Untouchable hours

“What are you busy with after this?” he asked. I was out with a friend for dinner and I’d told him that I would have to leave by 9pm.

I’m going home, I told him. I’ve come to learn that this is an “unacceptable” reason to end a night out early. “No way, you’re coming out for drinks with me,” he said.

“No I can’t, I have plans,” I said. From the look on his face, I was sure that he’d took it to mean that I was going home to either: a) ravish my husband or b) keep to a curfew. The correct answer was… neither.

I had made plans with myself – made them official by putting it down in my calendar.

One thing I’ve always found strange is that when we make plans like that with other people, we would hesitate to cancel them. So why is it that we’re so ready to give up the plans that we make with ourselves?

How do you handle so many things at once?

If I had a FAQ page, this question would be close to the top.

At the time of this writing I am: working full-time at an e-commerce company and just about to begin a round of fundraising, producing a short film to be used as part of the pitch for a TV series, developing a web app for an online community, and working on three essays for submission.

The question “how do you handle so many things at once?” is usually followed up with “how do you find the time?”.

I don’t find the time. I make it.

Growing up, I used to spend a lot of time at a close friend’s house and her father used to say, “If you fail you plan, you plan to fail.” That saying grated on my Aquarian nerves. I’m a dreamer, not a planner, I thought.

But what I’ve learned is that you don’t have to be a good planner to make plans. You just need to find a system that works. For you.

Forget bullet journals and pretty planners. I have a reporter’s notebook and a Trello board, both of which are organised in a way that makes sense only to me.

But when I really need to get shit done, I put it into my calendar as “untouchable hours” – pre-scheduled sections of my day and week that aren’t meant to be spent on anyone else.

When I make a calendar entry, I also include what I want to work on during that time. And like any other meeting, I do the necessary prep beforehand. This means that when I sit down to start working, I have what I need to hit the ground running.

You are a workaholic, aren’t you?

Another FAQ. And my response is, au contraire.

I read an average of one book per week (more, if I end up binge reading romance novels). I watch lots of TV. I sometimes spend whole Saturdays curled up in bed. I go for drinks on weekends and have social dinners at least once a week. I get laid often.

Here’s a confession: I put these things on my calendar as well. Last weekend, I had two three-hour slots that said “Watch Shark Tank“.

My untouchable hours aren’t just meant for work; I also schedule them for times when I just want to be alone. As an extreme introvert, that’s how I recharge. (This was especially important when I was a journalist and my job involved talking to people.)

Over the years, I’ve learned that if I’m running on empty, I will burn out. And that it takes longer to recover from that.

This is how I keep going.

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.” (Meditations 12.4)

I often wonder why we think our time is less valuable. Why is it so much easier to cancel plans we’ve made with ourselves?

I’m not saying that my untouchable hours are immovable, but I give them the same respect that the rest of my appointments receive.

And thus far, that has worked for me.