When I was still teaching, I always appreciated Convocation Day at my college, which occurred immediately before classes started in the fall. I don’t mean that I liked sitting in a room listening to administrators telling the faculty about this and that. That was often excruciating, and I was really glad for a side door when the lights went down. What I liked about it was that it signaled a return to structure in my life. From then until Christmas, I knew on most days where I needed to be and what I needed to do.
The lack of structure between semesters always presented challenges, but a far greater challenge for me emerged when I became a novelist and started filling every available hour on a book. I was glad to have absolutely nothing I had to do in the summer and on breaks, because it meant I could write, write, write till my eyes swam and my knees buckled when I stood.
It wasn’t good for my health or anything else about my life. Having too liitle to do and doing too much of one thing are both hazards, and I developed a way of dealing with this that has served me well not only while I was working but even today. I call it “Categories of Time.”
The concept is simple. I make a list of four to six activities that are essential to what I see as a balanced, satisfying life. Then I commit, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, to spend at least one hour on each. As long as I fit that hour in, I can spend the rest of the day distributed however I wish among all the categories. Of the roughly 16 hours a day I am not sleeping, I still have 11 that have no strings attached.
In the past, when I was actively writing, my categories looked like this: Writing, Exercise, “Laurel Maintenance” (anything from taking a shower, to paying bills, to grocery shopping), Promoting my Writing Career, and Wasting Time. Yes, I even built in the requirement not to be productive 24/7.
Then, as long as I did my hour of each, I could do whatever I wanted. This worked amazingly well for me because it would get me out of my desk chair if it got to to be mid-afternoon and I had done nothing but write. Four more categories before bedtime! Gotta get to the gym, gotta get those bills paid, gotta work on a blog post, even gotta play solitaire, or watch a movie. I stayed healthy, happy and, most important, well balanced by following this truly unburdensome approach to time.
I have very little I have to do for the next few months, as I don’t really need to start thinking about my fall cruise assignments until the end of July. Working on a new book, though, sets off alarm bells because I know, combined with no daily structure and no real demands on my time, how obsessive I can get.
So the other day I figured out the Categories of Time that are going to get me through this spring and summer. They’ve changed a little as my life has changed and also because my sense of what is important has been altered by the events of the last few years. Here are my 2022 categories:
Connect with Others
Waste an hour
Yes, it really works. Right now, if someone were to ask me “How was your day?” I can answer the best and happiest way possible: Balanced. Try it!