One of my favorite ways of wasting time is solving problems I don’t have.
Please tell me you do this too.
Lately, it’s been my calendar. My day job is filled with meetings but my personal life is quite simple. All my adult life, I’ve managed my workday via the corporate Outlook calendar and my personal appointments on a monthly wall calendar that hangs in my kitchen.
Simple, effective, efficient. I’ve never missed a dentist appointment.
When I’m away from home and someone asks me to do something on a specific day, I tell them that I’d like to but have to double-check my calendar at home. This gives me extra space to make sure it’s something I really want to do and not just give a knee-jerk “yes” in the moment.
A perfect system. And yet I continually try to improve it.
First I decided my calendar needed to be portable. Now that I work from home, when I make a dentist appointment, I have to walk all the way downstairs to put it on the wall calendar. (Never mind that when I worked in an office all day, I had zero access to my wall calendar. I e-mailed myself a reminder and wrote it down when I got home.)
So I bought a nice big Moleskine Weekly Planner.
I always looked at my wall calendar in the morning while I drank my coffee to get a view of critical appointments over the next few days. It’s automatic and foolproof. But now every morning, the planner was upstairs on my desk, and I forgot to look at it.
So I brought it down into the kitchen and left it open on the kitchen counter. Except when I forgot. Or, I left it on the counter when I started the work day, so when I had to add something, I ran back down the stairs.
Just like with my wall calendar.
Also, this planner is huge—roughly 8×10, with the days of the week on one side, and a blank page for notes on the other. Since I was used to having only a 1.5 inch square per day to write on, I was at a loss as to what to do with all this extra real estate.
So I started adding my personal to-do list to the planner. Never mind that I already have a way of managing my to-do’s—I write them in a pocket notebook that I review each morning.
That still wasn’t enough to fill these huge weekly pages. So I started trying to time block my day. Time management experts on podcast after podcast were telling me that the only obstacle between me and Elon Musk-level success was writing out what you were going to do every hour of every day in advance.
So I planned every hour of Monday, and made a rough sketch for the rest of the days of the week.
My world domination plan was in motion.
Then I proceeded to ignore the time blocks and work off my list, like I always do.
Elon Musk’s legacy is safe from me.
For the first time, my calendar overwhelmed me. The notebook was a cluttered mess of places I had to be, things I had to do, things with deadlines, and things without.
So did I go back to my old, simple system that had never let me down?
I did not.
I decided that I needed a better way to update my time blocks when things went off track, and access to my calendar and lists on my phone, which I have with me in the kitchen and at my desk.
I was going digital.
I started using Google Calendar to manage my appointments. For a second week I planned everything—when to get up, when to exercise, when to watch TV and what to watch.
Then I binged three episodes of the excellent Reacher* series on Amazon Prime, blowing past my time blocks allocated to watching the Amazing Race and going to bed on time.
Time blocking my tasks was out. What I needed was a way to keep my calendar and to-do list separate. But I was digital now, so I downloaded a digital to-do list app. I picked Todoist. I typed in all my to-do’s, and then started adding things that I never put on my to-do list—like vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom—that I used to just do when they looked like they needed doing.
I careened wildly between two extremes—I’d work like mad to complete my list, obsessing over trivial things I hadn’t done.
I did this until I exhausted myself and then I’d completely ignore the list and my calendar for a day or two.
This is self-imposed madness. And the road to a missed dentist appointment.
Then last week I finally devised the perfect system—I deleted the apps and threw away the desk planner.
Now I use a wall calendar in the kitchen to keep track of my appointments, and write my to-do’s in a pocket notebook.
Simple, effective, efficient.
Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier?
*I was going to write about Reacher, but Jamie Todd Rubin captured perfectly everything I wanted to say. Check out his “reading my mind” review here.