Should You Be Scheduling Empty Blocks of Time?
A lot of my day is structured for others. I wake up at a certain time, I feed the cats their specific breakfast, I take the same route to work. I spend most mornings catching up on emails, and most afternoons on client calls.
The evenings, even though they’re free, are similarly bounded by routine. My partner and I decide who will cook and who will clean. Then we eat, we clean, and sit down to watch our TV shows or take a walk together. I’ll write a story either while he cooks or cleans.
Then we go to bed — I’ll read, or listen to a podcast. Then I wake up the next day and do it over again.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this — I enjoy my job, I’m passionate about writing, I love my partner, my cats are tiny bundles of furry joy. I’ve slotted in time for each of them in my day because it’s important to me, whether for financial security, emotional fulfillment or something else.
But there’s a big element which is missing here: time just with me.
We don’t prioritize ourselves.
It’s 2019 and we are hyper-connected. We have notifications on, we’re reachable at all hours, we can stay up to date and in touch with people thousands of miles away. That’s all positive — we have more tools at our disposal, more resources, more understanding of ourselves than ever before. But it all comes at a cost. We’re so dedicated to optimizing ourselves for others, we neglect the base.
We don’t spend time alone. And when we do, we’re often still tethered to others, whether we’re playing an online game, on our phones, listening to a podcast. We stay busy and connected whether in person or not. And honestly, it’s not good for us.
Because we’re so limited in time, because we all have commitments and schedules and deadlines, we all ensure we make time for the things that are important to us. However, for some reason, the most important thing — ourselves — rarely makes the list.
I’m not saying we never have time to relax in an indulgent bath or whatever your chosen form of self-care is — I’m saying we don’t schedule it in. If you have time, if you’re free, if you have unexpected availability, you’ll squeeze in a slot to look after yourself. That’s not what I’m talking about.
There are benefits for you and others.
Psychologically speaking, spending time alone is hugely beneficial. For you, being alone, with absolutely no hope of reaching other people, you’re at your most creative. Personally, I’ve found that my slotted in alone time gives me tons of ideas — for writing, but also just generally for life. In my scheduled alone time, I had some ideas for tweets, Instagram caption ideas, recipes I wanted to try, and new hobbies I was interested in.
It can feel uncomfortable at first. We’re social creatures, and we’re used to spending all our time with external stimulation. That makes it challenging to stick to a set alone time. But it’s vital — we’re out of practice and it’s important to get back into it. For one thing, it increases our empathy. Spending time away from your immediate social group gives you the space you need to break out of your tribe mentality and get some perspective.
Most importantly, for me, it gave me the chance to know myself. Around others, I am constantly putting on a persona. We all do, to some extent. Being alone regularly gave me the opportunity to get to know what I’m like as an individual, uninfluenced by external sources.
Aside from being beneficial to your productivity, creativity, people-skills and self-awareness, it’s also just nice to spend some time outside of the grind, floating from thought to thought, free of others’ demands on you, whether your boss or your cat.
Don’t find time. Make time.
You may have to make sacrifices. Personally, I used to write two stories a day. But as I grew more frantic and frazzled and just generally unhappy, I realized I had to take it down a notch and, as cheesy as it sounds, focus on me.
So the time slot I used for writing went to looking after myself. Half an hour, every day, rain or shine, whether or not there’s a new episode of Game of Thrones that I really want to watch, I take time to focus on me.
What do I do? It varies. Sometimes I doodle aimlessly, sometimes I try to meditate. (I’m not very good at it yet, so sometimes this turns into a self-care nap.) Occasionally I’ll take myself out to have a nice hot chocolate. Sometimes I do a stream of consciousness. I tried journaling, but I found I started immediately thinking of ways I could turn it into stories to publish, which was counterproductive, so I stopped.
Most often, I go for a stroll. I take my analogue watch, I leave my phone, headphones, and quite frankly, cares and responsibilities behind. It’s time I’ve made for myself. I’d never bring my phone in when meeting with a client, I’d never browse Facebook while trying to write a story, so why should my personal scheduled time be any different?
It’s weird to start thinking of yourself as a priority as important as work, side gigs, or even relationships with others. Why shouldn’t I scroll through Instagram while I walk? Why can’t I watch Netflix when I’m chilling on my own?
The answer is that when I’m giving my time and attention to those external sources of stimulation, I’m not focusing it inwards. Me-time isn’t really mine unless I enforce those strict boundaries.
In summary, schedule yourself time.
I don’t care how you do it. Mark off a time slot on Google calendars, set an alarm on your phone, write yourself a sticky note. However you plan it in doesn’t matter — only the fact that you have regularly scheduled alone time does.
Make yourself a focus and a priority just as you would the other important things in your life. Drop all the outside influences, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day. Don’t squeeze it in when you find the time: proactively block out time for you.