Have you heard the advice that you should have “a place for everything and everything in its place?” Now, I can’t say I’ve done this for everything around the house—or even most things—but I do understand the value of this approach.
If I have a certain place for my keys and wallet, for instance, then when it’s time to go out, I don’t have to spend time looking for them. I know where they are. Or if I need to get a pipe wrench or manometer or French press (for different tasks, of course), I know exactly where to look.
The same applies to all my digital “stuff.” Deciding ahead of time where to keep certain types of files or information provides a clear destination for each new item. And this reduces the time needed to retrieve them in the future. I don’t have to try to remember if I stored a file locally or in Dropbox or Google Drive. I know exactly where it should be.
From Space to Time
In addition to designating places to store certain types of physical and digital items, the same could be done with the different kinds of activities I engage in. Just as there’s value in organizing my physical and digital spaces, there’s also value in doing the same with my temporal space—making sure the activities I want to do have a designated place on my schedule.
I was thinking about this recently when I was earmarking some articles to read “later.” Fairly regularly I’ll come across an article I’d like to read at some point, but don’t have time right then to do so. Often I’ll save them for “later.” But “later” is a nebulous term, and many times I never define exactly when I’ll get back to those articles I wanted to read. And so, before I know it, quite a backlog of things for “later” develops.
If I have a set time to do certain things, such as study or writing or exercise—if they have a place on the schedule to call home—it’s much more likely they’ll get done. But if I consign them to “whenever I get some time,” who knows when I’ll actually get around to them.
This is particularly noticeable when many other things are vying for my time. If there’s no designated time for the activities I want to spend time on, it can be all too easy to let them slip through when things get busy. But by giving certain activities designated spaces in my schedule, I make sure that at least some time is allocated for the activities I’ve chosen.
Scheduling time for an activity is not always about making sure you spend some time on it. Sometimes it’s about making sure you don’t spend too much time on it. Without constraints, certain activities could easily take up an inordinate amount of time or attention.
Take watching TV or checking social media or playing video games. You may decide there’s a place for these activities. But how much time do you actually want to allocate to them? By designating upfront when and for how long you’ll do them, you’re setting limits on how much time they’ll consume. You ensure they won’t take additional time away from other activities. And knowing you’ve already scheduled a time for them later can help whenever you have an urge to do them when you’re in the middle of something else.
Blocking out time in your schedule for the activities you want to do can also help you quickly identify when you’re trying to do too much. If you try blocking out time for activities you want to do, but run out of space, it can signal the need for you to let go of something. Unlike physical objects, you don’t have an option to go out and rent an extra storage unit for overflow. When it comes to time, there’s a hard limit to what’s at your disposal.
Although I’m advocating blocking out places in your schedule for particular activities, I do admit there is a limit. Margin is also vitally important when it comes to thinking about your time.
We all know life doesn’t have to follow the schedule we decide. There will be emergencies; there will be unplanned conversations; there will be things that turn up that we didn’t expect. And that’s fine—that’s life.
And since we know this about life, why not be realistic and bake in some margin into our daily or weekly routine? Otherwise, if we try to block out every minute of every day, what do we do when something pops up that wrecks our plans? Instead of fully engaging in a meaningful conversation, for instance, we could end up resentful or distracted because it wasn’t on our schedule.
The purpose of making space on our calendars for predetermined activities is either a) to make sure we can devote time to them, or b) to make sure they don’t take up too much time. The question to consider, then, is: Which activities belong in these two groups? Which activities do you want to ensure you devote time to? And which activities do you want to set some constraints around so they don’t steal time and attention from more important things?