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Finding Lost Time (and What to Do with It)


image from www.olddoglearning.com

As I began writing, the photo above made sense. A major Nor'easter was moving up the coast and the governor had declared a state of emergency for all of New York State. Schools and lots of businesses announced they were closed for the following day.

But the storm slid just a little bit east and our locality in upstate only got 3-4 inches. By the time you read this, they're predicting daily highs around 50 degrees and the almost-spring sunshine will have melted all the snow away.

A nice example of found time, if you bring the right attitude.

Challenges Happen

This edition of Tips from Tom's inbox flows from a recent article in Scott Monty's Timeless & Tmely newsletter entitled, "Time Lost, Time Gained."

While pondering the effects of Daylight Saving Time and the COVID pandemic on our sense of time, specifically how we experience "lost" time, he shared this quote from a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his teenage daughter in the early 1970s:

"You are dismayed at having lost a year, maybe, because the school fell apart. Well—I feel as though I’ve lost the years since Slaughterhouse-Five was published, but that’s malarky. Those years weren’t lost. They simply weren’t the way I’d planned them. Neither was the year in which Jim had to stay motionless in bed while he got over TB. Neither was the year in which Mark went crazy, then put himself together again. Those years were adventures. Planned years are not."

Adventures! That shift in perspective means everything.

Vonnegut's opening line about school falling apart could have been written about the pandemic fifty years later, right? And the kinds of physical and mental health challenges he mentions, too.

Even in non-pandemic times, though, we all face challenges. They may come at us from the outside, like a recession or a war. Or they may be more personal, like an illness striking ourselves or someone close to us. In our work, we hear many would-be authors bemoaning how they "just can't find the time" to write their book.

What Vonnegut was getting at with his references to planning and adventures, I think, was how we're forced to shift gears to confront and overcome those unplanned challenges. And how we feel afterward when we do — about ourselves, our resilience, and our capacity to survive and thrive in the face of chaos.

This got me thinking about the impending ... blizzard? Nor-easter? Snow-mageddon, as the weather folks labeled one a few years ago? I grew up in the Buffalo area and snowstorms don't bother me much anymore. I learned how to get through them and we now have a whole-house generator, snow-blower, and a variety of shovels. 

That kind of planning ahead makes it a bit easier to treat a weather event as an adventure. And to view the time while most of your previously planned activities are shut down as found, instead of lost.

Planning for Chaos

Of course, planning ahead for predictable things like snow in upstate New York is relatively easy. But what about those challenges that hit you out of the blue?

That line of thought reminded me of Chaos Planning — a concept I learned from Sean D'Souza, a blogger at Psychotactics.com we met way back in our early days of blogging.

The core idea of chaos planning is simple: expect the unexpected.

Put chaos in your calendar.

D'Souza puts three hours in his workday calendar every day labeled only as "chaos." He says he chooses the 1pm-4pm time slot.

Why? Because he understands that s#!t happens.

Almost daily, we get interrupted by unforeseen client crises, technology breakdowns, calls from the school about a sick kid . . . fill in the blank with whatever disrupted your day today.

Now, maybe you can't convince yourself that you have three hours every day to block out for chaos. Maybe you should start with a 1-hour block. But I hope you can see how having a 1-3-hour "chaos block" built into your schedule gives you a fighting chance at dealing with the interruption(s) and still getting the work you did plan for the rest of the day done.

D'Souza goes on to argue for blocking out a whole week every month for chaos (or vacation). I haven't gone that far. But I can tell you that the days when I have an empty block of time on my calendar are happier and more productive for me.

Sometimes S#!t DOESN'T Happen

This is where the magic of chaos planning comes out. We're back to found time. And the vitally important question of what to do with it.

Chaos planning includes planning ahead for what to do in those blocks that don't get swallowed up by the chaos!

D'Souza describes this as putting "somethingness" into those blocks on your calendar filled with nothingness. He shares his list of goals that go beyond his daily to-do lists, client work, and so on. He groups them under headings like Learning (skills he wants to learn or improve), Books (to read . . . and to write), Courses (to build and sell), among others.

You have some projects you want to get done "someday," don't you? Make your list. Write it down. Keep it nearby.

Chaos planning just might be the way to "find" the time and know where to apply it. 

And if the Nor'easter does show up and close everything down for a week, after you shovel the driveway to nowhere, you'll have a list of things to fill up that time, too.

Make taming chaos part of your adventure.