The benefits of planning spontaneity

Planning spontaneity ? What sorcery is this?

Yeah, it sounds crazy, but it’s a game changer.

Recently, I wrote about a piece about the toxicity of busyness  and the idea that pretending (or perhaps having the delusion) that we don’t have time to unplug isn’t a badge of honor to be worn, rather, it’s a red flag!

Plenty of research cites the mind and body benefits of unplugging, so in this article, I want to build upon the idea that unplugging is good (really, really good!) and explain why I believe planning is the key to making spontaneous nothing-ness or something-ness (that brings you pure, unadulterated joy, of course!) happen.

What does planning spontaneity even mean?

I literally mean planning the times that you do nothing-ness or something-ness.

Why does planning matter?

Planning blocks of time in which you will do spontaneous nothing-ness or something-ness will help you become more productive during your working hours and become more intentional about how you spend your non-working hours.

Increased productivity

You’ll find that when you set aside time blocks dedicated to pure leisure, you’ll become increasingly focused on getting the high priority work on your to do list actually done so you won’t feel guilty about kicking back for fun and play.

This mindset is similar to what I witness when people are about to take a vacation. For instance, I’ve noticed that when many (not all) coworkers announce they’ll be out on vacation dates X-X, they’re in full on hustle mode that Monday – Thursday prior to the vacation, identifying and completing the most critical things that need to be finished before they leave and/or delegating tasks to other team members to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. The goal is to go on vacation, more or less, guilt free and not have your mind occupied by the million things you failed to wrap up before you left.

This same mentality can apply to regularly scheduled leisure time and doesn’t have to be reserved for your annual family vacation.

More intentional leisure time

You might be thinking “But..but…I have little to no free time!”. As I stated in the busyness article:

“I say I’m busy, but what am I actually doing?”

“Does what I’m “busy” with align with my larger priorities and values?”

For many, I hypothesize there is a disconnect between how you perceive you spend your time versus how you actually spend your time. Are you getting sucked into the vortex of multi-tasking? Are you spending more time than you care to admit on doing non-value added “stuff” (yeah, I’m calling you out social media, Netflix and water cooler gossip). To be clear, I’m a multi-tasker in recovery that still slips up, so you’re not alone!

There is a time and a place for viral baby animal videos, social media creeping on “the one that got away” from middle school and a solid Netflix binge – during your leisure time – if that’s how you choose to spend it, of course.

At the risk of sounding militant, the bottom line is, let work be for work and play be for play. I’m sure I’ll get commentary that work is supposed to be fun and the two should be inextricably linked.

Of course, I agree that ideally work should be fun; however, a line still needs to be drawn even when your professional and personal lives are interwoven. Startup life is a great example of this as startup culture is notorious for the blurred work/play environment. It’s great to do work that you love and with people you enjoy being around, but repeated 12-16+ hour days at the office, startup martyrdom and self-medicating to get through the day doesn’t have to be “a thing”! By better defining work and play boundaries, I believe you still can enjoy your work and go home to unplug at a reasonable hour. 

By committing to scheduling in real leisure time (running errands and chores don’t count!) you may be more motivated to get your work finished sooner in order to fully embrace sacred weeknight or weekend fun. For example:

Alas! Saturday finally rolls around you realize you’ve blocked off the whole day for you, for freedom! How do you want to spend that time? You may decide to post up in bed, in your pajamas, watching re-runs of a show you’ve already seen 100x while simultaneous Internet stalking your former flame. Is that what your spontaneous, best life looks like? It might! For others, a last minute road trip out of town with friends for some outdoor adventure time is ideal. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but planning time blocks of freedom to do what you want, when you want, does make you reflect on how you want to maximize that time. What lifts you up? How would you spend your time if there is zero concern of what anyone else thinks?

How can I start planning spontaneity?

Here are a few easy ideas to get started:

  • Time blocking: this means breaking up your day into chunks of high effort and rest. For any workout junkies that know the reference, it’s like the timed interval Tabata approach, but for your life. You may need to experiment with timed intervals that suit your individual needs and attention spans. For example, you could try 30 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest or 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest. It seems rigid, I know, but the level of awareness it brings to how you are actually spending your time is unparalleled. Many of you may be shocked about how difficult it is to stay focused for 30 minutes straight, let alone 50! There are tons of free tools and apps available that can help block distractions or track hours, but the basic timer on your phone will do.

 

  • Daily priority setting: making a daily to-do list is great, but if you’re like me, you’ll find that your to-do list can easily take up the front and back of a 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper. This will make you defeated and overwhelmed. Over-planning and over-documentation is a risk, so keep it simple by dividing your list into high/medium/low priorities. Ideally, you keep only the most critical items in the high priority category (there shouldn’t be many!) and you aim to tackle those items first. If you get to medium, that’s a win, and if you don’t even look at your low items – don’t sweat it! 

 

  • Track towards your monthly/yearly goals: pick a few activities that are important to you and align with your larger life goals and values. Apply the time blocking tactic I mentioned above and actually track towards these monthly activity goals. For example, I have a really simple monthly goal tracker at the back of my agenda. For each month, January 2018 – December 2018, I track the following items:

 

    • At least X hours of continuing education (it’s anything from finance to design thinking to programming)
    • Read at least X books (before the Fall of 2017, it was hard for me to remember the last time I read a book recreationally! Embarrassing but true!)
    • Publish at least X articles on my blog and cross post to my other social media channels
    • Travel to X new places by the end of 2018

I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m amazed about how month over month, I’m actually meeting these goals or if there is a miss I just double down the following month to catch up. Trust me, if I can do it, you can do it! Make reasonable commitments, but push yourself!

 

  • Reserve time for spontaniety: in your planner, block off hours, a day, or a weekend for spontaniety. Commit to it, do it and don’t feel guilty! For instance, if there is a person I know I want to spend time with on Saturday I just block off that day with their name and know that time is reserved for being present with that person and whatever mischief we want to get into.

 

Do you think this is feasible? Infeasible? Tell me what you think!

 
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