“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Though 2019 was a phenomenal year, looking back, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in myself. Looking back, I see so much good but also see a lot of wasted time. I lost hours playing games on my phone, binge watching TV, an scrolling Facebook or Twitter when I got bored. These where hours I could have been learning something new, reading more books, writing something, making something, doing absolutely anything else that would have been more fulfilling. I spent my year the way I spent my days and there were more days spent living a life I didn’t want than I am comfortable with.
I’m a naturally anxious and avoidant person. It’s not the failure I’m afraid of, or even the success. I don’t like to try because trying means finding out so much about yourself and there are things I worry I will find out that go beyond success and failure. So, I spin my wheels. I do what feels like work but isn’t I talk a lot about what I want and dream about who I will be after. I avoid living the life I say I want by mimicking, by wasting time, by making excuses. I don’t want to do that anymore.
So, I’m taking a moment to acknowledge that going forward the same as I always have in past years will only get me the same results I have ended past years with. I would like to step into a new decade with better prospects. I would like to try something new and perhaps make a little more progress this time around the sun. I’d like to live a little more like I the person I want to be one day.
This year I have a plan, and that plan is just to make a plan. If you think it sounds too simple or small for a new year’s resolution, I would agree. I refuse to refer to it as such. It’s not a big goal, or grand lifestyle change, it’s only a one, tiny habit change. All I have to do is make a daily schedule. I don’t have to plan the year. I don’t have to plan my months or weeks. No, in 2020 I will focus solely on the day to day, the hour to hour, the minute, by minute, by minute. I’ll spend my life the way I want to by making sure each day contains all the life I want to live inside of it.
I’m starting with Google calendar and carving out blocks of time for everything from when I sleep, when I wake up, when I work out, when I get ready for work, when I can eat, read, write, and watch TV. I have time for my wife, my family, my pets and myself scheduled to the minute. I have time for podcasts, for social media, for journalling, for making art, and for simply sitting and thinking for a while. Each event has a reminder set for one hour before so I know what comes next and when it’s time to begin there are notes and to do list items so I know where to focus.
In the evenings I’ll look over my calendar to adjust the days ahead. I can add events, to-do items, and notes. I can add more time, move events around, or delete them entirely. Of course not everything can be included into every day. Some days there may be no reading or writing at all because I’ll be working, traveling, spending time with family, or with friends, or shopping, running errands, or I simply decided to do something else or nothing at all. The point is not to do anything in particular but to make a choice. This time next year when I look back on this one I will know that wherever I ended up, whatever I did or didn’t do and whether I chose to focus or to slip into mindlessness more often than not, I will at least know it was up to me.
I know the exercise won’t be easy. There is so little in life we have a choice about. Even by making a schedule there is really only a small fraction of the day I can call my own. My day job demands a lot from me. My friends and family need me. I have responsibilities and obligations. I have to eat and sleep and will power runs low when the body or the mind grow weary, stressed, or depressed. To make matters more difficult you have to fight every day to wrench what little focus you have left from companies trying to see you something or sell your time to someone else.
The TV is always on, the phone is always buzzing; the ads are always running; the world is always telling you to consume, to post, to scroll. Choosing how to spend your time is not an easy choice to make in that vast current. It is a daily battle between you and yourself, you and the expectations of others, you and the giant machine of capitalism and consumerism.
I know sometimes I will fail miserably but I all ask of myself is not to give up. Day by day means beginning again, and again, and again every morning. With practice I hope to perfect my priorities and hone my focus. I hope to figure out what works and what doesn’t, what I can do and what is expecting too much. I hope to learn too what I thought I wanted to do and what it turns out I really didn’t, what feels right and feels wrong, and, what I really want my life to look like.
This system may sound strict and devoid of surprise or serendipity but the alternative has been to leave myself at the whims, cravings, moods, and flawed memory. The alternative has been lost time and opportunity. The alternative has been a lot of fear and regret.
But with this system there is nothing anymore to fear. I don’t have to count up my successes and failures. I don’t have to do one thing or another. I don’t have to be ashamed, afraid, or avoidant. If I don’t want to do something, then I don’t have to. All I need to do is leave it off the schedule and let it go, but if I want to do it, no matter what it is, accomplishing it can be the easiest thing in the world. All I have to do is block out the time, sit down, and do the thing I told myself I would do. That is all the success I want for 2020.