Those of you who read Alpha Efficiency Magazine will know that we love Patrick Rhone. He speaks a great deal of sense and you should listen to what he has to say; that’s why we put him on the cover of Issue 8.
I recently read Patrick’s posts on Why you should put your tasks on a calendar and how this can help you get the most from your time and whilst I think Patrick makes a good argument, I’d like to offer an alternative view.
Life is unpredictable
It’s possible that some people lead very linear, predictable lives that run precisely to an expected schedule, but I don’t think I’ve ever met such a person. My days are always chaotic, whether that’s because the traffic’s bad on my commute, a “crisis” has erupted in the office or because one of my kids has slalomed off the sofa on a toy truck and bled all over the floor.
Life is unpredictable; it throws curve balls at us constantly. Fundamentally we have two responses to this chaos: we can thrust structure and order upon it, bending it to our iron will in an attempt to stop it being so unpredictable; Or we can make ourselves more dynamic; allow ourselves to be blown in unexpected directions and develop coping strategies for whatever arises as a result.
It’s essentially the same problem that faces engineers trying to make buildings that can survive earthquakes: Do you make it as rigid and strong as you can, impervious to all that nature can throw at it? Or do you allow it to yield, flex and bend as the ground churns and shifts beneath it?
Both are legitimate strategies, but I find that by starting the day with rigid expectations about what you will accomplish – and when that will be accomplished – you have to create a set of regimens and structures that are impervious to whatever the day throws at you – whether that’s in the form of distractions (which are mostly bad) or opportunities (which are often good). You gain predictability, but you lose spontaneity.
Humans are rubbish at failing
The second reason I dislike scheduling tasks that aren’t time critical is that I dislike failure. Scheduling a task and then not achieving that task is tantamount to breaking a promise to yourself (or worse, others). When you say to yourself: “I’m going to do X, Y and Z on this day” and fail, it’s human nature to feel disappointed. It’s also human nature to use failure and disappointment as an excuse to fall completely off the wagon. This is why it only takes 1 cigarette to completely derail a reformed smoker, or 1 cream cake to cause a committed dieter to throw in the towel.
The more rules we set ourselves, the more opportunities we create for failure. The more we fail, the less motivated we become to stick to our goals and push ourselves forwards. This applies as much to our “big dreams” as it does to the every day tasks. If you schedule a task onto your calendar, my advice is to be damn sure you’re able to achieve it – and don’t attempt too many.
My personal preference is to start out the day with a list – and in particular having identified the “big rocks” that Patrick also talks about – with an awareness and understanding of the relative priority of those tasks. When something unexpected comes along (and it will), have the discipline to assess that event against the urgency and importance of your other tasks and decide whether you will flex and adjust to accommodate this new scenario, or stay true to your original plan.
Pick Your Strategy
Decide what you want to be. Are you firm, or are you flexible? Are you rigid, structured and resilient or are you dynamic and nimble, alway bending and adjusting? The firm among you would do well to adopt Patrick’s strategy. For the flexible, I recommend caution when putting tasks on your calendar.