This is what made me pick up the book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam. (Yes, it has the same title as one of my books, but is a very different topic! lol) Y'all know I love a productivity book, but this one is less about productivity, and more about finding the white space in your schedule and feeling like you have "all the time in the world" instead of feeling like you're always rushed and behind.
Vaderkam had a large group of people in different professions track their time, and she used the results for this book. One interesting thing she found was that a lot of the people in very busy, high-powered positions often felt like they had more time, but it was because they'd learn strategies to make it that way. So this book goes into a number of strategies to help create that feeling of space in your schedule, of slowing down and savoring.
I won't go deeply into each of these because the book is worth a read and I did lots of underlining, but each strategy has its own chapter title and I'll touch on those.
Chapter 1: Tend Your Garden
Her basic premise here is that in order to do anything about your time, you need to know where it's actually going. We're really bad at estimating how much time we spend doing certain things. Like, you know, how often we're sucked into social media. Or how few minutes it actually takes to wash the dishes. So she recommends tracking your time by the half-hour ALL DAY for at least a week.
"...one of the most striking findings of my survey was the gap in estimated phone checks per hour between people who felt relaxed about time and those who felt anxious" --pg. 8
I've done time-tracking on and off over the years, which is made easy with the Day Designer planner I use, and I have found it helpful. If you're honest in your tracking, you can see where your time is getting wasted or squandered. It's sobering when you realize you popped over to check twitter for a minute and wasted forty minutes instead. So this practice takes discipline, but I think it is a great exercise to kind of give you an overview.
"Time passes whether or not we think about how we are spending it. Tracking forces me to think about it." --pg. 35
Chapter 2: Make Life Memorable
This was probably my favorite chapter of the book. I have a TERRIBLE memory. Terrible, y'all. And I hate that so many memories sift through my fingers (probably because I'm moving too fast.) So this chapter was about the science of what makes a memory stick. We know that novel experiences and experiences with high emotion (good and bad) are more likely to burn into our memories. But does that mean the ordinary days are destined to just compress in our minds and give us that sense of time just flying by? Vanderkam argues that no, there are things we can do. She encourages us to record things in a journal (or in your time tracker if you're doing that). Nothing elaborate but something that will help the day stick a little better.
"One might inquire this of any twenty-four hours. Why is today different from all other days? Why should my brain bother holding on to the existence of this day as it curates the museum of my memories?" --pg. 64
I love this concept and am going to give it a try. I'm terrible at journaling, but this seems less intimidating--just marking down what was special about that day. Not only does it provide a record, but the actual act of writing it down helps your memory keep it better. And she said taking photos isn't enough because unless we curate them, it's just a big jumble of a file in our phone. (Guilty as charged!)
Chapter 3: Don't Fill Time
This one is pretty obvious but still not as easy in practice if you're not deliberate about it. The main points are: leave white space on your calendar (to account for things running over, unexpected things, thinking time, etc.) and don't say yes to things unless you really want/need to do it. (This goes back to the "if it's not a hell yes, it's a no" thing.) I liked a particular question she posed about how to decide whether to agree to something in the future. She warns that we don't think of our future selves as "us", so we assign those future versions of ourselves things present "us" really doesn't want to do because we think this imaginary future "us" will totally be into it by the time it gets here. I'm SO guilty of this. So she suggests this question:
"Would I do this tomorrow?" and "Would you be tempted? Would you try to move things around to fit this new opportunity?" --pg. 98
Also in the "don't fill time" category is the technology/phone habit. Every moment that you have to wait in a line or wait for an appointment doesn't need to be filled with social media or the web. It makes us fee busier. It erases that sense of downtime or space in your schedule (beyond being a distraction.) I also think it sucks up time we could use for those things we'd "like to do if we had more time." Like, for me, I always want more reading time. My TBR pile is out of control. But if I'm on the couch and bored and pick up my phone, I could lose half an hour just scrolling or answering email. Instead, I could pick up a book and spend that time doing something I love and want to do. When I started paying attention (and dialing back) my social media time last year, I noticed a big difference in how many books I read. (In 2016 I read 42 books, in 2017 I read 63. I've read almost 30 this year so far.)
Chapter 4: Linger
This chapter is mostly about mindfulness and learning to savor the present. One of the tactics I loved was recommended by a psychology professor she interviewed. He imagines himself in his elderly years when his health is failing and he can't do much anymore and imagines that version of himself looking back at today, feeling the wistfulness of "I wish I could be doing that again" and then knowing that, hey, that IS today for me. I'm here in this moment right now.
Chapter 5: Invest in Your Happiness
Her advice: if you can afford to, farm out hated/annoying tasks that can be done by others that are sucking up valuable time. If you can pay someone to cut your lawn and save yourself the time, do it. But this chapter also talked about "paying yourself first" with your time. Meaning, if you want to write a book, give yourself that chunk of time in your schedule first before anyone else gets your time. Even if it's just a little bit. I learned this when I took Becca Syme's Write Better Faster class--write first. Before the distractions come. Before the busy work or demands others put on your time. I don't always follow that because my creative brain kicks in more in the afternoon, but I still use it in concept because I block off that time for my writing. I give myself my most creative, productive hours and don't hand those off to other people's needs/tasks.
Chapter 6: Let It Go
Life is life, and things are going to get in the way of best laid plans. The water heater is going to break when you planned a writing day. You're going to get caught in traffic and screw up the afternoon's schedule. You're going to get a cold that knocks you on your butt. Vanderkam's advice is to learn to let it go. Just do what you can do with the time you have.
"When I tell myself, OK, you only have this time, just do what you can do, I surprise myself. I can write an article draft in a few hours. I can edit it in those ninety-minute chunks. Indeed, when I tell myself to just do what I can, even if it is only a little bit, because it is better than nothing, that something, done repeatedly, adds up." -- pg. 173
I need this reminder often because I like to write in big three-hour blocks. If my schedule gets messed up and I only have an hour and a half, I feel like--well, why bother? But I can get a decent amount of words in an hour or whatever if I focus on it. So I need to not throw out the whole plan if things didn't go perfectly.
Chapter 7: People Are a Good Use of Time
This section focuses on spending quality time with your family and friends and colleagues because that kind of experience often expands time and makes great memories. What I particularly loved about this chapter was the idea of planning your off hours.
"Few people would show up at work at 8:00am with no idea about what they'd do until 1:00pm, and yet people will come home at 6:00pm having given no thought to what they'll do until they go to bed at 11:00pm. This is how people will claim to have no time for their hobbies, even though they're clearly awake for two hours or more after their kids go to bed...It is simply that they haven't thought about this time, and so it feels like it doesn't exist." --pg. 204
I love this idea and have seen it in action. Most of us don't want to schedule ourselves down to the second in our off time. However, last year when we did device-free summer, I had to be deliberate about what was going to fill some of kidlet's free time instead. I wanted to make it fun and to help him realize life without the devices and video games could be way cooler. So on our calendar I planned movie nights and board game night. I scheduled nights that he'd help me cook dinner. We planned for outings like putt putt or bowling. It gave the summer a feeling of adventure, and it cemented a lot of those things in my memory. I remember the movies we watched together as a family. I remember binge-watching The Goldbergs and teaching kidlet about life in the 80s. I remember an epic game of Upwords. It made simple things into events and made the summer feel special and full. I plan to do that again this summer, but I also need to take this idea and use it all through the year.
So, if you can't tell, I really enjoyed the book and got a lot from it. I'm going to take away a lot of ideas. I'm tracking my time again, and I'm going to attempt to journal. I'll report back!
How is your summer shaping up? Do you seek out a slow summer?