Recently someone asked me for interesting advise. The person wanted to know what I would recommend to someone, who generally feels a certain kind of dread, when thinking of scheduling time in a calendar or creating various to-do lists. Here’s how we have both structure and spontaneity in our schedule!
The concern was that doing so (using a calendar and to-do lists) would create an environment that suffocates the ability to be spontaneous and “in the flow.” In that person’s mind the type of rigidity that using a calendar brings with it would drain the life energy and excitement right out of him. Yet he understands that he needs some structure as long as it doesn’t get too rigid.
First of all I think this was a great question, because I am sure that many business owners feel at times that we just want to throw our calendar and task list out the window. Many of our clients have expressed some version of this concern. On a superficial level one might just say, “There is simply no way to function in today’s world without a calendar so get over it and start using it.” But then there is so much more to it.
Because really what is happening is not that we are opposing the calendar or the task list itself. If our calendar would be full of vacation time, fun things to do, dinners with friends, etc, we would have no problem using it. The same with a To Do List.
But most of the time our calendar and task list tell us about meetings and deadlines and tasks, that are less exciting.
Our grunt is not with the calendar or the task list per se but with feeling like we constantly have to answer to someone else’s desires and needs. Obviously in that scenario there is no room for self-expression, and the only reason to have a task list is to not forget what everyone else wants from us.
By not tracking our commitments to do things we can create a sense of freedom or spontaneity – but it is a false sense. We actually pay a high price for such a behavior. Because subconsciously we know all the things that we should be doing because at some point we have committed to them. So we enter into a vicious cycle of wanting to feel free, yet feeling guilty or unsatisfied, and as soon as we start facing just a little bit of reality we go in more denial to get a temporary sense of relief again. As long as we don’t take full inventory of what we are committed to we can’t hold ourselves accountable to it and therefore pretend it is not there.
The fact is that a calendar is merely a tool, and a task list is merely a tool, and you can choose to use the tool however you want to use it. You actually decide how you want your calendar and your task list to assist you. Just having a task list or a calendar doesn’t mean anything. You give them the power that you want them to have.
So for someone who is opposed to using a calendar because it is too rigid, my response is you have to change your perspective. The calendar and the action lists only reflect what you have already committed too. They are simply a very helpful tool to give you an overview of what already is. They, by themselves, don’t add any more stress, or any more things to do. They simply reflect exactly what your current circumstance is. Don’t forget that you are in charge.
Change your perspective to one where you use the functions of a calendar and a task list to actually assist you in the lifestyle that you want for yourself. Don’t blame your lack of sense of freedom on these tools, because you have made commitments before those commitments are ever represented in the calendar or task list.
And by having an accurate overview of what actually is going on in your life, you can start to say no to things that are not important, you can decide not to do certain things, you can renegotiate commitments, etc. And eventually you will get to the point where your calendar and your task list truly reflect your priorities and what is important to you. Because all along the way you can make much more conscious and educated decisions.
Before I give some practical solutions to how you can use your calendar and task list and maintain a sense of spontaneity, I challenge anyone who has been resisting using a calendar and task list to look at what is truly at the root of that resistance. I promise you it is not the calendar and the task list itself.
Here are some practical tips and perspectives that might assist you in using a calendar and a task list right now, as you start to value their true benefits:
Showing Respect for Structure and Spontaneity
Your calendar is a tool to show respect to the people in your life. Making sure you don’t forget critical appointments, times scheduled with your friends, remembering promises you made is simply a matter of showing care.
Don’t use your calendar for scheduling tasks
Use your calendar only for the appointments with other people, or non-negotiable appointments with yourself. Don’t schedule every task. The main purpose of the calendar is to remind you where your body needs to be when, and for what purpose. If you only put in your absolute commitments then there will still be a lot of room for flexibility. Remember, the calendar only reflects the commitments that you already have made. It doesn’t create any more restrictions than there already are anyways.
Don’t make task list for every day
Instead, focus on what you want to accomplish throughout the week. If you feel a daily task list is too restrictive, then make a task list for your week. Not allotting a specific time or day for your tasks to be completed by gives you still a lot of room for when you want to do things.
You can only change a plan if you have a plan
This is again a different way to look at things. Flexibility is the ability to adapt to new, different or changing requirements. Having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t change it. But you can’t change a plan if you don’t have one. In fact you actually have a greater freedom of choice because you are more aware of the consequences of your choices.
One main purpose of an action list is to keep you on track
The purpose of an action list is not only to accomplish the tasks that are on the list. An action list is meant to move you closer to your goals. A lot of people have goals that they want to achieve and an action list is a great tool to help them get there faster.
Create a simple system
Everyone needs some kind of system otherwise their life ends up in pure chaos. What if your utilities would constantly be shut off because you don’t pay the bills on time? Pretty soon you put some kind of system in place that stops that from happening. The key is to keep it simple. For example, have a physical inbox where throughout the week you put all the random papers in and once a week you go through them and sort them. Simple.
Keep the bigger picture in mind
If you are more focused on what you need to get done, the sooner you can relax and do what is truly important to you (Read: “The real purpose of an Action List”)
For the majority of people there are always things that you need to get done today, even if you don’t want to.
If you can clearly identify what those things are, focus on them and get them done, then you will actually have true freedom for the rest of the day. This is structure and spontaneity
By getting your actions and calendar items down on paper you free up your mind to think about other things. By using these tools you will likely have more of a sense of calm and well being overall.