The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.
For many months now — or is it years? — I’ve been on a quest. A quest to slow things down. A quest to stop running around like a maniac from calendar item to calendar item. A quest to breathe more and do less. And I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.
After being over-booked and over-worked for way too long, with too many days like this one, I finally realized that I have to stop overestimating the bandwidth of any given day. I have a bad habit of continually anticipating more time than I actually have, not leaving room for the significant amount of unexpected and last-minute requests and events that force me to shoe-horn my “regular” work into the margins. I decided to take drastic action with my schedule.
At the beginning of this month, I enacted a One Thing Only rule. This means that I only schedule one thing on any given day. There are still all of the regular activities — kids, domestic life, errands, hours of laptop-based work — but any kind of one-off that gets written in my calendar has to stand alone. This means that if I have a client meeting in the afternoon, I don’t schedule anything else for that day. If I decide to schedule morning coffee with a friend, I leave the afternoon unbooked. If I have a dentist appointment just after lunch, the rest of the day is locked down. Crazy, huh?
It hasn’t been easy. I still look at my planner and say “Well, on Thursday I only have a 30-minute coaching call at 11:00. I can fit an hour-long editorial conference call in at 2:00, right?” I mean, who wouldn’t do that? But the truth is, that with two or more events scheduled in any given day, reality eats up the rest of my schedule. I end up losing the hours of actual work time that I’d planned on. By the time I crawl into bed, I’ve been busy all day but I haven’t crossed off even half of the action items on my list. As a freelancer and a coach, I don’t get paid without billable time — and I don’t get billable time unless I’m at my desk, uninterrupted, doing my work.
Working for yourself means that you have the luxury — and the potential curse — of managing your time in the way that works best for you. If you’re a fulltime employee at an office, your time isn’t entirely within your control. There are days when you sit in endless meetings and feel like you didn’t get a moment of actual work done. Is there any way you can creatively apply the One Thing Only rule to parts of your workday, or at least your time away from the office?
In time, as the anxiety about being less scheduled recedes, what takes its place is a greater sense of calmness, focus, and satisfaction. You really can do more with less.
I’ll be writing more about the power of one in next month’s issue of the Creative Times. If you’re motivated to try this, or have already enacted a different plan for reducing your busy-ness, please share.