I don’t know about you, but I am a serial over-committer.  I discovered a few years ago the magic of SCHEDULING EVERYTHING.  I put EVERYTHING on my calendar.  Ok, ALMOST everything.  I schedule everything that I would procrastinate if it weren’t scheduled.  (And Google calendar makes this so easy!)

In addition to my students, rehearsals, meetings, and other work appointments (I’m a professional musician) that needed to be scheduled because they are specific time commitments, I also put exercise (30 min./day, 5 days/week), cleaning (30 min./day, 7d/w), email (2 30 min. sessions/day, 7d/w), gardening/yard work (30 min./day, 7d/w), reading (2 hrs./week), scanning (1 hr./week), grocery shopping (1 hr./week), and paying bills (2-3 hrs./month) on my calendar.  (*Reading is meant to take care of the newspapers and professional magazines that stream in; scanning is scheduled for once a week, but I may adjust that now that I have taken time recently to take care of a couple of big scanning projects – we’re slowly heading towards becoming paperless, more on that in a later post.)  

As a professional musician, my schedule changes from day to day, and gigs (or big projects) can change the free time that I have available each week.  So, flexibility is really the name of the game.  Here’s the magic: I put it on my calendar, but unlike my appointments, I don’t regard the time slot as set in stone.  By putting it on my calendar, I see that it’s something that needs to get done and will take time, but if I need to reschedule one of these activities because something else (like a paying gig) came up, I can do that easily by just moving that block of activity to another time slot.  This has helped keep me from overcommitting because I can see that I really can’t take on all the work every day without having to sacrifice some of these things that are really essential to staying on top of my life.  

If I am continually rescheduling exercise, I will get injured more easily; my mental health will also suffer.  If I am continually rescheduling cleaning, I will run out of clean clothes, or there are parts of my house that will get disgustingly dirty, which could also affect my health.  If I am continually rescheduling email, I will probably miss out on work.  If I am continually rescheduling gardening/yard work, the exterior of my house/property suffers (which could affect my energy costs or end up causing avoidable costly repairs).  If I am continually rescheduling reading, my accumulated pile of things to read can become overwhelming; same for scanning.  If I’m rescheduling grocery shopping, I will run out of food, and if I’m rescheduling paying bills, I run the risk of owing late payments and damaging my credit score.  I have learned that these are things that I need to do to keep my life in balance, but I don’t necessarily want to do them.  They are the responsibilities I would rather procrastinate.

I don’t have to pre-schedule practicing or teaching prep or reading for my own enjoyment,etc., because these are things I want to do.  Or at least I have somewhere in the back of mind internally prioritized these things so that even when I don’t want to practice, I still do because I know that showing up unprepared to play or sing for anything will not result in being rehired.  If I do not follow through on my promises to my students, they’re not going to think I’m a very good teacher and might not recommend me to their friends, or worse, they might quit.  I do my reading for my own enjoyment while I’m eating lunch and at night after I’ve finished the “must do’s” for the day.  Even though I don’t need to pre-schedule these activities, I do still log my practice time and teaching prep time on my calendar so that I can search back and see how much time I’ve spent on a certain activity in the past.

Because I end up with EVERYTHING (ok, ALMOST everything) on my calendar, this also helps me to be able to look back at the calendar and see what I did with my day.  So it is extremely rare for me to get to the end of a day and look back and wonder where the time went.  I have learned (especially with weeding the garden) that I am not good at estimating the time needed for some tasks; they always take longer than I expect.  Scheduling and logging everything on my calendar has helped me get much better with my time estimates, which helps me set more realistic goals for my time.

This doesn’t just work for my lifestyle.  I have also convinced my husband and sister to jump on this bandwagon.  My husband’s career is more like mine (he’s a professional musician and web designer), but my sister is a retail pharmacist.  So where my calendar is full of small blocks, hers contains longer shifts multiple days per week with days off sprinkled into the mix.  She also schedules her exercise, cleaning, and reading on her calendar, and she has shared with me that it has also helped her with realizing when she was over-committing her time completely unrealistically.  She is just not going to be able to get as much “other stuff” done on a day that she has a long work shift.  Understanding that allowed her to change her expectations of what she could get done with her time, thus helping to keep her from being overly critical of herself when she couldn’t meet her previously completely unrealistic expectations.  

It works for kids, too: my sister discussed with me in passing her son’s proposed extracurriculars for one semester; it was so much. I suggested that she sit down with him and map out on a calendar everything that she was expecting of him (school, homework time, instrument practice, chores) and then see if there was still time to plug in all those other extracurriculars.  They did and realized that there was just not enough time in the week to do everything, so rather than over-committing, he chose which extracurriculars he wanted to do most.  Such a good skill for him to learn as a 10 year old.  And it kept the situation from being a fight of “why won’t you let me do this” and instead turned it into a joint acknowledgement that we do not have unlimited time.  Our time is finite and we get to choose how we will spend it.

Being able to set more realistic goals for your time allows you to feel more satisfied with what you actually get done with your time, and allows you to enjoy more fully the time when you’re not working.  Magic.