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Struggling to keep focused, keep on track, and handle the ever-changing demands on your time? The "Time...
Time Natives get curious about their environment and how they think, and they play with tools to find what works for them. This tools may work for you, or it may get you thinking about something you can play with.
Love the To-Do List, Hate the To-Do List
I confess: I’ve had serial love affairs with lists and calendars for the past 50 years.
These love affairs have always started brightly: my homework lists in high school were so helpful and comforting, gently saving me from forgetting an assignment, reassuring me that all my work was complete when I went to sleep. And, oh, I remember the excitement when, as a young freelance writer, I brought home my first “Week At A Glance” calendar – a beauty with a box for every 15 minute period of every hour of each working week for the entire year!
These sweet relationships always soured. Friendly lists grew into bloated nags, chiding my ineffectiveness and presenting a mountain of uncompleted tasks. And the calendars! So alluring at first, but so rigid! For years I tried to use a calendar to plan my workday – but a single phone call running overtime, one spontaneous nap on the couch, made the whole day wrong and sent me into a flurry of erasing and rewriting.
To-Do Lists and Calendars Fail Me
For decades before I began acting like a Time Native, I’d been struggling with this “time management” problem: lists tell me what I should do, with no guidance about when I should do them. Calendars are rigid maps of time; they can’t flex and respond as I go through my day.
The Dream: A GPS for Time
Not long ago, I sat up with a start, realizing that I don’t want a to-do list, I don’t want a calendar with a rigid map of my day … I want a “Time GPS” that guides me through whatever kind of day I’ve imagined … a “Time GPS” that’s unconcerned if I reach a particular intersection earlier or later than I’d expected … that automatically recalculates my route through the day when I take a detour.
But what would this magical “Time GPS” look like? Would it have to be high-tech? Would I have to hire a geek to create a smart-phone app? Would I actually have to buy a smart phone?
No. The “Time GPS” is simplicity itself. And cheap.
Here are the essentials of the Time Native “Time GPS”
- a stack of cards
- a timer
- a rubber band
By spreading out the cards in front of me, I can create an image of the day I want to have. I can see how the day will flow; I can instantly rearrange the cards so that a long stretch of writing is broken up by a trip to the drugstore or half an hour of laps in the pool.
Then I stack the cards, set the timer for the number of minutes I plan to spend on the first activity, and begin moving through the day I have just imagined. Whenever the timer is running, I can relax and focus. I know I don’t have to look at my watch; I don’t have to wonder if I’m forgetting anything; I can concentrate easily and completely on the one thing I’m doing right now. And the pocket-sized Time GPS can go with me anywhere.
Interruptions? Distractions? No Problem!
What if the phone rings? What if Carol bursts out of her office with a crucial computer problem or an invitation to take a bike ride? No problem. I pause the timer; I take the detour that life has offered me, and when I’m ready to resume the day I’ve planned, my Time GPS is ready to pick up just where I detoured from the plan.
When an activity is complete, I flip that card to the back of the stack, set the timer and start the next activity. If that next card doesn’t appeal to me right now, I can shuffle it into the stack later in the day, confident that my Time GPS will take me back to that particular stop later in the day.
When I think of something I want or need to do, but it doesn’t fit into today’s flow, I keep it at the back of the stack for another day, along with cards for activities I want to do every day: write in my journal, meditate, eat lunch, check e-mail, exercise.
What you can do now
If you’ve felt bullied by to-do lists and frustrated by the rigidity of calendars, why not grab a timer and a stack of cards (you can cut them from pieces of scrap paper, at zero cost) and start designing your own Time GPS?
Like all Time Native tools, this is offered for you to play with, adapt, re-invent and customize to suit your environment and your brain. It may work for some days and not for others. That’s good to notice; no tool works for every person, and no tool works for every environment that one person moves through.
Have fun playing with your own “Time GPS,” and let us hear what you invent.
My Time GPS has a card that reads, “Write the blog post.” I’m flipping that card to the back of the stack, now.
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