“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days,” Annie Dillard once said.
I cannot count how many times I have heard this advice for how to be more productive and maintain sanity during the pandemic:
Set a schedule, and stick to your routine.
Well, I don’t have a schedule! I do work when I feel like working, write when I feel like writing, exercise when I feel like exercising, and talk on the phone when I feel like talking on a phone.
People preach structure, constraints, and living with a schedule, so does this mean I’m a less valuable person and member of society because I don’t follow a schedule and have a hard-set routine. The first headline I see when I Google a “schedule” is “Want to Be Successful? Stick to a Schedule.”
Call me what you want — undisciplined and reckless. But I’m writing more than I ever have, exercising consistently, still working as much as I can, and overall just doing fine without a schedule.
When I don’t feel like doing something, I might come back to it later — and come back to doing something when I’m ready. I have a lot of obligations at work, including writing Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) for my special needs kids as well as teaching online.
Just because I don’t set a schedule doesn’t mean that I neglect my commitments — in fact, I take my commitments very seriously. If I agreed to be online and teach at a certain time, I will be there. If I agreed to go on a run with my friend (who is the only friend I’ve run with due to social distancing guidelines) at a certain time, I will be there.
But there’s a fine line between maintaining commitments and keeping a schedule. They’re not the same.
I don’t enjoy the feeling of constraining myself and making myself as if I’m putting myself in a cage. I manage my time naturally, by getting enough sleep and prioritizing different things at different times.
Now that the world is upside-down, I don’t have the normal workday schedule that requires me to go to work from 7–3. This is a time when if you want to do something, whether you want to take up a hobby, you do it. I’m actually enjoying my quarantine precisely I’m not following a schedule.
Let me make a disclaimer and say that I’ve been there before. I thought that I couldn’t get anything done or I couldn’t go on with life if I didn’t have a schedule. I thought I needed a schedule to make my life go on.
You know what a schedule does? It forces. It forces me to study when I don’t want to study. It forces me to exercise when I don’t want to exercise. It forces me to work when I don’t want to work — and it even forces me to eat when I don’t want to eat.
It becomes a regimented ritual that’s a predictable routine every day — and that’s great for some people, but it’s just not great for me. I don’t like the regimented ritual of trying to force things.
Take eating, for example. Take trying to eat lunch at noon every day and dinner every day at 6 p.m. Well, maybe it’s because my schedule is thrown off during the pandemic, but perhaps 6 p.m. is not a time I’m actually hungry. That’s the time I feel the most creative and want to write, so why would I eat at 6 p.m. when there’s something better I can do than eat?
I’m a person that loves spontaneity — and a schedule does not abide by spontaneity. I may have needed a schedule in the past, but now I can trust myself to get stuff done and be creative when left to my own devices now. I have enjoyed my life a lot more, been more productive, creative, and exercised a lot more since not following a schedule.
You know what you need more than a schedule? Priorities. If writing is a priority, then you’re going to do it — a lot. If exercise is a priority, you’re going to do it. If something is not a priority, you’re not going to spend your time on it and not do it.
If work is not a priority, and your kids are, then it showed during the pandemic. You probably spent much more time and attention to your kids than to your work.
You can’t force priorities like you can a schedule. You might be thinking that “hey, maybe I just need to re-align my priorities to get things done,” but it’s not that easy. Examine what your priorities are now, and list the top three right now.
For me, the top 3 priorities are my relationships, faith, and work. Take a day, probably on the weekend, to just do what you want and left to your own devices. Allow yourself that freedom and spontaneity that you often don’t allow yourself because you stick to a schedule.
If your priorities aren’t where you want them to be, that’s fine. But something is important to you for a reason — say you love reading but it’s a waste of time compared to doing work around the house or looking after your kids. Don’t beat yourself up because you think that your priorities are misaligned, but embrace your priorities where they are.
And when you focus on your priorities, you don’t need a schedule. Life is not so convenient in that we can do what we want all the time, and we often have to do things we don’t necessarily enjoy like housework, responding to work emails, or doing administrative work.
But I look at life more and more like the needs sidebar in The Sims, where we have a need for fun, being social, food, sleep, and even going to the bathroom. Focusing on our priorities in unstructured ways fulfills those needs far more effectively than trying to force a schedule.
Maybe it’s just because I don’t do a schedule right — and just because not having a schedule works well for me doesn’t mean you should do it too. But do give yourself time to have less structure and constraints, and not have to look at everything as a chore.
I don’t follow a schedule when working and navigating day-to-day life, and I’m doing fine, so just because everyone around you may be telling you to follow a schedule, you can do just fine without one.
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