I am someone who has a lot of aspirations. I know I have the capability to accomplish a lot, but for some reason, none of my ideas were coming to fruition. My biggest issue was that I just couldn’t find the time. Or, if I did find the time, I felt so rushed within this narrow window I’d somehow managed to carve out that I couldn’t actually get anything done. Worst of all, I was constantly feeling stressed.
I noticed in myself a correlation between feeling rushed and feeling stressed. I explored that more and found that I feel rushed because I have twenty things I want to do, plus my to-do list of things I have to do, floating around in my head. All of these items became an overwhelming cloud that just fogged my mental clarity and made me speed. I began to notice this correlation in my clients as well.
What I need, I realized, is a schedule. If I can write down all the things I want to and need to do, then the cloud will disappear, revealing a clear and orderly blue sky. Right? Well, not right away. My first attempt at scheduling actually increased my stress. That’s because I was doing it wrong.
HOW NOT TO SCHEDULE
I am, generally speaking, a very exact person. That exactness is what allowed me to keep my life organized in my head until recently, when I started taking on more projects. My first attempt at scheduling reflected that exactness, but not in the best light.
My have-to-do list had things like pay parking ticket; pick up mail; make that appointment; get car checked.
My want-to-do list had things like post poem 3X/week; write poetry 3X/week; write one blog; do journaling prompt.
And of course I also have those static things in my schedule. I’m a student and I work, so no matter what’s on my lists, I always have two days of my internship, one day of class, and work. Those hours are fixed and stay the same week to week.
What I tried to do was actually just putting my rushed way of thinking onto paper. My schedule ended up looking like this:
10:00-10:07 pay parking ticket
10:08-10:23 pick up mail
10:24-10:32 make appointment
10:33-10:46 call mechanic to get car checked
10:47-10:59 pack bag and lunch for internship
11:00-11:29 drive to internship (a 29 minute drive exactly)
That’s just part of it, to give an example. The level of exactness is neurotic. No need to sugarcoat it. It looks more like I’m scheduling the lights and fireworks for the Superbowl Halftime Show than my Monday morning.
When you demand exactness, you demand absolute perfection. Which is just unrealistic and counterproductive. In this schedule, if I thought something took 29 minutes, I gave myself exactly 29 minutes. No room was left for any sort of mistake or external circumstance, such as fluctuations in traffic. Any misstep or unforeseen circumstance and my entire schedule was thrown off. I was thrown off. And it goes without saying that if I think it will take 29 minutes, it almost certainly will not take 29 minutes.
Unsurprisingly, this only served to increase my sense of rushing and stress. Obviously, I was never able to keep exactly to it. And in the rare cases that I was, I felt more depleted from the unnecessary exertion and not in a proper state of mind to go onto my more creative endeavors.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM THIS TYPE OF SCHEDULING
I quickly realized this type of scheduling wasn’t working, but that was okay. I learned from it what was actually underlying my entire thought process. Once I figured this out, a lot of things in my life started falling into place.
I realized that I was always putting my ‘have-to-do’ list before my ‘want-to-do’ list. I was prioritizing paying a parking ticket over my creative writing time. This was highlighting a deep seeded way of thinking in me. Until I do all of what I ‘have’ to do, my time isn’t mine. I’m not free until I finish my chores.
I gave tremendous power to my ‘have-to-do’ list. Subconsciously I felt that I was somehow in jeopardy until I paid my parking ticket. This wasn’t a rational thought, where I believed the police or the government were somehow watching me to make sure I paid on time, and if I didn’t I would be swept away to the gulag. It was just a general feeling of “I MUST DO THIS BEFORE I CAN DO ANYTHING ELSE.” I actually asked this feeling why I felt this way, and as always, it told me.
I don’t want to share the memory it took me to, but suffice it to say that it was a period in my life where I felt deeply obligated to help someone. Until I finished all of the things that they needed me to do, I didn’t feel I was free. And the tasks they asked me to do required extreme precision. This was an extremely stressful and ultimately traumatic time. Ultimately, throughout this whole period, I didn’t feel free at all. In fact, I kept saying to myself “I’ll be free once this period is finished.”
Apparently, I didn’t start feeling free once that external event ceased. I had internalized that way of thinking, of being. This often happens during extended periods of stress. If you don’t intentionally process and decompress, you will simply keep living the stress response.
Though it wasn’t my intention, this first attempt at creating a schedule allowed me to see my thought process on paper.
HOW TO SCHEDULE TO ALLOW FOR CREATIVE FLOW AND EASE THROUGHOUT YOUR WEEK
So how can I create a highly functional schedule that allows me to be in an optimal mental space? I schedule in large chunks.
For example, I’ll schedule an hour chunk early in the week for my ‘have-to-do’ list and another hour chunk later in the week. This is instead of listing each individual item on the list and the correlating times in hyper-exactitude. Whatever is more urgent I’ll put at the top of the list and try to get to in the first chunk. If I don’t finish everything on the list, that’s okay. I know I have another chunk of time designated to accomplish the rest. This way, I don’t need to rush through the list. I can do things at a comfortable pace, secure in the knowledge that everything will get done because I’ve scheduled time for it.
Similarly, for my ‘want-to-do’ list, I give myself extra time. If I think it will take me two hours to write this blog post, I give myself three. That allows me to try some creative word play, feel free to stand up and stretch if I feel like it, write a paragraph I’m not sure about, all without rushing.
On the macro level, the chunk-scheduling is helpful for me because I often find myself getting overwhelmed. I know I want to write three poems, a blog post, record a podcast, and do an in-depth journaling prompt. Seeing my week laid out, with ample time allotted for each of these activities, allows me to rest easy. Now I can just focus on one thing at a time.
THE ACTUAL STEPS TO SCHEDULING, LAID OUT SIMPLY
I realized my schedule is kind of like a puzzle. I broke it down into a few easy steps.
Fill in ‘static’ schedule. For example, every week I have my internship Monday 10:00-17:00 and Tuesday 13:00-18:00, and class Wednesday 14:30-16:30. I put that on the schedule and now I have the skeleton of my week.
List my ‘want-to-do’s’ and ‘have-to-do’s’
Fill them in the schedule, making each thing a chunk of time rather than an overly specific or exact time. For example, if I think it will take me two hours to write a blog post, I give myself a three hour chunk so I can be extra creative and not feel rushed.