Tag Archives: time-blocking

How To Design a Slow But Steady Life and Reduce Stress

August 24, 2020

Culture and Society

A life of hustle and bustle is the predominant paradigm of modern life, but this does not mean that this is the only option available to us. What if we all pursued an intentionally slow but steady life? What does that even mean? Well, I should give you a brief backstory about how I have arrived at these thoughts.

Back in 2016, I left my cozy one-bedroom apartment in Nashville, TN for good. I uprooted my entire life (and my sweet cat) out to the woods of rural, middle Tennessee to live with my partner and finish my degree in college. That previous city life involved a wonderful job with evenings and weekends open for errands, friends, and family. It was routine and conformed to a strict schedule that did not allow for much deviation.

I was not sure how or if I would adjust to the slower pace of country life. Suddenly, I lived an existence that did not conform to a strict schedule that was dictated by an employer. The country roads in my neighborhood had zero traffic. I did not hear the sounds of cars whizzing by or horns honking. The nearest supermarket was 10 miles away through winding country roads. My cell phone did not get a signal in most of the immediate area. Following a slow tractor on our main road for a couple miles constituted a traffic jam.

It took some time for me to adjust, but now, I love the slower pace that country living comes with. Here’s why:

  • I spend far less time in my car going anywhere because everything is so far from where I live. I used to drive all the time back in the city. These days, I generally consolidate all of my errands into one weekly trip. If I forgot something at the grocery store, then I simply do without it until the next trip. This makes life less stressful and simpler.
  • It is so quiet here in the woods. The lack of noise pollution and all of the busy-ness of city life does a lot to create a sense of peacefulness.
  • Within a local community in which everyone lives at a slower pace, there is a collective feeling of calm. No one is rushing around and impatiently trying to get somewhere all of the time.
  • My home and the places I frequented started to feel more like sanctuaries instead of harbors of stress or stagnation. A slower pace creates time to feel more settled in one’s environment.
  • Whether you are an introvert (like myself) or an extrovert, having time alone with your thoughts is always a good thing. Living in the country grants me special opportunities to be by myself. This can happen out at my deck with our view of the low-lying Tennessee mountains, when I go on my daily walks along our long driveway in the woods, or when I sit on the bridge over our little creek. A slower life grants more opportunities to find healing solitude.

I must now concede that not everyone gets to or wants to live in a peaceful and secluded home deep in the woods, and as such, living a slower-paced lifestyle may not be attainable in the same sense that I enjoy it. However, I believe that it is possible no matter where you dwell.

The underlying force to consider is your intention. how you use your time, and how you design the functions and routines of your day.

Here are some thoughtful suggestions on how to slow down the pace and movement in your daily life regardless of your surroundings:

  • Instead of a to-do list of multiple tasks every day. Consider accomplishing only one to three very important tasks. This would simplify your day and reduce stress significantly.
  • Leave early for every appointment or meeting you have. Leaving early increases the likelihood of getting somewhere on time or earlier. It accounts for traffic problems, trouble finding a parking spot, or simply getting lost on the way. Most of all, it reduces stress. Instead of anxiously rushing to get somewhere, you are enjoying a steady and leisurely drive to your destination.
  • As much as possible, implement cognitive breaks after periods of focused work. For example, after a couple of hours of writing, go for a ten minute walk with a drink of water. Better yet, take a quick nap or simply sit outside for a while to breathe in fresh air. The human brain works far better when it is not going full throttle for extended periods of time and operates much better after a good break.
  • Schedule out your days and weeks. Build daily and weekly routines that align with specific time blocks that address both short and long-term goals. Here’s an example of a morning ritual that can be easily replicated every day:

    6:00am to 6:30am: Freshen up for the day with brushing your teeth while taking a shower.

    6:30am to 7:00am: Moisturize skin and get dressed for the day.

    7:30am to 8:00am: Drink water and your morning coffee with a small breakfast.

8:00am to 9:00am: Drive to work (leaving earlier to account for traffic and not feel rushed). Get to the parking lot early to grab a favorite spot. Before walking into your office five minutes early, you have the option to review your day’s schedule, read a good book, or relax while listing to music as you sit in the car.

Notice how this schedule addresses self-care tasks such as good hygiene and hydration and spaces out all of the tasks within lengthy time blocks. It probably would not take you a half hour to get dressed, but the benefit of giving yourself a half hour of prep time lets you choose the right outfit without feeling flustered. Spacing out your tasks within a timed schedule reduces pressure and anxiety and ensures that important endeavors happen. In case something throws you off like a sudden phone call or missing keys, you have time buffers in place to address any hiccups. Lastly, even as the daily self-care tasks have immediate benefits, they will affect your long-term health and well-being as well. This kind of schedule is so simple that after a few days of doing it you’ll flow through it automatically.

Naturally, every situation is different. Maybe you have young children, a demanding job, or a debilitating health issue. The main takeaway I want to give to you is that you have the ability, even in a small way, to reduce stress in your life by stretching out your time and intentionally designing the ways you go about your day. The trade-offs, like getting up earlier to have a more complete morning ritual or the extra work it takes to write out a schedule, might be difficult at first, but the payoff is worth it in terms of living a slower and steadier lifestyle that is calm and restorative.

I hope some or all of this is helpful.For me, it took moving out to the woods to understand the value of a slow, but steady life. By spacing out your time and strategically scheduling your days and weeks, progress still happens. It just does so more meaningfully and with a lot less stress.

Have a wonderful week ahead!

PS- Here is my latest film release that just came out last Friday. This is a new film that addresses colonialism in my home country of the Philippines.

The Value of Time-Blocking Your To-Do List

August 3, 2020

Creativity / Culture and Society

As far as modern productivity goes, the standard to-do list has become a primary tool that allows all of us to get several tasks accomplished. Its simplicity is as perfect as its functionality. Not only does it declutter our minds, but it also helps us to remember important tasks that can get lost during a hectic day. Once an item on this list is sufficiently addressed, it can be crossed off with a satisfying slash of a pen. It is practically a work of art in and of itself.

I do not wish to take any glory away from the marvelous to-do list, but I have found that the addition of time-blocking to any to-do list increases its effectiveness exponentially. As an independent filmmaker who makes short films every week, reads lots of books, actively plays three musical instruments, and cares for an entire household of plants, animals, and furnishings, I need the effectiveness that this provides. Time-blocking gives my creative life the space to flourish every day.

Take for example the simple act of meeting up with a friend for coffee. It would never be enough to simply say “Yes!! Let’s have coffee some day!”. A mutual agreement that the meeting is desired does not in any way fully guarantee that it will ever happen. Now, if you commit to a specific time and place for the coffee meet-up to occur, then the value of the commitment and the likelihood of it materializing virtually quadruples.

When you assign a specific time of day and timeframe for a task to be accomplished, you are time-blocking.

To give you a real world example, let’s compare a (highly fictionalized) simple to-do list with one that incorporates time blocking:

Saturday Morning To-Do List:

  • Call Bubba about “The Party”
  • Order pink leggings
  • Dig a hole 4’X6′ in the back yard
  • Buy formaldehyde at corner store
  • Look up Lemon tart recipe
  • Eat vinegar

On the one hand, it is beneficial that all of this written down. A person can simply choose any task at random and just do it. What this simple list does not do is prioritize the more valuable tasks, and it does not take into account how long each task will take. (Digging a hole of that size without a big machine will take a while.)

Here’s the same list with time-blocking added in:

Saturday Morning To-Do List

8:00am-10:00am—Dig 4’X6′ hole in the back yard

10:00am-10:30am—Look up Lemon tart recipe

10:30am-10:45am—Order pink leggings

11:00am-12:00noon—Go to the corner store to buy formaldehyde and call Bubba about “The Party” on the way there

12Noon—eat vinegar for lunch

Notice how the most difficult and time-consuming task of digging that hole takes top billing. Prioritization is a key element here. What I also like about time-blocking is that it formalizes the task into more of a commitment. It also gives you a sense of what you can realistically do given the amount of time you have.

In my experience, there is one caveat that I need to explain. Time-blocking can be difficult to implement if you’re not used to it and can take a lot of trial and error to tweak.

Here are some helpful tips that I have learned as I have worked toward implementing time-blocking in my workflow:

  • Instead of trying to time-block an entire day or workday, do it within smaller chunks of tine. For example, I generally divide my day into two time-blocked ranges. One chunk extends from around 8am to 12noon, and the second chunk extends from 12noon to 5pm. I do not plan out the second chunk until noon. I do this because events can happen during the day that can derail your well laid plans. Priorities can shift, and surprises happen. By delaying the planning of the afternoon, I allow for some flexibility and spontaneity.
  • I use a digital calendar for my time-blocking. I tried using a physical notebook at first, but it got a little too messy when I have had to shift tasks and timeframes around throughout the day. The digital calendar that I use lets me move items up and down along the day’s schedule as well as color code different groups of tasks such as “house chores” and “client work”.
  • Exercise the freedom to be as specific or generalized as you want. For example, you can allot small chunks of time to micro-tasks that would not take an entire half-hour. For example, from 5:10pm to 5:15pm, you can send that text file you’ve been meaning to get out to your co-worker, and then, from 5:15pm to 5:30pm write out your shopping list for your stop at the grocery store on the way home from work. Otherwise, you can just say “house cleaning’ from 9am to 11am and group all related tasks together under that heading without being so specific. I actually do both of these depending on the tasks at hand. If I have a lot of small but important tasks, time-blocking down to the minute has helped to keep my momentum going and to be more detailed and methodical in my approach; however, this is generally not necessary all of the time.
  • Give yourself plenty of buffers. Each big task I assign almost always has at least a half hour of extra time already built in. I might give an hour to a task that only needs a half hour. This gives me more time to finish the task with less pressure and allows space for interruptions. Time-blocking does not have to be rigid at all if that’s what you prefer.
  • Think about incorporating tasks that have more of a long-term significance in your life. If you have a huge project that will take months to finish, time-blocking small parts of your day to work on it will progressively get you closer to finishing.
  • Do not time-block every minute of your life. You can make your evenings and weekends completely schedule-free for example. Make time to decompress without a detailed schedule that incorporates doing nothing, chillaxing with a good book, or anything fun you like to do. Your mind and body will always need a break from being on your “A” game.
  • Think about time-blocking across an entire week or a month. This practice is not restricted to a daily schedule and can be adapted toward long-term goals and dreams.
  • Lastly, be gentle with yourself. I have had mornings that were completely derailed by an unexpected event or with meandering on Etsy trying to find a birthday gift for a friend. Don’t beat yourself up. Simply review your to-do list and re-do the schedule. It’s all good. You’ll still have the satisfaction of getting through your work in a systematic and organized fashion eventually.

I need to reiterate that this might be quite difficult to implement depending on your work style and environment. If you work in an office space that requires constant email exchanges and phone interruptions, this would be extremely tough to carry out. However, it is a worthwhile pursuit to try incorporating this into your day. For myself, it has VASTLY improved my workflow and helps me keep my time and priorities in perspective. Play around with different time chunks, or use time blocking to fine-tune a daily ritual that addresses short and long-term goals.

All of this might feel like extra work, but remember that this is all up to you. You can do this in any way that works for you.

Be creative, but most of all, give yourself the benefit of at least giving time-blocking a try. This is what I have done, and it has given me more control over everything and the life-affirming satisfaction of having a plan for getting my life together in a way that suits all of my needs and desires.