As my many productivity articles suggest, I lean towards scheduling my work tasks in advance. It helps me focus and cut down on the time I spend each day trying to decide what to do next.
But free time matters too.
In fact, planning unscheduled time in each day (another tip I picked up from the book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours) can help you get more done and feel less stressed.
How does scheduling free time help you get more done? In three ways:
- It makes room for unexpected tasks
- You can pursue ideas that excite you in the moment
- It opens time to consider the big picture
Free Time For The Unexpected
One reason to reserve free time in your work day or writing schedule is that things always come up that you didn't expect.
It might be something you wish you didn't need to do but that's vital.
Maybe your boss throws a new project at you. Or a longtime customer calls with a complaint. Perhaps you discover an article is due a week earlier than you thought or you miscalculated how much time you’d need to finish a manuscript before sending it to an editor.
We tend to treat these types of things as aberrations. But unexpected issues and tasks pop up at least once a week if not once a day.
If you don’t have open time in which to do them, you’ll need to spend even more time rearranging your other work. And/or you’ll find yourself working late or on weekends too often. (Something that I did a lot in my law practice. (I really wish I’d found Extreme Productivity back then. It explains so many of the issues I had.)
Planning time to deal with the unexpected makes work and writing much less stressful.
What Excites You Right Now
On a happier note, scheduling dedicated free time (I know, that’s an oxymoron but you know what I mean) also allows you to follow up on that thing that catches your attention and excites you.
Generally I’m a fan of putting my head down and doing the work, whatever that work is.
It’s how I've finished multiple novels. I don’t wait until I feel like writing, and I don’t stop writing if I feel a little frustrated or tired.
But spending your entire work life that way is wearing. And it’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to never go off on a tangent. That's part of what keeps life interesting and fun.
For example, a new story idea hits you that you're superexcited about right now. If you've got just 15 minutes set aside in your day as free time, you can jot down your thoughts or write a few paragraphs.
Odds are that after you do you'll feel refreshed and more able to focus on your other work.
The Big Picture
Open time each day also ensures that you have time to think beyond just getting your day-to-day work done.
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When I was running my law practice I typically scheduled every hour, cramming in as much as I possibly could. In the long run, I spent so much time grinding through each day that I never stepped back to ask myself if this was the type of practice (and life) I’d hope to create when I went out on my own.
As a result, while I liked running my own firm, after several years I discovered I had many of the same problems. Too much work and stress. Too little time to relax or write. Not enough of the types of legal work I enjoyed most.
I’ve heard from many authors who get into a similar position.
In their push to turn out multiple books so that they can earn a living, they lose track of the love of writing that drew them to the profession in the first place.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard to get to where you want to be. But reserving some free time allows you to consider where you are, how you feel about your work and your life, and what you might do differently for greater happiness.
That’s all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about setting up a healthier home office —