Having a schedule is NOT limiting your freedom.
Here are three benefits to having a schedule:
- More TRACTION
- Achieve more in less time.
- Easier OPTIMIZATION
- Recognize patterns for improvement.
- More TIME
- Do more of what you want.
We will dive into each benefit below, but first I’ll share a few examples from my life.
This nicely compliments my post on immediately overcoming writer’s block.
Putting It Into Context
Big Idea: Structure is an enabler for doing more of what you want.
Basically: The proper plan enables me to do more of what I enjoy.
The aim is to remove as much of what is unnecessary as you can and automate the mundane. Things that add true value should be all that remain.
A routine provides this.
Knowing where I will be on Saturdays, at what time, and what the environment will (roughly) look like clears up the overhead of hoping for spontaneous action or having to set up my environment.
I know when I’ll write best; I know what environment I write best in, and I know what to write about. Now the time spent on writing will be far more productive than if I were to sit down without a plan and hope something comes up.
My writing routine is simple, every Saturday, first thing in the morning, I block off 3 hours to write. My phone is far away, I fast (so food isn’t on my mind), I have noise blocking earbuds, water full nearby, etc.
I know where I will be and what I’ll do. The week prior I have prepped a few writing prompts to trigger my writing, I am ready to spend this blocked time being productive.
I sit down and I open a blank notepad page and begin typing to get the juices flowing. 30 minutes to an hour later, I have a structure down and a strong idea of what my post will be about. I then clean it up while transferring it to my blog post.
The overhead for my blogging is on autopilot. I have notes in EverNote that track my writing prompts, which I populate throughout the week. I have a TODOs section that I track any thoughts that come up when writing that are not related to my post (e.g. editing another post).
This eliminates the fluff that the craft of writing inherently brings and allows me to spend a chunk of time focusing only on what adds value, the writing itself.
This is exactly what I mean by quality over quantity from The Ultimate Guide to Intensity of Stimulus.
When I sit down to write I am less likely to immediately getting back up. The barriers to entry are removed, there is very little resistance to writing, I know what to do, and as soon as I sit down I’m 100% ready to write.
I just pull up my writing prompts, read them, pick one that sparks the most energy to write about, open a blank editor, let my thoughts flow out, structure the post, the transfer to my WordPress editor. I even have ProWritingAid (20% discount) installed to automate the editing process.
Again, the aim is to have more time spent focused on what adds value to my life, the thing I’m interested in. In this case, that is writing.
For more insight into my writing routine, check out my post on how I optimize my writing.
I enjoy cooking, but the overhead of getting pots and pans out and gathering the groceries is a barrier to entry. I cook one day a week where I make the meals for the entire week.
This frees up my time throughout the rest of the week. I don’t have to repeat the overhead tasks of getting pots out, cleaning dishes, pulling out food, storing it back away, etc. I do that once and all at once.
I fill up the dishwasher slowly over the week, a day before I cook I unload the dishwasher, taking what I’ll use for cooking the next day and placing them on the stove or where I’ll need them tomorrow and this eliminates overhead of having to put in cabinets just to take back out shortly after. When cooking day comes, the barrier to get cooking is essentially gone.
I do my grocery shopping that day, so by the time I get back I need not put most groceries away since I’m going to use them immediately. Throughout the week, I track the ingredients that I need in an app whenever the thought pops in my head.
Optimizing for what adds most value is a pattern throughout my life. It is a cornerstone in being effective. This what the Effective Living series was all about.
I had a plan when I prepared for my marathons; I did my training first thing in the morning, all my running gear was by my bed and ready once I woke up. Within 10 minutes i was out the door.
I tracked my mileage from week to week and ensured it was improving at a steady rate. I ensured I was fueling my body well. My training runs consumed, on average, 5 hours a week.
I go into great depth in the mentality and discipline that I explored during this time in The Ultimate Guide to Challenge.
In each scenario, notice the theme. I removed the overhead, all the fluff, GONE. I optimized my time to focus on what truly adds value. This made engaging in the task easier. There was less of a barrier to entry, everything was ready.
The routine made it simple. There was no question of when, where, or how.
To achieve any long-term goal, you must have structure.
Most meaningful goals outlive the life of any emotion. Motivation is an emotion, so you can’t rely on motivation to carry you to the end. I’ve went in far more depth to this idea in The Ultimate Guide to Clarity.
Knowing what stands in your way and addressing that, ensures victory. Planning for everything going right is called a daydream, that’s easy. Plan for what you’ll do to stay on course when things go wrong. Do you really want to achieve that objective?
These are just 3 examples of how I put the dull things on autopilot, allowing me to focus on aspects of my life that I care about. It minimizes the tedious work that comes with all crafts.
Not having a plan is planning to fail. The very act of cooking can seem like a chore and feel tedious because of the lack of structure in place to “abstract” away the tedious details of preparation.
Now let’s dive into the specifics.
A Schedule Gives You More Traction
Big Idea: The opposite of distraction is traction.
Basically: Distraction is when you don’t do what you set out to do. It is a lack of traction.
What do you do before you go on a vacation?
Probably plan, right?
You create a schedule based on the things you wish to do. But what is the value of this?
A plan allows you to do more of the things you want without being caught off guard. Having a rough itinerary put together before going on vacation prevents becoming overwhelmed by all the choices in a new environment.
You’ll be far from home, in a location that you’ve probably never been, full of ambiguity. The whole trip will go by with you “winging” it. You’ll return from vacation, back to the comfort of your own home, and a rush of thoughts for what you should have done begin racing in.
You’ll be anxious most of the vacation and feel out of control. There would be a lot of wasted time asking “what should I do next”. Less time will be available for you to do what truly adds value to that vacation. The memory of the experience becomes contaminated by distraction and worry.
You can avoid this by having a plan.
With a plan, you have a rough idea of what is available in the location you’re going to. You’ll know where things are and when you should be there. The vacation now has structure that helps to remove what is irrelevant to your enjoyment so you can focus on what is relevant.
You experienced less worry during the vacation and were more present. This resulted in more vivid, positive, memories. All because you had a plan.
Structure doesn’t take away you freedom, it gives it back.
Without it, you are a slave to whatever is thrown your way; you have no control. Your time is no longer yours. You are a slave to your biology. The unpredictability of emotions tossing your thoughts around.
This is exactly what distraction is.
A plan allows you to filter out the noise being thrown at you and focus on what is important. This is a cornerstone in consciousness. Awareness, an incredibly powerful tool that you would waste if you were to live in a distracted state. To be distracted is to put to shame the powers of high levels of consciousness.
Social media and other businesses will do their best to get your attention so they can make money. They will pull your attention in so many directions. Therefore, it is vital that you take responsibility over your attention.
Let’s take a deeper look at what distraction is.
Focus is not the opposite of distraction. Traction is.
Traction is about doing what you set out to do.
You are not necessarily distracted when you are scrolling Facebook, as long as that is what you were meaning to do. Scrolling Facebook when you intended to may not be focus, but it is at least traction.
But, if you were to open up your web browser, with the intent on writing a blog post, but end up on Facebook, then that is distraction.
A schedule is how you know whether you are doing what you set out to do. A schedule provides you immediate feedback. At any point in time you can answer the question “Am I off track?”.
You focus far better when you have the constraints that a schedule provides.
The constraints created from a schedule allows you to remove irrelevant details. With these details removed, you can focus on what adds the most value.
A Schedule Is Necessary to Optimize Your Time
Big Idea: Awareness is necessary for improvement. A schedule brings awareness to distraction.
Basically: If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Lose track of it, and it flies by.
Having a routine in place allows you to recognize patterns. Once patterns are discovered, you can optimize.
Optimizing is about removing the overhead for a task.
If your objective is to do more cooking, then the overhead is the shopping, grabbing pots and pans, and cleaning up. These items don’t add value to the overall objective, they stand in the way of you doing more of what you enjoy.
When you put down on paper the things you spend your time on, you realize opportunities for improvement. Your awareness of the actions you engage in from moment to moment will grow.
When you don’t have the structure of a schedule, then there will only be chance encounters with time-consuming activities. You won’t be able to connect the dots. A schedule allows for consistent tracking of these dots. You can then notice patterns.
Consistently tracking your writing habits may lead you to realize that you spend far too much time thinking about what to write or editing what you’ve written. There is not much time spent on the thing that adds the most value, the writing. This leads to frustration on your part (you may even quit), writing may feel like a chore.
Consider intelligence. A characteristic that intelligent people share is optimization.
Say that you wake up tomorrow with a considerably higher level of intelligence. One thing you’ll notice will be opportunities for optimization. You may find yourself making multiple, unnecessary, trips to the kitchen and thinking “Why am I doing it this way?”
This is because intelligence is strongly related to one’s ability to recognize the fundamental properties of something. They can abstract away the idea of an oven in your kitchen to something that provides heat and has a place for an item to be heated. This makes the following qualify as an oven, because it satisfies the properties:
Thinking in terms of properties allows for the irrelevant details, such as the knobs on your oven, impeding the true essence.
The thing about abstraction is that it is a dynamic process. You focus on the properties that are relevant for the objective at hand. Your idea of an oven may be different than just heat and a place for items if you were building a kitchen. You would probably also consider aesthetics, safety, and efficiency. But needing to warm up some freshly killed food in the wild, this abstraction allows you to see solutions that you would be blinded to otherwise.
This is important, because this is exactly why if you were to wake up a lot more intelligent, then you would start realizing ways you can optimize. You would realize things that are not relevant to the objective and therefore can be removed.
You’d be able to think of the objective in terms of what truly matters and abstract away the rest. Then it would just seem obvious. Why would you continue doing the irrelevant if you recognize it doesn’t add to your true objective?
Here is the punch-line argument:
- This kind of intelligence comes from the ability to abstract.
- Abstraction comes from the ability to recognize patterns.
- You can more easily recognize patterns when you have consistency.
- A structured schedule is exactly what allows for this consistency.
- Therefore, a schedule is necessary to optimize your time.
A schedule gives you more freedom by freeing up your time from the unnecessary details.
A Schedule Gives You More Time
Big Idea: A schedule is the archetype of being deliberate with your time.
Basically: Time will inflate to fill its container. If you don’t track it, it will be lost.
Time is like a gas, it will expand to fill its container. This is known as Parkinson’s Law. If you put a two-week deadline on a project at work, it’ll get done in two weeks. Put a week deadline on that project, it will probably get done in one week.
You’ll find a way if pushed, constraints are a powerful way to spark creativity. Having to cook a meal one handed, you’ll begin to discover creative tactics to make it happen.
Having a schedule is NOT limiting your freedom.
Not having a schedule leads to questions of “what to do”. This uses up mental resources and hogs your attention away from what adds the most value.
Every decision you have to make uses up vital resources and opens the door for distraction. The more you can automate mundane tasks and remove barriers to entry, the more you will be able to focus on the things that add the most value.
Focus is what constraints provide, and focus is what freedom is.
Distraction, or emotion, is like the opposite of focus. When in an emotional state, you’re not free, you’re at the mercy of biology. You’re in a whirlwind of a mess and things are unpredictable. You’re not free, at this point you are just a slave to your biology.
Focus is what allows you to ignore what isn’t relevant while in a still-minded state. This allows you to to consciously choose what to spend your time on and have an understanding of why.
This is freedom, you are in control. Emotion, however, is being out of control, logic is out the door. Emotion is a wave, as discussed in the post on Challenge, and waves are unpredictable and come and go. To achieve any meaningful aim in life you have to maintain focus over a long period. Motivation is an emotion as well and therefore can not be relied on.
A schedule adds constraints that promote structure and therefore focus. No schedule leaves the door wide open for chance encounters with emotion, such as a sudden urge for chocolate cake.
Once that urge hits, if you don’t have a clear, well-defined, idea of what it is that you should be doing, then you’re now at the mercy of that emotion, despite what logic would suggest you do otherwise.
A constraint would put a fail-safe mechanism to remind you of your nutritional habits (habits are a form of structure), and lifestyle choices and the WHY behind maintaining focus on the task at hand as opposed to going after that chocolate cake.
Through constraints you gain better stability and can make better decisions.
Emotions make decision making biased and murky, the monkey mind will cave in to the temptation, and you’ll regret it later. You’ll feel like you “had no choice”, the desire was too strong. This will just reinforce your belief that you can’t change.
You may even rationalize caving in to the chocolate cake as “I am free to make my own decisions”. You are in a different mental state when that urge for chocolate cake comes up, it isn’t your decision, you’re at the mercy of biology.
Just like how it is easy to sit on the couch and make New Year Resolutions or any other goal. You’re in an emotional state. Then when you go to actually put in the work, you quickly move to a different mental state. This shifting in mental states brings new emotions, since motivation is an emotion, it goes right out the door!
That rationalizing is influenced by biological desire and emotion. When in this mental state it’s hard to think logically. Just like sexual arousal. How free is that?
This is evident in any bad habit that you’ve tried to break. Perhaps you tried losing weight but couldn’t because of your addiction to sweets and over eating. You obviously know it is not good, that is why you are trying to break the bad habit. When you make that goal you’re in a different mental state than you are when you are craving that sweet.
Structure gives you back freedom.
It’s Not all Roses
Big Idea: What works is highly individualized and requires finding balance.
Basically: Patience and exploration is necessary to find what works for you. Trial and error.
With all of this said, it is important to note that balance is key. There is a time to plan and a time to take action, blurring the two is where you get into trouble.
A plan is about the big picture, the more detailed you get the more likely you’ll run into problems. If you find that “planning” isn’t working for you, perhaps you are focusing too much on the details.
A plan loses its value once it becomes too rigid. This is a balance of knowing what is in your control and what is out of your control. This involves dealing with ambiguity, which I go in to more depth on in The Ultimate Guide to Clarity.
With experience you will get better at noticing your triggers and personal pain points. Every individual is different, with their own set of past experiences, so you will have to find what works for you.
Planning is a Skill
Being able to differentiate what is big picture vs what is detail based on a given objective is a nuanced skill. This skill is worth developing, it is a lifelong skill that pays dividends. There is always room for improvement here.
I find Journnaling to be a wonderful way of separating high vs low-level thoughts. Just plain white paper and a pencil.
Her’s a cue that I find useful: if I am getting wordy or feel I’m going down a path of explaining myself, then I am getting too detailed. I think: “how ambiguous can I be and still get away with?” This primes my mind for high-level thinking.
This skill applies to any sort of problem solving as well as decision making. Rapid learning is about removing the irrelevant details. This is done by recognizing what the bigger picture is.
This is the Principle of Simplicity.
Optimizing your memory is even based on this principle.
You have to experiment and see what works for you.
Start by recognizing areas that you can improve. Track your daily habits, I did this with a pocket-journal, tracking everything that I did for a week, including while driving (using an voice recorder). I found patterns, things I did regularly.
From this, I realized areas for optimization almost immediately. There were things I was doing regularly that were inefficient, such as taking multiple trips to unload the drier, or scooping flax seeds out vs just pouring some into the blender.
You develop this throughout a lifetime, always being open to what can be improved. It is important to remain self-objective and open-minded. Recognize your own emotional bias.
You have to want more time to do what you enjoy so badly that you’re willing to remove as much fluff as you can from your life. The result is more time able to spend doing what adds more value to your life and less on overhead items. A little here and there adds up to a lot.
I work a full-time job as a software developer but still found time to go from no running to running a half-marathon in 2 months and a full in 3 months, running a second marathon a few months after that. All the while maintaining 5 days a week of heavy-weight training for an hour and continuing to progress in my passion projects, such as hardware development, programming, and learning new subjects.
This is all thanks to having a routine, once the routine is in place I can optimize it. Little by little I found and removed unnecessary fluff from the routine. I continue doing this, finding new things that I only recognize because of other insights from earlier optimizations.
I have more time focusing on what truly adds value and waste less time on things that may make me feel productive but don’t actually add any value. Cut the busy work, focus on what adds value.
Big Idea: A plan is the ultimate enabler to accomplish what you set out to achieve.
Basically: Having no plan, is planning to fail.
The main problem with not having a schedule is the unpredictability of emotion. You are completely at the mercy of your biology. Any in-the-moment desire has full control over you.
You fall prey to the ease of rationalizing away negative habits while in that unproductive emotional state.
When you don’t have a big picture decided on and committed to, then you lose sturdiness in your ability to recenter once thrown off track. A plan defines that center, without a clear definition of what you should do, you can’t self-correct.
Planning has allowed me to do more of what I enjoy doing. Including: programming, weight lifting, running, cooking, writing, reading, researching, being out in nature, etc. I have free time to even learn new languages and other subjects.
Planning is an enabler much like journaling, meditating, and reflection are to me. Check out The 2 Most Useful Ideas for Your Busy Life, for more about reflection.
Yes, I have formally meditate every day (which I call whitespace, which includes my own twist with sensory deprivation), while practicing mindfulness regularly. I journal several times a day (writing + thinking go so well together), and have regular weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly reviews in place.
Each of these last items don’t take time away from me, they give time back. They keep my mind clear and focused to be more present with the things that I want to do. You’ll be amazed at how a concentrated hour of deliberate effort can be better than 8 hours of distracted, non-directed, work.
There is no “I don’t have time” excuse. It’s just a question of priorities and the proper structure to enable success. It’s a matter of getting your life in order.
Structure has allowed me to build and break habits with ease. This includes mental or emotional habits that many people see as “fixed”, such as flaws in personality. For example, irritation triggers, discipline building, and developing ability to abstract or deal with ambiguity.
It’s all possible, and it involves concentrated, deliberate, effort. It need not be too hard, either, it just needs to be consistent and progressive over time.
NOTE: If you are familiar with my claim of Deliberate Action (as discussed in The 2 Most Useful Ideas for Your Busy Life), you may recognize a theme. Spending a little time up front to do things right pays off in the long run. But to do this correctly you need to put in thought and experiment. Trial, error, and self-correct.
A schedule provides structure. Structure provides freedom. It doesn’t take it away.
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Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.
I am always looking to improve my reach and the impact that I have with my writing, please provide your feedback in the comments below.
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