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Blog // Productivity
December 30, 2021

Scheduling And Recreation In 2022

A lot about 2022 still feels uncertain. But trying to schedule the year and make time for recreation is cleaning up some things.

“That’s the way an artist thinks about time.”

I was talking to Mike Vardy about time management. Mike is bit of a legend in the productivity world and the host of the Productivitist podcast. I received some coaching from Mike in 2018 and we were catching up at the start of 2020 to talk about how my approach to planning my week had evolved.

Scheduling and Daily Themes

In our coaching sessions Mike had helped me set a theme for each day. This lets you group similar tasks. You don’t feel like you’re constantly switching your focus and you can comfortably assign important but non urgent tasks to the next available day for that activity. It’s faster to pay all your bills if you do them together, rather than logging in and out of your bank account at all sorts of random moments during the week.

This approach took a lot of stress out of my life at a time when I was struggling with anxiety issues. My life was already pretty complex at the time, running a freelance business, building a house, helping my kid finish high school, planning a move to London, and learning Japanese calligraphy – there was a lot going on!

But, with the move to London and my daughter leaving for college I was thinking, at the start of 2020, my life would be simpler.

Of course it didn’t work ot that way!

Lessons In Time – Pandemic Time

I was used to working from home. But having my wife and daughter also working from home as well was a shock. Add to that the constant interruption of deliveries as all food, groceries, and household items came by post, and the burden of cooking all our meals when eating out wasn’t possible.

I wrote about time-blocking and time-tracking because my own sense of time became untenable. I wanted to remind myself of what I knew and experiment with what was happening to me in this moment.

Thankfully the principles I’d learnt from Mike helped me adapt well to this moment. And the time tracking showed me that I was doing better at managing time than I thought. Yes, there were lots of interruptions. But, they weren’t that disastrous.

The problem was the voice in my head, complaining every time the doorbell rang, or I had to unpack boxes. Yes, I was losing time to the chore, but not as much as I imagined, and it was worth it for the peace of mind that came with staying home during the worst weeks.

Three Questions Emerged

Looking back to Christmas 2019 I had such a clear sense of when my holidays began and ended. But now the opposite is true. I take time off from one thing or another. But, I haven’t had a proper holiday since early 2020.

My feeling for the seasons is also blurry. I couldn’t easily describe Spring this year. Or Autumn. I know we had a summer, because I remember wearing shorts and enduring sleepless nights in the too hot, too poorly ventilated terrace house where I live. But, ask me to remember which blogposts I wrote over the summer, or what meals I cooked, and I’m not sure I could.

And, while my days have been productive and, more importantly, healthy and safe, they’ve also been monotonous as well. I write, every day. That much is good. But most days, that’s it. I cook. And watch TV, far more often than I’d like.

These reflections, which have come up again and again when I journal, meditate, or just walk around my local park, leave me with three questions I want to address in 2022.

1. How can add holidays back into my life?
2. How can I feel the seasons of the year again?
3. How can I make my days feel more colorful and creative?

Learning To Create Structure

“Education is a game. Not all students learn to play it well.” I’m not sure if Dylan William said it exactly like that, but it was something similar. Dylan was the Dean of my School at King’s College London his research opened my eyes to the way class shapes the experience of students.

I grew up with parents who were always encouraging me to take my studies seriously. But, I struggled with structure. In High School many students turned up on the first day folders that were magically well suited to organizing large amounts of notes per subject. But, others of us spent the first weeks scrambling to find similar ring pull binders, separators, hole punches and writing paper.

At university some students seemed to know how make sense of their week with only a few hours of lecture and seminar commitments. All I saw was an opportunity to play guitar and surfboard all week.

By the time I tried university again I finally knew some people who’d graduated, and had enough life experience myself, to understand how to structure my weeks and be productive. I saw that people in academia planned their weeks and years in very precise ways. Eventually I started reading things like Getting Things Done by David Allen, or the early writing of Merlin Mann, and learnt to create structure for myself.

Holidays and Re-Creation

Once I’d become a research student I knew how to divide my year up to make sure there was time for holidays and also personal development. After I left academia I kept the same habits, making sure I scheduled breaks, conferences, and time for personal and professional reviews.

Up until 2020 I kept that habit going. Most artists, creatives, and freelancers do something similar. Of course, in the pandemic it got weird. Mostly, it was my calendar reminding me that I was supposed to have flown to some place in the world when instead I was stuck in London.

I really don’t know what 2022 will look like for me. Whatever happens I will be moving to Australia. But, the details of everything are vague.

But, it’s still possible to put down some markers. To choose some weeks, for holidays, for reviews, for recreation.

The last word, in particular, feels important. I like to think of recreation as re-creation – remaking ourselves through play. Hiking through a forest, skiing down a mountain, or walking along an empty beach all remind me of who I am.

We might not be able to do the ideal versions of our recreation yet. But, we can schedule time for them, and do what we can when that time shows up.

Digital Sabbaticals

I’ve sat in front of my TV screen way too much in the past two years. Far more than I normally would. TV, by which I mean streaming services, YouTube, and live sports, soaked up the time that might’ve gone into concerts, galleries, and going to the cinema. But also, it often soaked up nightime reading and late nite guitar playing as well.

Hiding behind how many “good shows” there are on all the streaming services is a lame excuse.

Especially given how elusive seasons have felt recently.

So, I’m going to take a regular sabbatical from screens. One week in seven. Only essential email and messages. No social media, no blogposts, no youtube, no streaming tv, no zoom, no online courses, no non-urgent communications.

Once a month felt like too much. Once a season, not enough. Every seventh week will mean a break from screens is never too far away.

But, it will be regular enough to force me to rethink my routines. To remind me that time is passing and it’s important to consider where it goes.

I’m not interested in “giving up TV.” I’ve always felt the folks who brag about not owning or watching TV are kind of misguided. The line between TV and Film is opaque now. And YouTube can be as much of a tool for education as for entertainment.

But, to avoid feeling like every day is the same you need to make some days different. And just knowing that for at least seven weeks in 2022 I won’t be sitting on the safe looking at a TV screen already makes me feel different.

Artist Time

In the conversation with Mike Vardy that I mentioned at the start of this piece I was describing how my days were actually more or less the same. I’d dropped some of the daily themes and was doing the same thing, writing in the morning, working on music or visual art in the afternoons.

This reflected my ideal day. It was also the less complicated version of life I hoped to create after moving to London. I want to navigate towards a new version of that in 2022.

I’m going to try something I’m calling “touch everything every day.” I’ve got writing, photography, music, calligraphy. Within those there’s one or two projects I want to work on. Of course, I can’t do them all every day. That would be madness.

But, I’m going to touch on them.

This might mean just taking one serious photo in the day, or making some calligraphic marks in my regular note taking.

Mostly, it’s about making every day more artful.

That’s something I’ve missed but struggled to name about my “old life.” It just felt more artful and creative. Not in the sense of overall output. But, in the small moments of the day. In the details.

So, here’s to 2022, whatever it might bring. Yes, it will be difficult. But, my hope is to also make it a little more artful, less monotonous, more full of play. Hopefully come this time next year we can all remember what we did each season a little more clearly and feel a little freer in our lives as well.

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