White Space, Room to Really Live Schedules, Daily Habits & White Space

A few weeks ago I shared some tips for creating white space in your home, clearing the clutter so you have room to breathe, appreciate what you have, love and use.  We need white space in our days as well.  A few years back I shared the following post.  I still practice these disciplines.  I think the only thing I would add is this:  all too often we fail to acknowledge everything we need to do.  We tend to leave daily chores and errands off our lists.  I think women are more guilty of this than men, as we try to cram these daily chores and errands in with other activities, failing miserably to multitask, or draining ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically.  Our daily task list/calendar/schedule should include the daily-the Walmart run, laundry, vacuuming, picking up birthday gifts…  These are the things that tend to fill what little white space we thought we had.  These are the things that never really get completed, and so can’t be ignored.

Does the above set of pictures make you cringe?  Do feel the tension in your body building?  For so many of us, the idea of living by a schedule, sitting down to determine when we will do what, feels confining, makes us uncomfortable.  As much as I like to live an orderly life, to be as productive as I can, I honestly resist the idea of living by a schedule.  I sense rigidity, lack of creativity in schedules.  I want to leave the door open for those “God appointments”.  I want to be able to meet the unexpected needs of friends of family.

Consistency.  My word for 2016.  Here in lies the truth-the hard truth.  I can not be more consistent, I can not consistently move towards meeting my goals, completing my tasks without some measure of schedule.  More importantly, tracking my time, setting specific times in which to do specific tasks keeps me mindful.

I just finished reading “I Know How She Does It”, by Laura Vanderkam.  It is an inspiring book and exactly the motivation I needed to get back to scheduling.  Most interesting in her research was the reality that most Americans work fewer hours than they say, with very few people working more than 50-60 hour weeks, and most people overestimate their work hours by 10 hours!  On average, highly successful, full-time working mothers cap at an average of 44 hours per week.  As I continued to read, I realized the core of the problem, the explanation for this over-estimation of time, sense of being overwhelmed, living out of fatigue feeling there is never enough time is a result of really having no idea how we spend our time and thus making very few intentional decisions about our time.

Laura Vanderkam is also a firm believe in the 168 hours principle, challenging us to plan weekly instead of daily.  I was convinced of this principle after reading her first book, “168 Hours”.

When you treat all 168 hours as your canvas, and don’t hold to rigid assumptions of what must be work time, and what must be nonwork time, you can create some fascinating mosaics (schedules).

While I resist the idea of living confined to a schedule, unwilling to move away from it for the unexpected, I know from experience and am reminded that schedules, daily habits and white space are the key to consistency, the key to my taking care of what matters most and moving towards completion of my goals.  So, this week, I focus again on doing what I know I should do (that seems to be a recurring theme!).  I challenge you to do the same.  Step back from your life for a moment.  Look at your week, your 168 hours and decide how you want to spend your time.  Here are some of my tips for successfully planning out 168 hours/creating a schedule or road map by which to live those hours out.

  1.   Daily morning quiet time to center my thoughts, read scripture, pray over my day.
  2.   One load of laundry every morning first thing.
  3.   Plan each week on Friday (I have let this habit slip and I pay for it.  Planning on Friday allows me so much freedom from nagging thoughts on the weekend and kick starts my Mondays.)
  4.   Use a weekly planner with hourly increments, blocking off appointments, tasks to work on, exercise, hobbies, free time etc…  This gives me a great visual, helps me to see the whole of my week.
  5.   Plan for the unexpected by building in PLENTY of white space.  I always leave 30 minutes between appointments.  This allows for transition time, gives me some buffer should the task take a little longer etc…  I also leave gaps of time (an hour to two) in my schedule at least every other day.  I typically use these gaps to take care of household chores, but often end up using them to have lunch with a friend, cook a meal for a sick friend, care for a sick child, …

Schedules, daily habits and white space keep me grounded, focused and moving in the right direction.  When I look at my time weekly in lieu of daily, I am reminded I have plenty of time.  While I still resist “being scheduled”, I always find there is actually a great deal of freedom in scheduling.  Life is always better when I am aware of where and how I spend my time.  A schedule allows me to be intentional about my time and I find that I get more enjoyment from my “free time/play time” when I have lived my week by my schedule.

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Why I Prefer Weekly Planning and Color Coding to Daily Planning

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I am a firm believer in everyone having a month at a glance calendar and weekly calendar.  A daily page is fine, but it really only functions like a list and can often cause us to micro-manage time, losing site of the big picture and where our time is going.

A monthly calendar lets us keep track of the BIG items, the major appointments, the birthdays, holidays and other special occasions.  The weekly calendar lets us look at our week from a broad perspective.  I believe we can either think about 24 hours per day, or we can think about 168 hours per week.  When we allow ourselves to focus on 24 hours per day, we confine our time.  There is no way in a 24 hour period to do something in each of your priority areas.  Planning day to day means we  have to be extremely disciplined each day to think about ALL of our priority areas and deliberately decide which one is most important for the day.  I have never been disciplined to do that.  When I confine my thinking to 24 hours I find I fail to do any task in some of my priority areas.  I also find that carrying over tasks from one day to the next grows, sort of the snowball effect, the farther into the week I get.  Planning day to day also makes it more difficult for me to say “yes” or “no” to requests that come up.  Allowing myself to focus on 24 hours limits my awareness of what’s next and not being fully aware of that often means I respond in the wrong way to requests.

Weekly planning gives me a broader picture of my life.  It also affords me the opportunity to map out activities in each of my priority areas.  I also find that with weekly planning I can be more flexible.  I can move tasks around depending on unexpected interruptions/opportunities and feel comfortable doing so because I know I have mapped out my priority areas for the week.  Weekly planning makes me more aware of time-realizing how much I actually have.  Laura Vanderkam in her book, “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think”, speaks to this point.  Through her research she found that time and time again people over-estimate the amount of time they work.  It is doubtful that anyone in this country really works more than 60 hours per week.  People think they do, but only because they really have no concept of time and how they are spending it.  When I focus on 24 hours, I find myself in this very position.  Feeling overwhelmed and rushed.

Successful weekly planning begins first with knowing what “Must Do” appointments exist for the month.  Block those items off in your calendar using a red pen.  Doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher meetings, kids’ events, staff meeting, etc.. Estimate how much time each appointment will take and block that amount of time off.

To help me balance where I spend my time, I like to keep a running list of the tasks I would like to or need to complete that week for each of my priority areas.  I love the Planner Pad and the space it offers for this (see above).  I jot down tasks for home, my business, my blog, board appointments, the kids etc…  I generally have about 6 areas.  Once I have those lists, I either block off specific times on the calendar (a client appointment, blog deadline…) or block off periods of time I know I will be less distracted and able to tackle a few projects.  Each priority area has a color.  If there is a task I really need to complete in order not to fall behind, I highlight it in yellow.

Each week I am surprised by how much “white space” I have left.  And that is important.  We all need white space.  That’s a whole other post, but white space affords us time to breathe, deal with the unexpected or experience the joys of the spontaneous.  168 hours is a lot of time.  When I sit down and look at my time from that perspective, looking at the week as a whole, I can always find time to block off for the important, the necessary.  By color coding I can visually see if one priority area is getting more of my time than another, and determine whether or not that is warranted.

Weekly planning frees my mind.  Instead of watching the 24 hours tick away, I find myself enjoying each day and looking forward to the hours yet ahead.

If you have felt overly stressed by your schedule, seem to never get everything done, find yourself spending more time making lists than doing tasks, I challenge you to try weekly planning.  PlannerPadCopycat   This coming Friday set aside an hour.  Pull out your phone, calendar, slips of paper lists… and think about how you want to invest next week.  Block off your time.  Know there will be interruptions and opportunities.  Leave yourself some space for those.  Then, enjoy your weekend knowing you are prepared with a weekly plan of action come Monday morning.

The Search Never Ends-Planner Perfection

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Project List and Tracking
Project List and Tracking
Slim Weekly Planner purchased at Barnes & Noble
Slim Weekly Planner purchased at Barnes & Noble

Well, I know it is NOT just me.  There seems to be a never ending search among-st women for the PERFECT PLANNER.  Now, I know perfection is NOT something to be pursued, for none of us is perfect, but it sure seems like there would be a planner out there that met women’s needs.  We are all so different thought.  Some of us like to decorate our planners and want lots of white space in which to create.  Others of us, like myself, like lots of lines to write on.  Most of us need to manage a whole slew of people’s schedules and events.  Some of us want to manage those things by time slots, others want to see a section for each person they track.  The list could go on and on.

Out of curiosity, I thought it would be fun to do a little survey.  What would you want in a planner?  I thought about a survey, but I don’t want my limited thoughts, creativity to stifle your thoughts.  So, just post in the comments.

I want a month at a glance with lined boxes.  I like a 7 day per week on two pages overview.  I like an area to note appointments and like this to be numbered by the hour.  Again, I like lines.  I have this thing about crooked writing.  I want a place to put “to do lists” by category/project.  I do not need a contacts section.  I would like to track my water drinking.  You get the idea.  Dream away and give me all your best ideas.  Never know what my happen with those ideas!

 

Perfect Planner Does NOT Mean Perfect Plans

I have “planneritice”.  A friend and I have coined that term after numerous discussions regarding our obsession with planners.  Despite owning numerous planners (not necessarily all at once, although I am afraid that too is true on occasion) she and I can get lost in time searching for the perfect planner.  While this is in part due to our desire to always grow in our organizational wisdom, I have to confess, at least for me, it is in part due to the notion in my mind that the perfect planner will finally bring perfect order to my life.  No more plans gone awry.  No more searching for papers.  No more last minute runs to Wal-Mart of a gift on the way to the party.  No more forgotten birthdays.  No more…  Oh if it were only so!

As I mentioned, I have found the “perfect” planner for me.   A compilation of several planner pages and some creativity on my part.  However, let me be clear.  This perfect planner has NOT meant perfect plans.  I do make better decisions (most days).  I do worry less as I know my “to do” items are written down (most of the time).  But, life is not perfect.  I am not perfect.  The people I live with and work with are not perfect.  To live this life with any level of peace and joy, we just have to build in space for the imperfect.  

My daily planner pages are the center of my planner.  The heart beat if you wish.  I refer back to these pages ALL day long.  These pages in particular are why I love the Life is Crafted system so very much.

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These pages are divided into 8 columns.  One for each day of the week, and an extra left over.  Across the top are 8 blocks to be labeled with categories or project titles.  I use the same 8 categories each week.  Home, My girls names, Mary & Martha, Keller Williams/SOS, New House, Miscellaneous and Blog.  I look back at my Master To Do and any items on the Monthly To Do.  I select the items I need to do next and write them under the appropriate heading.  I try not to have more than 4-5 items under each heading.  Remember that need to build in time for the imperfect?  Yep.  Be real.  Know you will have interruptions (good and bad), know things will take longer than planned, just know.  The next section is a column for each day (beginning with Monday) and time slots.  This system begins at 8:00 and goes through 7:00.  I wouldn’t mind it starting a little earlier, but… Here is where I time block.  I honestly believe this is the key to good time management and absolutely the hardest habit to develop.  I fill in appointments first.  Second, I determine which tasks from the above section I want to complete on which day.  I determine a day and time and block off 15 minutes more than I think I will need.  I also leave 15 minutes between every appointment and/or time block.  So, in reality I build myself a 30 minute buffer.  And guess what?  Some days that still isn’t enough.  Below is a section to write down the 3 most important things to do that day (and these items should be in my time blocks somewhere)  and then list out specific tasks.  If I have quick phone calls, an email to respond to…. that is not a part of a bigger project and I know can happen in less than five minutes I will write those things down here and not time block them.  I love that the pages include little stars at the bottom for tracking water consumption (which you can tell I have not don :()  There is also a place to write down 5 things you are grateful for each week.  I am working hard to discipline myself to do this.  If you have read any of my other posts, you know I was convicted about Gratitude and am an avid reader of Ann Voskamp.  I’m not there yet, but this little reminder is helping.  When possible I do color code appointments.  I usually use a yellow highlighter to mark off the time blocks.  It gives me a really good visual and helps me guard those time blocks.

At the end of the day, the truth is, time management is about discipline.  It is about being mindful.  I have to stop and put some thought into what I am doing.  What is most important.  Sometimes items that don’t look important are critical-like laundry!  I have to work the plan.  We have all heard it said before.  I can get it all on paper, but if I never open the planner, never check in during the day to see what I have done (mark it off!!!!), I will fail to move forward on projects.  I’ll fail to do those things that are BEST.  My planner is simple.  I don’t use Smashbook or Washi tape.  I wish I did.  I love to see the creativeness.  It’s not me.  I’m a simple gal, needing a little focus and discipline.  So, these pages work for me.

The remainder of the planner are sections I have added to track my businesses and attempt to have pertinent information with me.  They have been the “work in progress” the past 6 months.  I think I have about got them tweaked and working.

My perfect planner is working for me.  The secret though is in me working my plan and allowing for imperfection.