It would be understandable for you to think this is just another time management article. While that could end up being partly true the primary focus is the question the title is asking: Is my schedule too busy? I believe we have to examine some simple items in our life to intelligently begin to answer that question. This might require something to write with, some paper and some uninterrupted time. Spoiler alert, if you cannot find time to do this simple exercise, you have already answered the question.
I would like to start the discussion with a subject that is near and dear to my heart, sleep. How many hours do you sleep? I am not here to argue how long a human should sleep. There is a plethora of data available on the web to handle that job satisfactorily. When I was a Father of newborn twins I probably logged about 12 hours of REM sleep circa 1984, and that was for the entire year. A new trend is starting to emerge with many of the Fortune 100 CEO’s leading the charge. Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and others log about 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night. This is not a debate about how many hours of sleep you should be getting at night, it is more about how many hours are available to sleep when you complete your day? Many people I talk with recognize their sleep quantity is not sufficient for their needs. I remember an exercise that was presented to us in the Marine Corps on time management. It was interesting that we started with the time we wanted to be in bed and worked backward from that point. Everything, in other words, was developed around the hours you wanted to sleep. At the time, I thought sleep was for the weak and those that could not rough out a rigid schedule. My thinking about sleep has certainly changed. Our productivity can be tied to the number of hours we sleep in a given night. You do not have to take my word for this, there have been many studies that confirm this fact. This is not even considering the health benefits of sleep that immediately improves our quality of life. If you do not have time for 8 hours of sleep, your schedule is running you.
Some people live and die by the to-do list. I read David Allen’s book “Getting things done” and it was revolutionary for me. This system has since become so popular many people know it as GTD. I am a technical geek and love electronic gadgets. Smartphones alone can be so beneficial to our busy schedules in saving us time. The problem with becoming more efficient with our time is we are inclined to put more on our schedules. The liberation of free time is soon lost when we realize it has been replaced with two other items. Dinners, children’s sports programs, civic organizations, church activities; it appears everything is vying for our time in today’s society. Maybe the one response we have forgotten how to say is “No” to some things. There are many worthwhile events that will happen this week. If a person was to say yes to everything that was meaningful, there wouldn’t even be time to sleep, which was already covered previously. There are some things that are hard deadlines we must do in a week, going to work, taking the kids to school and attending activities that begin at a specific time. If you think about it, there are many more things that do not have hard schedule times. So, why do we stress about our schedules so much? Are most of these pressures we put on ourselves self-inflicted? I would be inclined to say yes, we set ourselves up with a schedule that requires the precision of a space shuttle launch and when anything is altered, we are in emergency lockdown until the schedule is completed. One more example before we move on. I see people trying to get to work on time with the same type of precision, leaving no room for error. The unhappy motorists are on edge before they even reach work, and work can sometimes be another labyrinth of impossible time schedules. They head home at the same insane pace to make sure all the aforementioned evening activities: dinner, children’s sports, homework and taking the dog for a walk are completed as per schedule. This happens to many people every day when what they really desire is a moment to relax and just rest. If you can identify with any of this paragraph, your schedule might be too busy.
I gauge my schedules effectiveness by the quality of conversations I am able to engage in during the day. Do not get me wrong, there are times when deadlines do not permit a few minutes for a conversation. This lack of time to converse with friends, family, and co-workers should be the exception and not the rule. Our relationships in life are the most valuable thing we possess. If we do not have time for meaningful conversations with the people we love, we are too busy, period. Part of the problem is not the moment you try to have a conversation but everything that has led up to that moment. I have already discussed all the crazy schedule requirements and the stress and anxiety they can cause. This reminds me of a runaway train, you can stop it, but it is going to take time and effort. If someone asks do you have a minute and you feel that nervous feeling coming over you, one of two things are in effect:
1. The person asking is notoriously long-winded
2. Your schedule is too busy
I know that seems cut and dry, but it really is when it comes to having one minute to listen to someone. Listen, not multi-task while they are trying to speak. Listen, not looking at your phone, replying to a text or checking your to-do list. Listen, look them in the eye and make them feel they are the most important thing in your schedule even if just for one minute. Do this for me if you will. Take a moment, quit reading (if you don’t have a minute, well, you know) think about the last meaningful conversation you were engaged in with someone other than your spouse or children. My blog motto is Listen.Think.Act. You will find a busy schedule will interfere with at least 2 of the 3 in that process if not all 3. Hopefully, during my conclusion, I will have suggestions you might find beneficial for your busy schedule. If you can’t make it to the end of this blog, your schedule might be too busy.
The last thing I want to discuss is what I refer to as “A do nothing day”. This might not be what it sounds like. I usually like to take one day a week where my schedule is my own. I can sit and watch college football. I can take a nap. I can take my wife out to lunch. Better yet, I can do something she wants to do. It relieves me of having to think up what I want to do. I like the old western movies and shows, growing up in the 1970’s. I remember a show called “The Big Valley”, it was one of my all-time favorites. I thought it was cool the way the cowboys rode horses everywhere. I also noticed, they would tie the horse to a post in front of a water trough and let them rest, drink and refresh their energy. I think you see where I am going with this analogy. You must take care of yourself by resting, relaxing and enjoying the people you have in your life. If you do not have time for “A do nothing day”, your schedule might be too busy. Before I conclude, I would like you to think of the perfect “Do nothing day” and start planning for that day. Just the thought alone is refreshing.
In conclusion, I think most of us can say we allow our schedules to get to busy at times. If you do not have enough time to get the sleep you need, you will need to go on a scheduled diet. What is a scheduled diet? If we intend to lose weight, we often go on a diet. This concept is very simple, take in fewer calories than you use. So what would a scheduled diet look like in the first place? You write down your schedule and then find one thing to remove from that schedule. The only stipulation, it shouldn’t be something you enjoy that you remove. Try it this week. you will gain some sleep and reduce your stress at the same time. The second item is to simplify your to-do list. Some things can be moved around in order to accommodate a better flow for your day. Some things need to be removed altogether from the list. Try it, carve that to-do list up a bit and see what happens to your schedule. You might find it even allows you to be more productive. Third, have a meaningful conversation with someone you love. Turn off the phone, don’t just silence it, turn it off. Give the other person your full attention. Listen more than you talk and they will consider you a great conversationalist. You will also start bonding again with the people that matter most in your life. Fourth, don’t just dream of that “Do nothing day” plan it and set a date for the event. The day will be something you look forward to and enjoy thoroughly. You might find it to be just what your life needs right now. There are many books that will explain how to reduce your schedule and make you more productive. There is outstanding learning we can achieve from these self-help books. I encourage you to try these simple steps I have outlined in this blog and give me your feedback on the things that work for you. I hope your schedule becomes manageable and enjoyable for you and your loved ones. Make the changes you need for a better life. Will it work? Only time will tell.
Last time you had a do nothing day?