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Only time will tell if this will count as an epiphany; but so far, I think I’m on to something

October 26, 2011

Yesterday, I lamented that I often struggle with motivation. I want to do lots of things, but most of the time I actually do very few things. Or, more specifically, I do very very few of the things which I proclaim that I want to do; and instead do other things that help me to accomplish literally nothing of importance at all. This has been a recurring problem for me since, oh, about birth.

For instance, if I think that I want to go running, I say, Mike, tomorrow you’ll go running. But then tomorrow comes and I don’t go running. I sit on the couch and browse reddit instead. Or I may say that I want to write on my blog every day. So I tell myself, Mike, tonight you’ll write a nice post for the blog that people will actually want to read. But then tonight comes and I haven’t written a thing because I played DragonAge all evening; and I’m forced to quickly throw together one of my “Sorry I’m wasting both of our time” type posts just to technically meet the standard of writing every day.

After 33 years of doing this (and, for more of the most recent years than I care to admit, with the knowledge that it’s not a good thing) tonight I am finally forced to admit that I still don’t really know why it always happens. In fact, while I actually think about it quite often, and while I’ve tried lots of different tricks to overcome it, in the end, nothing has ever worked for me for very long, if it ever worked at all. I have always fallen back into finding ways to not do what I said I wanted to do, and to do something else vastly less fulfilling instead.

But today I think that I may have finally found hope. A few days ago I read a short article I found on the site Lifehacker (which I had fitting procrastinated about doing for weeks). I regret that I can’t seem to locate it now, but it basically laid out a plan to effectively use a calendar to manage your entire day. And then last night I caught this video about creativity, and something kind of clicked.

Both the article and the video make the point that things that need doing very often also need specific times in which they must be done. Sometimes these things have times that are assigned for you – like a work schedule. And sometimes these things have times that you must assign yourself – like a writing schedule.

I’ve toyed with the idea of putting a writing schedule in place before, but I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the benefit of it. This is odd considering a major duty of mine at work is overseeing the scheduling for a bookstore with a relatively large staff of booksellers. Scheduling, if I may be so bold, is something I’m very good at. But for some reason I’ve always seen it as a “work” task. My home tasks need not have been scheduled under my old way of thinking, because my home time was mine to do what I wanted with.

What is obvious to me now is that I have been wrong about this for my entire life. Not the part about my home time being mine to do what I wanted with, of course; but the part about not needing a schedule anywhere but “at work.” When left to my own devices at home – and having no overarching plan to guide me – I will consistently make the wrong decision. This is a foregone conclusion with literally decades of data to back it up.

However, when last night I decided that I would make a plan for today, and to schedule literally every thing I knew I wanted to accomplish (including browse reddit), I found that I could be much more productive. Here is a screenshot of the schedule I put together in Google Calendar for today:

Guess how much of it I’ve gotten done. Yep, that would be all of it so far.

In fact, we’re now approaching 9pm and I’m minutes away from finishing this post entirely, just as I planned it. I’ve spent time reading, I took care of dinner (which was ordering pizza – Michele is out of town). I went running, and all of it was right on time. It’s actually quite freeing – almost amazingly so. Planning nearly every minute of my day has allowed me to do something today that I have always struggled with: actually doing the things I want to do!

Until now, I’ve almost always been thinking about things. And it turns out that all that time wondering what I should be doing or deciding what I felt like doing was actually just an excuse for me to do nothing at all. I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to work this all out. And I’m sure that there are many people who will read this and say, “duh, of course you should have a plan for your day.” But there are likely plenty of others who are still as stuck as I’ve always been, and hopefully this will help you guys to see what I’ve seen and do something about it.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. It’s just about 9 o’clock, and I’ve scheduled some more reading time for myself. But I’ll see you all again tomorrow.

You can plan on that.

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