about actually scheduling things was hard and inconsistent and frustrating because I didn’t understand my needs, my ideal way of working, and how to recognize real constraints vs. the unnecessary constraints I created for myself.

Now, let me just say: As a gal with a chronic health condition, I’ve had my fair share of real constraints, including a period of several months when I couldn’t actually hold a pen in my hand, and could barely press down with enough strength to use a keyboard. So I’m not saying there aren’t any real constraints. There are. But I’m also saying that sometimes we become allies to the real constraints in our lives, rather than working to minimize their impact on our creative lives.

More on that later. For now, let’s get practical (ew, ‘practical,’ such an ugly word in so many ways). Here are ways I’ve done the inner work of scheduling:

1. Write down your dream schedule. That’s right — forget the job, the kids, the dentist, the cats, the laundry. Forget that people need food and shelter and clean socks. Forget the thing you volunteered for that you don’t really want to do but you’re going to do anyway. Basically, leave reality behind and dream. I did this over the weekend, and it was very freeing because it helped me to let go of the dream schedule. Have you ever written an angry letter that you never sent, but you felt better after having written it? This is the same concept. Write it down to let it go. I also realized that my dream schedule wasn’t really my dream schedule because it didn’t leave time for a lot of really important parts of my life that aren’t writing-related, so that was very freeing, too. Okay, that’s the first step. Next comes

2. Think about your ideal way of working. Do you need quiet, or do you prefer a dull roar in the background (if yes, please feel free to come and write at my house). Do you do your best work in the morning, right after lunch, in the quiet, nighttime house where everyone else is sleeping? Can you get going right away, or do you need an hour or so to get some momentum? Answering these, and other questions like them, can help us figure out how to get the most out of our limited creative time. For example, I know my best time for generating new work is in the very-early morning hours (the reality of scheduling this is a different story — but that comes later). I know I need coffee first, and mostly darkness, and to be alone in the room. If I want to get to my best generative “place,” I need to schedule at least some early-morning time. Spend some time journaling or drawing about how and when you work best and why. This will be important information when the rubber hits the road.

So, we’ve let go of the dream and thought about how we work best. Now it’s time to

3. Figure out what’s really most important. Have you noticed that busy is the new fine? You know: “How are you?” “I’m fine,” has morphed into: “How are you?” “(sigh, knowing smile) I’m busy.” The important question is: how can we find time for what’s really most important despite our busy-ness? First we need to know what’s really most important, right? Over the weekend, I also made some lists:

Must do: Eat, sleep (well, I have my priorities), read, write, cook, take good care of myself (exercise, quiet times, etc.), spend time with family, basic household tasks (laundry, grocery shopping, errands). These are my non-negotiables; these things have to happen for me to feel human, for my life to be my life.

Would like to do: Write letters, artist dates, spend time with friends. These things enrich my life, and I will find a way to make time for them most weeks, but maybe not every week.

Should do (insert sheepish, self-conscious ‘hee-hee’): Volunteer at school, find a parish. These are things I feel an obligation to do even though I’m not necessarily looking forward to doing them. I believe doing these things will make my life, and my family member’s lives, better in the end. These items are like eating your spinach — and I’m all for spinach.

Your lists will be different than my lists, but the lists are the first step for being intentional about how we spend our time.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, But I have A ZILLION more things on my list than you and none of them are optional. We’ll get to that. Today is just for exploring. It might help again to make a ‘dream’ set of lists and a ‘reality’ set of lists.

Ok so, it’s my bedtime and I haven’t had my bedtime snack yet (see, I told you eating and sleeping were nonnegotiable for me). So I’ll end for today. Stay tuned tomorrow for:

More inner work: exploring constraints, inviting in chaos, and discovering your fundamental unit of work. (Oh boy, that “teaser” makes me want to stay in bed all day tomorrow — but I’ll try to make it more fun than it sounds).

Good night reader, and may all your schedules hold (for at least one day sometime relatively soon)!

7 thoughts on “organizing your time part 1: the inner work of scheduling

  1. Great post. I’ve got some lists to make. My writing time is pretty much from the time the kids fall asleep to until I pass out from exhaustion. Luckily, I’m a night person, and actually I wouldn’t choose any other time. Now, for the other items on the lists…..

      • Yep. I’m all about the “inner stuff” too. I am on a constant quest to figure myself out through my writing, (that may just be a nicer way of saying “midlife crisis” ha ha) so your steps here on how to work with the inner stuff to make better use of the outer stuff make real sense to me.

  2. In the wonderful words of Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory): “we have to take in nourishment, expel waste and breathe in enough oxygen to keep our cells from dying. Everything else is purely optional.”

    For some reason, the laugh I always get out of this quote helps me be more realistic about my scheduling difficulties.

    • Oh, I love this! Sometimes reducing things down to the elemental can really help us gain some perspective. Meanwhile, I hope you have time for a lot more than this! 🙂

  3. Pingback: more on the inner work of scheduling | the stanza

  4. Pingback: friday confessional « naked.

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