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!

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest, ATrivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personæ in order to escape burdensome social obligations. (Wikipedia)


I have a hard time relaxing.

(Okay, I’ll wait a sec while you all get back up off the floor, close your mouths and gather your wits about you again.)

Yes, it’s true. I love to work. I love my work persona.

He’s a cross between an intelligent eccentric, a person who needs people, an introverted recluse, an arrogant sonofabitch, a great clinician, a mediocre boss (my minions might not even give me that much credit!), an insatiable learner, an organizer, a compassionate man who sometimes tears up at sappy songs and commercials and a sometimes accidental creative. He’s basically a nice guy, I think. He will never, ever retire. He will more than likely die at his desk. If not that, then at his laptop, or while using his Dick Tracy smart watch. Or maybe he will be so busy taking pictures with the Google Glass attached to his own spectacles that he will run headlong into a telephone pole and have a massive subdural. Hey, we all gotta go sometime.

Anyway, I have a hard time relaxing.

So, this weekend, I decided that I would force myself to get away. To practice what I’m always preaching to my dear patients (who I do like, sincerely, just don’t tell them that because it would counterbalance the arrogant sonofabitch part of me referenced above). I decided that to escape the burdensome aspects of my beloved work life, I would get myself the hell out of Dodge (read Aiken) and go south to another beloved place. I would take on another mantle, as it were. I would relax. I would have some fun.

(Don’t look at me that way. Writing blog posts is fun for me. You know that. I’m listening to soothing solo piano music while I write. Does that count for anything? Don’t make me come over there…)

So, tonight after a leisurely ride out of town and down to the Lowcountry, I checked into a very nice hotel downtown.  I went to dinner. A very nice dinner in a very nice place with a very solicitous and nice server named Lisa who did her best to make me happy. I had some good whiskey. I ate some scrumptious seafood. I had creme brûlée for dessert. I drank good, strong, dark coffee. I read some of The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry. (You thought I just made that part up, didn’t you?)

Tomorrow, I will go to the gym for a few hours. I’ll drink more coffee and read the New York Times. I’ll ride out to the Atlantic to Hunting Island, walk the five mile beach, take pictures and climb the lighthouse there for the umpteenth time (I love that lighthouse and the view that you’re always rewarded with when you get to the top). I’ll come back to town and have a late lunch/early dinner at one of my family’s favorite places. I’ll shop for some gifts for a few of the special people in my life. 

I might even take a nap.

May I be serious for a few minutes?

I have had a lot of losses this year. Some of you, dear readers, have too. We all deal, right? We deal. The best way we know how.

I’ve learned some things. May I share them with you, if you have just a few more moments to spare?

Loss, even if it results from your own conscious decision to let something or someone go, is very, very real. It’s not a game. It’s not a dream. You’re not going to wake up and find it gone. You cannot wish it away. You cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist. You cannot sweep it under the rug and hope it goes away on its own.

It will never go away. 

The sooner you recognize it for the ugly, hurtful, spiteful, angry, killing thing that it is, the sooner you can deal with it directly and move on. Because you know, we all must move on. What choice do we have. Hell, I’m not done yet. I’m gonna die at my desk. According to a very close friend of mine, that’s going to be when I’m ninety-six years old. I hope she’s right. 

No matter how many times you return to that place, that state of mind, that trigger, it will never, ever be the same for you again. This is another one of those hard lessons that I’m still trying to learn myself, and maybe you are too. I can drive back there, I can go there in my mind, I can try to recapture the magic, but it’s gone. GONE. It is never coming back in exactly the way I had it before. If I insist on getting it back exactly the way it used to be, I’m always going to be disappointed. It breaks my heart, but I must go forward and find some other way to get a similar feeling, to be in a similar place, to do a similar thing. And that’s okay. I must grieve. You must grieve. I tell my patents all the time how normal that is. I need to listen to my own interpretations. 

Finally, dear readers, I have learned one more thing.

There is joy in the world, and there is enough of it to go around. I can have my share. It’s okay. I deserve it. I need it. I want it. I crave it. 

I have felt small slivers of it in the last few months. Perhaps you have too. I have felt the pure exhilaration of holding my granddaughter, hours old and sleeping in my arms without a care in the world. I have seen the wondrous order and fascinating patterns of snowflakes and early morning frost on windows. I have pushed myself physically and felt the adrenaline flowing when I thought I couldn’t do any more, and did. I have felt love, coming at me from out of the blue and leaving me speechless and in awe. 

I have learned these things, or better to say that I am trying to better learn and understand them. 

There is a great importance in being earnest with the world around you, with those you care about and who care about you.

There is an even greater importance in being earnest with yourself. 

I’m going to climb a lighthouse tomorrow, look out at the Atlantic Ocean, and feel joy.

What are you going to do?