Your Schedule Exposes Your Priorities

Energy = Time = Priority

If your life is anything like mine, it’s not very predictable. With travels, special projects, and other people in the mix making their own decisions all the time, it’s hard to know how to schedule your time and get all the important stuff done. I mean, I can say that something is a priority, but if it’s not actually taking my time, then…is it?

In the last year or two, I’ve managed to settle down enough to develop some healthy routines — which was a big priority.  I now mostly get up around the same time and have a strong “rampup” time for the first hour of my day. I also mostly eat around the same times, have eliminated my commute, and spend a lot less time with email, social media, and other such distractions. None of these things were accidents or easy to accomplish, and each was very worthwhile for my quality of life!

And yet…I’ve still been feeling very behind and over-committed most of the time. Time to update the old TIME MAP!

I was first introduced to the idea of Time Maps as a teenager by my friend Phyllis, then my interest was rekindled by Julia Morgenstern about a decade later. Now it’s something I come back to every time there’s big changes in life. Right now I’m moving my home, my office, and rebooting my business, so it’s time.

A time map is basically a way of setting a default schedule so that your time is blocked out in your calendar. Then when you need to move something because something came up, you’re moving it to somewhere else on the calendar or dropping it entirely. This means you’re consciously deciding what to do with the important stuff when urgent stuff comes up.

As an example, when I fly to SF next week, I have to notice what my travel time overlaps and deal with the conflicts, so I’ll move things around to make sure I leave myself time to stay on track. And when I spent 1.5 days in onsite client meetings in Denver last week, I had to move things out of the way to make room — which meant dropping stuff that I don’t want to feel guilty about later. This time map eliminates a whole lotta productivity guilt for me 🙂

Default Schedule

No week will ever be this perfect, but at least I’m starting from something that makes sense.

Timemaps are great because they make it obvious that there are only so many hours in the day, and week. It doesn’t matter how many things are in my tasks list or how many projects I feel like I’m supposed to get to or what I claim my priorities to be, they have to fit in here or they don’t fit at all.

If I don’t have all my noon-2pm time next Tuesday filled with coaching sessions or lessons, then I can choose what to do when that moment comes (I’ll probably chip away at some MITs or do some more billable client work). But without even thinking about it, when someone asks me if I have time to meet up for a lesson next week, I either have the specific time open, or I don’t. And if the student doesn’t have any time on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, then I am not the teacher for them.

The timemap also makes it easier for me to coordinate with people who are on different timezones (I live in the US-Mountain timezone, but work on the US-Pacific timezone and have coaching/mastermind clients in US-Eastern and am often talking with folks in the UK). I say easier instead of easy because other countries have their own daylight savings times that are all out of sync, and I still have to look up the best time for that podcast interview I’m doing for someone in Melbourne, Australia.‘s international meeting planner comes in real handy for that.

If the picture doesn’t make any sense yet, here are some definitions:

  • Work = For me this means billable consulting hours (not effort spent on business)
  • Mastermind = I’m a participant in a weekly group of smart professionals who get together to keep each other on track. I also host such a group and will soon add another.
  • Coaching/Lessons = I have a couple of direct coaching clients, and still give music lessons on singing, beatboxing, live looping, etc.
  • MITs = “Most Important Tasks” of which I have three 5-times a week
  • Finance = If you can count, you’ll notice there are only four boxes labeled MITs in the graphic above, and Finance is the fifth one but focused exclusively on billing, payables, and other financial matters.
  • Weekly review = After 15+ years doing some version of GTD, I know how critical this is. Without it everything falls apart. In this case the label is slightly inaccurate since I’ll also be doing my Monthly Reviews, Quarterly Reviews, and Annual Reviews in this same block.
  • Inboxing = This is when I look at all the new stuff that’s come in: mail, email, texts, voice messages, direct messages, and the like. This is when I’m open to the rest of the world telling me what’s important, evaluating it, defining if I have anything to do, and working it into my task/project management system. This is also when I parse through any bright ideas I had recently that I couldn’t follow up on in the moment.
  • Appts = Online/phone appointments to talk to people, and occasionally errands like the bank and post office.
  • TLDC = Nearly every week for the last 3 years, I’ve cohosted the #VideoFriday edition of a daily livestreaming show called TLDCast for Learning & Development professionals. I plan to continue doing that until people get tired of me.
  • Office Hrs = This is new thing, and I don’t know if it will stick. I’d like to offer an hour for people to drop in and ask me questions while I’m working out loud. This is part of an information management policy that I’m experimenting with and will solidify soon for 2019. More info on that coming to the blog later this month.
  • Dinner w/ Family = Though it’s way earlier than I would eat dinner, when an octogenarian is part of the culinary plan, you eat early.
  • Rampup = Daily morning routine (exercise, meditation, music/chant, hygiene, food prep)
  • Rampdown = Daily evening routine (cleaning, reading, watching something with my sweetie)
  • Lights out = This rarely happens on cue, so I give myself an hour window to hit.
  • Unstructured = The most important time on the entire schedule! If at all possible, I avoid putting anything on my calendar for these hours. I’m not laying around the house eating bon-bons, I’m still getting stuff done, but I’m not investing any effort in predetermining what that stuff will be. It’s organic, self-directed activity. I’ve made no promises to anyone around it, and feel no “shoulds” in this open space. Yesterday it was decorating for Christmas. Today it was continuing to move out of our old place, various projects at my Mother-In-Law’s place…and updating this time maps & writing this post.

Please note that nothing listed here is in stone, it is simply my default. When I plan for this month or next year, this is what I’m planning to. If I sent you this link, it’s because I want you to know when I’m available and when I’m not and why.

I hope it is helpful to you in setting something similar up yourself, as needed. Once you do, you can do nifty stuff like see what your priorities are with pie charts and other geekeries!

Energy = Time = Priority