schedules

Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things

SquirrelDo you misplace your keys, lose track of time and show up late for appointments, or only remember to pay your bills once the disconnect notice arrives? What about projects and deadlines? Do you start everything you do with a bang, only to fizzle out before you finish? Or maybe you just have trouble sticking to a routine that keeps your life running smoothly. In any case, I feel you.

I’ve been there. Until a few years ago, my life was a hot mess of distraction. It’s a trait that seems to go hand in hand with creative brilliance, and since so many of my clients and readers fall into the brilliant artist or entrepreneur category, organization and project planning is a frequent focus of my work. I’ve been outlining my systems during one-on-one consults for months, and I’ve seen them work for all sorts of people.

The benefit to focusing on this type of work via private consultations is that we can ask each other questions, dialogue, and then use the shared information to  customize a plan that works for your unique situation. The drawback, of course, is that not everyone has the money to pay for one-on-one creativity consultations to help them organize their lives and creative endeavors. I’ve compiled and condensed the basics into an ebook, “Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things,” so you can access the information anytime you want. You can buy it here for just $5.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, or you’d be just as happy with a simple PDF, click here to buy it for $3.99. Just send me a note with your payment, and I’ll email you the file.

If you’re looking for a miracle fix, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a simple strategy to get yourself organized that doesn’t require anything fancy or expensive, give it a shot. I did the legwork of several years of trial and error (lots and lots of error) to figure out how to simplify in a way that isn’t complicated. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found that approach to work for more than a few days. All you’ll need to get started is a notebook with three sections, a pen, and the commitment to try something new.

Note: The reviews are positive so far, but there aren’t many! You can read them here. After you read the book, if you’d do me the favor of writing a review, I’d really appreciate it!

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Is Your Schedule Screwing Up Your Life?

 

You’re not getting the things done that matter the most to you.

You’re busy all the time, but you never seem to accomplish much of anything. You’ve tried three different types of day planners, Google calendar, and a slew of the most popular apps that promise to whip your days into shape.

Time management. Productivity. Creating work/life balance.

When you glance at your calendar or day planner, it doesn’t bring satisfaction or relief. You can’t remember the last time you were truly present in the moment.

No matter what you’re doing, your thoughts are always racing, trying to put out the next fire before it begins, creating internal chaos and panic about all of the things falling by the wayside. Adrenaline courses through your veins, wreaking havoc on your nervous system.

You’re stressed out.

You’re not just stressed out, you’re terrified.

In fact, sometimes you’re so stressed out and terrified that you worry that it’s going to kill you. Or cause a nervous breakdown.

I’m the queen of time management, but I’ll let you in on a little secret…

I used to be busy all the time without accomplishing shit. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, spinning faster and faster, racing towards an imaginary finish line that never materialized. It was depressing and demoralizing. I felt like I was defective.

Worst of all, I just didn’t get it. Other people seemed to have ten times as much to show for the same number of hours spent working. I wasn’t lazy. I was working my ass off!

But nothing was happening. No change. No progress. Nothing. Just a dark, lonely well of not enough.

It wasn’t until I tore up my day planner with its stupid little time slots that the tide began to turn.

I know that this type of scheduling works for some people. It doesn’t work for me.

This is Why I Preach Anti-Schedule Time Management

If you know where I’m coming from, if you’ve felt the overwhelm and dread of feeling like you’re not enough, can’t possibly do enough, and therefore, will never have enough, I’m talking to you.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re not failing at life. You’re using a method that’s failing you.

Ditching the Schedule and Finding Your Rhythm

After I tore up my day planner, I was adrift for a month or so. Probably because I didn’t have the good sense to do it before I had reached the point of true crisis (as a quick aside, I don’t recommend this method). When I finally started to get my act together.

Trial and Error

I found out that I needed to keep it simple. Otherwise, the tendency to do fifty semi-important things while ignoring the three or four that really matter is too overpowering.

A Somewhat Mortifying Real Life Example of Why Schedules Didn’t Work for Me

Sometimes I do crazy things like saving embarrassing reminders of things I’ve done wrong. I tore up the day planner, but not before setting aside a particularly fantastic example of a day that went straight to hell on the Teflon paved road of good intentions.

This is what the schedule said:

6 a.m. Wake up. Coffee. Email.

7 a.m. Yoga. Meditate. Shower. Dress.

8 a.m. Work project not worth mentioning now (needs to be finished by end of the day).

11 a.m. Kid’s doctor appointment.

Noon Lunch.

1 p.m. Another work project not worth mentioning now (due tomorrow).

4 p.m. Grocery store.

5 p.m. Make dinner and sit around the table doing happy togetherness family-time things.

7 p.m. Dishes, laundry, house tidying with the assistance of bluebirds and singing fairies.

8 p.m. Read a book! For pleasure! In a hot bath!

9 p.m. Get ready for tomorrow. Lay out clothes. Pack a lunch. Make a schedule.

10 p.m. Go to bed.

This is what actually happened:

6 a.m. The alarm went off. Because I was chronically exhausted, I tried to hit snooze. Only I was half asleep and didn’t realize that I actually turned it off entirely.

7:15 a.m. Woke up and freaked out, because that is the reasonable thing to do when you oversleep by an hour and fifteen minutes. Rushed to the coffeepot and frantically got it going. Rushed to shower. Cut ankle shaving. Got out of shower. Dripped blood everywhere. The stupid cut was pouring, even though it was approximately the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

7:40 a.m. Dressed. Bloody wad of toilet paper stuck to ankle. Spilled coffee. Left the mess. Supposed to be at work in twenty minutes. Knew it was going to take 25 minutes to get to the office.

8 a.m. Sat in standstill traffic on the highway (Note: there will always, always, always be an accident during rush hour on days like this).

8:39 a.m. Greeted warmly at office by death glares and the silent treatment. Started the project of extreme unimportance. Got interrupted at least ten times to deal with busy-work of no consequence.

10:30 a.m. Project 1/5 complete. Turned off computer. Drove to school to check daughter out for doctor’s appointment. Arrived on time.

11 a.m. Doctor was running behind. Way behind. Enjoyed great selection of three-year-old magazines.

Noon Moved from waiting room to exam room. Waited half hour.

12:30 p.m. Doctor graced us with her presence for exactly four minutes and thirty seconds.

12:40 p.m. Daughter announced hunger. And that lunch period ended ten minutes ago. Detoured through McDonald’s drive-thru.

1 p.m. Daughter with stomach full of questionable hamburger safely back in school.

1:15 p.m. Greeted warmly at office by death glares and the silent treatment. Bit lip to keep from crying. Thought hateful things. Pretended to work while focusing on not crying.

2 p.m. Calmed down. Actual work ensued.

4:00 p.m. Project 3/4 finished. Kept going while everyone else packed up and left.

6 p.m. Project done. Phone exploded from too many texts asking about dinner.

6:15 p.m. Drove by grocery store. Kept going. Called pizza delivery at stop light.

6:45 p.m. Pulled into driveway. Yelled at pizza delivery boy that I was here! With cash! Don’t leave!

6:48 p.m. Set pizza on table. Kids descended on pizza like feral animals. Kids disappeared into rooms with pizza. Too exhausted to insist that asses get back to table for happy family time. Ate slice standing at counter.

7 p.m. Started work on second project not worth mentioning.

10 p.m. Tossed load of clothes in washer. Helped crying kid with math homework I didn’t understand. Nodded in agreement when told I suck at math. Wrote note on homework explaining same.

11 p.m. Forgot clothes in washer. Collapsed into bed.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

And Then I Found My Rhythm…

Scheduling screws up my days. Mostly because I chronically underestimate the amount of time something is going to take. I never allotted enough hours to do things to completion and do them well.

With a rhythm, nothing goes into a time slot unless it can’t be avoided. Coffee dates, yes. Doctor’s appointments, yes. Deadlines for clients, yes. Projects, no. Household chores and errands, no.

Goodbye, time slots. Hello, prioritization. Once I found my rhythm, it was impossible to fall behind, because I was always exactly where I needed to be.

4 Things You Need to Succeed When Ditching Your Schedule

  1. Know Thy Rhythm – Everyone has their own distinct rhythm. The key is figuring out your own. When do you feel the most creative? At what time of day are you the most mentally alert? Do you have a midday slump or another time of day when your energy wanes? Utilize the times of day when you’re at your best. During the most productive periods of your day, you should be 100% focused on your highest priorities. Save the mindless tedium for your midday slump.
  2. For the Love of God and Cute Baby Animals, Make a List – Not lists. List. One. Singular. Write down absolutely everything you can think of that you need or want to get done from now until forever.
  3. Priorities, Yo! – Assess that list and be brutally honest about the importance of each thing. No one gives a shit if your grout is spotless. You might lose clients if you miss a deadline. Therefore, you are not going to clean the grout before you meet the deadline. Period. Circle the three most important things in red. Do those things. Don’t check your email. Stay away from Facebook. Don’t even think of taking a detour through other items on the list. Do one thing. Cross it off. Do the next. Cross it off. If you get the three most important things done, circle three more. Repeat the process until it’s time to go to bed.
  4. A Timer (What the What? But You Said No Schedule!) –
    It’s not for scheduling anything but breaks. The human brain requires them. If you’re not taking regular breaks, your brain can’t work efficiently. You are not a machine. There are different methods for this, but the one that works the best for me is making use of ultradian rhythms.  I work for 90 minutes without interruption, then take a 30 minute break. I use the half hour breaks to eat, go to the bathroom, exercise, meditate, and do the mindless, tedious tasks on my list.

It’s a Potent and Painless Method That Removes Failure as an Option

If you consistently do your most critical tasks first, you will consistently go to bed knowing that you accomplished all that you possibly could that day. As a side note, when I say that I prioritize the most important things on the list, I’m talking about the big picture, not just work.

Work is important, but it’s not everything. Time with your partner and kids should be high priority. So should exercise, meditation, or whatever forms of self-care you prefer.

Just do one thing and do it well. Then let it go and move on to the next thing. That’s all you have to do.

There’s time enough. You are enough. What you do will be enough.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/brandoncwarren/4236278556/”>Brandon Christopher Warren</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;