On Time Scarcity, 1: Don't Panic, Work The Plan

 

Stanford homework, coaching homework, the other coaching homework, the Money class, the Power class and the Search Inside Yourself homework.

In my drive to be the best Coach I could be when the time came to make the jump from aerospace into coaching full time I had somehow convinced myself that I could work full time and have a minimum of four class loads and sets of homework on the go at the same time for well over two years straight. And run the household. And be a loving partner and a good friend, sister, Aunt and daughter.

I am a lifelong learner, knowledge is my drug of choice.

This sets me up for some interesting left and right brain dichotomies (more on that later), and since I’m equal parts a Kolbe Conative Fact Finder and Quick Start I tend to jump in and do all the learning at once. So this latest scheduling hiccup was, in the parlance of “Billions”, not unfamiliar.

I looked at my weekly plan, elegantly color-coded with “Work”, “Homework”, “Class” already blocked out and wondered where I could fit “Cookery” and “Exercise” and all the other things I was supposed to be doing in as well. There had to be a way.

“There’s not enough time!” I pushed the thought away. It’s what my linear, left brain thought processes would repeat at me at every moment that I wasn’t either working or doing homework or attending classes in the last year and a half. And the panic that inevitably accompanied that thought process was what I wanted to avoid. Because that panic was a killer.

It killed my motivation, my ability to see clearly how to get everything accomplished. It made me fog out, head to the fridge, check social media or find my bookshelf needed alphabetizing in just that moment. Like all of us, I kept reminding myself. Self-attack wouldn’t help me.

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules.” - Anthony Trollope

I read the quote again and reminded myself that if I looked at the totality of homework and work and classes it would be overwhelming. But if I broke all of these down into manageable chunks I could handle each one. So I kept breaking down the totality into chunks.

And that’s really what the last 18 months looked like if I looked back through my planner. Each week was subdivided down into chunks of tie dedicated to one thing and one thing only. “Stanford”, “Coaching”, “Power”, “Money”, “SIY” were the building blocks of each day. Chunks of 2-3 hours where nothing else got my attention, I had singular focus and I systematically worked through whatever the tasks were for that week and that week only. No thought of last week, or next week, or how the course was going in total— only what needed to get done this week.

And as soon as I was done – looking ahead to the next week’s tasks and planning out how I was going to get those done.

It was a long march of week to week to week, with few breaks and I treasured the tiniest amounts of breathing room that appeared in my schedule – a cancelled call, a class without homework. It was relentless, and hard. I cried more than once.

"In life there are five important things: family, friends, health, work and exercise and that as an entrepreneur you have time for three of them." - Anonymous 

I think the same should be said of students who are working full time. My three were work, family and a few friends (apologies to the rest, I will find you next year). Thankfully my health was pretty good and needed little attention. Exercise? Let’s just say that’ll be next year’s project. And a lot of the house stuff had to be outsourced: when classes got especially heavy and I didn’t have time to cook we used a meal delivery service. We had a cleaning service come in once a month to ensure that our home didn’t turn into a hovel. Thank you Amazon Prime for ensuring we didn’t starve or wear clothing with holes in it.

And then, I got an incredible job offer on the west coast, which meant accelerating and finishing our house renovation project, moving across the country, finding housing, moving our possessions, finding my partner a job and buying a new home. All while the class load continued unabated. Back to the building blocks. Chunks of time with singular focus. It was the only way to stay sane, even as the to do list exploded.

Sometime back in 2015 I had begun to experiment with paper and pen planning versus electronic tasks lists. I kept switching back and forth, couldn’t decide on one versus the other. I tried the GTD methodology, even set up very complicated time and location-based Omnifocus list systems that would ping me and alert me as I moved from home to work and in-between. I tried Apple reminders, and location-based to do lists and Remember The Milk, and, and, and I got really, really, REALLY good at ignoring them. All of them.

Avoidance at its finest.

Weeks would go by without me even opening the app. Post-Its and paper lists intertwined with multiple electronic task lists, resulting in time panic and everything feeling last minute.

In the fall of 2017 I fully committed to pen and paper. Everything in the planner, if it’s not there it doesn’t exist. Yes, my calendar was on my phone but once a week I sat down and drew out my week, chunked out time for all my classes and work and homework, filled the gaps with to dos and outsourced out the rest.

Just like electronic to do lists, paper planners are no good if you ignore them. But something about the act of writing, the process of seeing my week planned out in different colors and filled to the brim was satisfying and most importantly, memorable.

I remembered more of what needed to be done and planned my time better. I looked forward to the feeling of knowing that no matter how hectic the week will be, it was planned. The plan was flexible and could adapt.

Every week fit into the goals and plan for the month, which was part of on overall plan for the year.

I’d built the habit. Looking through my planner for the previous 12 months I could only find three weeks where I hadn’t done that. And what’s really interesting is that in every week and every month there are marks showing how much I got done – on top of all the homework assignments and classes being completed on time.

Sure, there are to do list items that migrated from week to week and things that got pushed aside because they were no longer important. But all the big stuff got done. Because every time I heard that panicky voice in my head saying “there’s not enough time” I just put my head down and worked the plan.

And so here we are, 18 months later, a few weeks out from the last two of the six classes being complete. No missed homework assignments. A new home in another part of the country. A new business. I did it.

Would I recommend such a heavy class load all at once? No. The confidence of knowing that I can handle an insane amount of work doesn’t mean I want to.

And it would be really easy to end there, but I would be omitting one other important thing.

Don't forget to play.

Even in the deepest, darkest moments of “head down, work the plan” I made room for play. Whether it was a dance break, an ice cream break, putting new parts on the motorcycle or a coloring book. But that’s a story for another time. And, while I’m at it: if you have little humans at home and/or you can’t afford to outsource stuff to family or paid help, AND you still manage to do everything I talked about above, then I bow down to your time management skills, because you are a frakking superhuman.

Next year? Same planning system. No classes. It’s time to integrate all the learning. And it’s time to get back to skiing and scuba diving and riding motorcycles.

And I get to coach for a living.

Pinch me, life is good.


Related Articles:

On Time Scarcity, 2: Strategic Choices In The Attention Economy
On Time Scarcity, 3: Wresting Back What's Yours
On Time Scarcity, 4: Letting The Mud Settle

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