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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Good bye spontaneity Embrace the schedule the schedule-follower may be freer than the impulse-follower. 06-19

This column will change your life: embrace the schedule

By Oliver Burkeman 

Unhooked from the whims of mood, relieved of the pressure of ceaseless decision-making, the schedule-follower may be freer than the impulse-follower

Señor Salme illustration

If you want to find time for deep thinking and avoid spending all day fighting fires in your inbox, scheduling is key. Illustration: Señor Salme for the Guardian

I'm writing this at 7.45am on a chilly Tuesday, because that's the slot I designated for it in my schedule – and because I have become, it would appear, one of those slightly suspect people who tries to organise their workdays, and to some extent their whole life, by making and following a schedule.

This wasn't always the case. No piece of time-management advice is more ubiquitous, yet none seems more calculated to trigger panicky, hostile reactions, and I'd been through versions of them all: "My life is just too unpredictable to follow a schedule!", "The constant interruptions from my boss/kids/dog would make it impossible!" And the most tormented cry of all: "It would feel too constraining: 

I want to live spontaneously!" But all of that, I've come to realise, is cobblers. I've seen the light on schedules, and now, with the obnoxious zeal of the convert, I want to make you see it, too.

I'd arrived at this conclusion some time before I encountered Manage Your Day-To-Day, a splendid new book of productivity advice published by the website, but I was pleased to find that its core philosophy backs me up: if you want to find time for deep thinking, to avoid spending all day fighting fires in your inbox, and to leave the office at a reasonable hour, scheduling is key. (The usual caveat applies: many jobs give people zero control over their time; plus these tips make more sense for web designers than for checkout staff.) For those of us who self-flatteringly think of our jobs as "creative", this goes double. The web is full of authors dispensing wisdom on How To Write, but none of it rivals the advice of the classic manual The Clockwork Muse, by Eviatar Zerubavel: decide what you're going to write and when, put it on a schedule, then do it.

Most objections to scheduling are swiftly dispensed with. Frequent interruptions are no reason not to make a schedule: you can always diverge from the plan if you must. Nor does a scheduled life need to be fun-starved: you can schedule fun, too. (If you're ultra-busy, scheduling fun is probably the only way you're going to have any.) And a good schedule isn't there to bully you into action against your will; rather, it removes the need to decide what to do. Always having to figure out what to do next can lead to "decision fatigue", and thus to progressively worse decisions – like staying late at the office to deal with email but then spending that time surfing Facebook slack-jawed. This is why, next time you find yourself hungover or otherwise brain-fogged, yet obliged to work, your first move should be to schedule the day in 30-minute chunks.

Behind all this is the counter intuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. It's ironic that people resist schedules because they want to be spontaneous and savour the moment, given that your average Zen monk – whose whole job, to simplify somewhat, is to savour the moment – abides by a rigorous schedule. (The Rule of St Benedict, which underpins much modern Christian monasticism, is likewise essentially a schedule, designed to free up time and energy for prayer.) Unhooked from the whims of mood, relieved of the pressure of ceaseless decision-making, the schedule-follower may be freer than the impulse-follower. Stop worrying about living spontaneously and you might start having more fun.

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