Fill ‘Er Up

I like the idea of having no white space

My life is full of people, places and things, as I’m sure yours is. 

Patients to see, staff meetings to attend, and doctor appointments to get to. Workouts at the gym. Hiking trips. Time to visit my grandchildren. Time with my fiancé. Books to read or listen to. Blogposts to write. Music to listen to and movies or television shows to watch. Time to relax and reflect. Time to plan. Time to grieve. Time to celebrate. 

With all that and more to do, with all that life throws at us and demands of us, you would think that our calendars would always be full, physically depicting the constant state of productivity that we live in. Humming along, we are. Downtime, we need not. There is no try, only do. 

Now, I’ll speak for myself here, but I wager that you’ll have experienced this too. Even with a lot these things that place demands on my time and attention, I still have big gaps of time that are not spoken for. They are big gaps of white space on my calendar. One could argue that these white spaces, that end up there by default the vast majority of the time, are our built in downtime. Time to rejuvenate. Time to think. Time to rest. They should be left alone and enjoyed whenever they happen to pop up. Almost like a little Christmas present of time we give ourselves in June. An unanticipated little breather. 

I disagree.

We need to be more intentional with out time management. 

There are a lot of cliches in this area, but as with all cliches, some of them are true. 

If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. 

If everything is important, nothing is important. 

It all starts with assessment and regular review, of course. If you have not yet read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, read it. It’s classic, it’s good, and it’s easy to understand. You don’t have to follow his GTD system to the letter (I don’t and I never have), but there is a wealth of information in his book about how to manage your time, get real work done, and be more productive in all areas of your life. 

I’m leaping ahead many chapters in his book, but you will find that after the organizational dust settles, regularly looking at your calendar and taking the time to plan will force you to prioritize, think about how you really want to spend your time, and ensure that you will have a productive day. 

After all (here comes another true saying) if you don’t know where you’re going, any old road will take you there. 

I like to do this review in two ways. I look at my calendar every morning, getting a general idea about the landscape of that day. I tweak and move and add and think until the day is as completely scheduled as I can make it, within reason. You don’t have to be crazy compulsive about this, but you want to be realistic too. I will have about seventeen hours of awake time today. How exactly will I use those hours? 

I also am a big fan of the weekly review. For me, this usually happens sometime on Sunday. I look at the upcoming week, taking in the scheduling bones of the next seven days, and putting the meat of details on them so that the whole week looks like a cohesive whole. 

I am a huge calendar and to do list guy. There are some guiding principles that I’ve gleaned and adopted after years of trial and error, reading, and coaching by mentors and bosses. One is that a calendar is a hard landscape. By that I mean that I only want things on my calendar that must happen on a particular day, preferably at a certain time. Appointments do not go on my to do list; to do items do not live on my calendar. This is a hard and fast rule. If I catch myself breaking it, I chastise myself and send myself to my room. 

There are always dead spots, white space, on my calendar. I make every effort to see how I can best use them. If I’m getting my car serviced, I read a book, write a blog post, or eat breakfast while I wait. If there is a two hour period of free time before bed in the evening, I might watch an episode of House of Cards or read a chapter about the use of psychotropic drugs in pregnancy. 

You might think this compulsive time-filling, but I ask you, what happens if you are not intentional about the use of your time? It gets filled with time wasters. That time you spend walking around the house thinking about what you should be doing the two hours before bed, that time spent in front of the refrigerator deciding on whether you really want a beer or not, or that time flipping through magazines without seeing anything on the page. Before you know it, the problem is solved for you. The time is gone, you head off to bed and the day is done. Where did that two hours go?

Those blocks of time can also get filled with busy work. My calendar is very pretty when it is chock full of little red, yellow, green and blue blocks of scheduled time. However, it’s very easy to be lulled into a sense of security by spending hours of each day doing mindless busy work, with nothing to show for it. 

“But I was so busy today. I didn’t take lunch, and I barely had time to go to the bathroom!”

Uh huh.

I’ve written before about eating your frog first, not putting off that most hideous, time consuming, or daunting task until last, meaning that you will never get it done. This still applies. If you need to schedule a meeting to address a difficult issue with an employee, put it on your calendar (hard landscape, it must get done that day at that time) and get it behind you. Deal with it. If getting to the gym to exercise is the hardest part of your day but you really want to establish an exercise routine, a habit, put it on your calendar and do it. Let your calendar drive you. Makes it much easier in the long run when you’ve already thought about each week, each day, and you’ve scheduled it the way you want it to look. When each day arrives, you don’t have to think about it any more. Like Nike says, you just do it! 

I must say again, don’t just make your calendar pretty with a patchwork quilt of bright colors. Fill it up with meaningful tasks. It’s a hollow victory when you get to the end of a very “busy” day, only to realize you have accomplished nothing. 

What else does this approach do for you? 

It makes you prioritize. 

What is really important today? What must happen today, to the exclusion of all else? 

If you prioritize, you will accomplish your most meaningful tasks and meet your most important goals for the day and the week. 

Lastly, and sometimes for me the most important of all, if you schedule tasks and prioritize and fill up your calendar and to do list with meaningful, substantial activities, you won’t have to worry about what you’ve forgotten or what you’re missing. 

You can feel very happy and content at all times about what you are not doing right now. You know that when the time comes to address that task, you have captured it and it will present itself to you with just the right amount of time allotted to complete it. 

Sometimes that is the most reassuring feeling of all. 

Now, go fill up that white space!

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4 thoughts on “Fill ‘Er Up

  1. But don’t you ever have down time? Sunday afternoons to do what ever takes your fancy- for me it’s sewing, or baking, or playing a computer game, whatever I feel like at the time. I find this down time is really important for my mental health and energy levels. I need time spent doing ‘nothing’ or I just collapse!

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  2. Absolutely, but for me that often means scheduling that time and giving it priority as well. For example, I’m looking forward to a hike this coming weekend that will definitely be downtime for me, but it’s on my calendar and nothing will preempt it!

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  3. That’s a scheduled activity. Do you ever have time blocked out where you do what ever you like at the time, just on a whim?
    I guess I just find it interesting as living life over-scheduled contributes to my illness and I’ve learnt I need to have blocks of time scheduled to do nothing if I need to. And trying to fill up my spare moments caused me to be anxious and over worked. I need those spare moments of mindless activity to keep me functioning.
    Ah, the diversity of humanity.

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