As a time-management consultant, I see a lot of schedules — so I know what I’m talking about when I say that Catherine Gillespie’s schedule was a work of art.
Gillespie, a strategy consultant, tracked her time for me last year as part of a time-makeover project I recently led. She was freelancing 30–40 hours a week while homeschooling her five kids — before the pandemic. She exercised in the mornings; she got together with friends. She made it all work.
So why was she seeking advice from me? She told me that she wanted to protect time for creative writing in her full life. Her husband was happy to take the kids for a few hours on Saturdays so she could write. But when work took longer than expected, or a client asked for a new project, she’d log the extra hours during those Saturday windows. And just like that, her writing time would be gone.
Her schedule worked when everything went according to plan. But it had to go according to plan.
It’s a common dilemma. People make time for things that matter to them. Then life happens, and the time gets taken away. It’s easy to get discouraged, but that’s not the only option. You can be more optimistic about life if you become more pessimistic about time. When you plan for what you’ll do when plans go awry, you increase the chances of making progress toward your goals.
Everything in life needs a back-up slot
In Gillespie’s case, I suggested the option of scheduling in a back-up slot for additional work, such as one to two designated weekday evenings, so that she wouldn’t need to use her Saturday time for any lingering tasks.
Other people find success by scheduling a back-up slot for an activity they’re trying to do. Elizabeth Morphis, a professor, needed to submit a journal article by a June 1 deadline. She planned to work from 6–9 a.m. each day during the week of May 18th to fit the writing in around her teaching commitments. “But I decided to carve out additional hours each day of the weekend to work on the manuscript, just in case,” she says.