Why We Should Schedule an Empty Schedule

The world is set to Monet filter today.

The world is set to Monet filter today.

No one expects anything of me today except me.

Sometimes I love days like that, especially after a long string of pressure. (Today it feels fantastic.) As a steady diet, it gets lonely. I need both kinds of motivation–the external demands and the internal expectations–or at least, I can use both kinds. Both are going to result in stuff getting done. I just feel differently while I’m doing it. Some days, external demands can make me resentful. Some days, they inspire me, or at least push me. And of course, sometimes they’re the only reason I’m not just knitting and watching podcasts.

Other days I just want to do what I want to do in the order I want to do it in. And it still gets done, for the most part. If it doesn’t, it’s likely I piled on too much, or just really need a break.

I was thinking that my column–my day job–was really the “external” demand while my book, and all the other work around it, was “internal” but it doesn’t really work like that for me. Some days, anything with a clock attached makes me feel boxed in, whether it’s a research interview for the book or one for the column–or even a date with a friend. So it’s not really where the expectation comes from, it’s the form it takes. I need a fully free-form day at least once a week with no phone calls and nothing on the calendar. It doesn’t mean I’m not working. It means I’m working differently.

I’m trying to build that into my schedule now–and thinking, too, that it doesn’t just apply to me-the-writer, but to me-the-parent and to my family as well. With spring sports starting, I have kids coming home with activities and things they want to do and saying “but I don’t have anything Tuesdays.”

I try to remind that them that they like days when the “don’t have anything.” That those are the days when you choose, the days without hard stops and transitions. Just because I don’t have a blocked out phone call doesn’t mean I won’t make a phone call, just because I don’t have a deadline doesn’t mean I won’t finish anything. Jut because you don’t “have” a sport doesn’t mean you want find a way to play one; just because the afternoon looks empty certainly doesn’t mean it will be.

In general, I’m a planner. I like to know what’s for dinner, where we’re going, how long it takes to get there, what’s on the agenda and when it has to be done. But I think I do that to free up the spaces around those things, and then appreciate feeling wide open.

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