Before I understood how to use a calendar, I had blank, 3*5 index cards. I’d carry a fat stack of them, bound with a bulldog clip, in my messenger bag. I’d use them for everything; idea capture, task capture, ad hoc business cards, inspirational quotes, everything. One discreet notion per index card, detailed specifics on the back if needed.
When it was time to work, I’d go through the binder, find the card with the best combination of urgent & enjoyable and I’d get started. The first step:
Place the selected index card between keyboard and monitor.
That way, when I got distracted, when I forgot what I was doing, when my attention was pulled away, I would just look down at the card to get back on track.
This worked really well, and if you find getting back into a task after being pulled away difficult, I highly recommend the visual reminder of an index card.
Notice however, none of the items I selected were ever sufficiently compelling to keep me from being distracted, either by internal or external stimuli. I was always looking for something more urgent, more interesting, more exciting, than the card I selected. Which meant every task took longer than it should.
Then, I determined my distractibility was a problem. I turned first to naps then to meditation to tame my monkey mind and identify what was actually important. I reconfigured my office to be more comfortable and enjoyable to work in. I increasingly said ‘No’ to the small ball work the seems so prevalent. All of this helped evaporate my guilt of disconnected for minutes (hours! weekends!) at a time. Simultaneously, the number of nights and weekends I spent on client projects was reduced to zero.
It turns out, most everything doesn’t need to happen immediately – if at all. That tweet doesn’t actually require a reply. Nor does that email. No one cares if you don’t publish another podcast. No one cares if you don’t publish that blog post. Some things, in fact, can be left unresolved without consequence.
It turns out, not one of those index cards ever included anything actually satisfying;
– have lunch with your wife,
– take a nap,
– contemplate the sunrise,
– hug your kids,
– go to bed by 10pm.
In the end, that fat binder of 3*5 To Dos turned out to be a precious collection of brain farts, drunken texts, chindogu, and deck chair rearrangements. Each one assumed it was more necessary than the next, that only I could perform it, and that I was some immortal vampire desperately looking for something, anything to keep me from realizing I’d lost my humanity (perhaps I had).
Let’s make three assumptions:
1. We’re here to make a unique, positive, and lasting contribution to the world.
2. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
3. The world will keep spinning.
Now, without looking at your To Do list, close your eyes, take three clarifying breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth), and complete this sentence:
Across all my entire life, the one thing I most wish I could do at this moment is __________________.
Whatever your answer is, I bet it was far more exciting, interesting, and satisfyingly human, than anything in your collection of To Dos.
Imagine doing that thing, from start to finish. What’s actually keeping you from doing that thing right now. Yes, right now. The number of things you’re completely restricted from doing right now are very few. Surprise yourself and just do the thing. If you are in fact totally hampered from completing it at this moment, take the first step in fulfilling your wish:
Open up your calendar and schedule it for the first absolutely possible moment you can.
Maybe that’s later today, maybe that’s tomorrow morning. No later. Now, set it recurring. If not every week, every month.
Welcome to your calendar practice.
It’s not just for doctor appointments and staff meetings. It’s for all of you. It’s for trips to art museum, it’s for dates with your spouse, it’s for bike rides with your kids, and neighborhood kubb games.
It’s your calendar that contains the unique activities most likely to make you smile and remind you why you’re here.