The Best Gift I Gave Myself in 2017: Block Scheduling

Last week marked the end of the 2017 Fall Semester in seminary. I have one semester left in seminary and it has been an absolute grind. Lots of learning, lots of reading, and lots of paper writing.

I am pretty sure I wrote more papers this year than in years past, and I wrote longer papers. And for the first time in my life, like ever – I didn’t wait until the last minute to write them. For the first time in my life (academically) I was ahead of the game.

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I’m not sure you can truly appreciate the monumental idea that this is for me, but you might compare it to climbing Everest, getting married, or the birth of a child. This is a big deal. And while some might attribute this new found success to my experience in seminary I give all the credit to block calendaring.

I learned about this concept from Carey Nieuwhof, and I even blogged about it a couple of months ago (click here to read that blog). If you don’t have time to read either of those things, here is the basic idea: Block scheduling is blocking out intentional time on your calendar to do intentional work. Rather than being reactive to the world, you are choosing to be proactive to what you say is important.

On the other side of the semester this is what I’ve noticed about block scheduling: 

1. Good calendaring is like giving your goals breathing room. I love to set big goals on top of what I’m already doing. I just get a little delusional that I could do one more thing, and as a result, I try to squeeze something into place. The problem with squeezing something in is that it really doesn’t fit. I want my goals to fit in my life, and keeping a block schedule has been the tool that helps me get there. I schedule time for writing, for seminary, for email responding, and for dealing with my team (and their needs). We often want to do great things, but we never give our lives the space it needs to do great things.

2. My best work is work that isn’t just thrown together at the last minute. Some of my friends who are procrastinators will fight me on this, but for me – my best stuff needs to be combed over. It needs to be lived in, it needs to be thought through. For most of my life, I never gave myself time to live with the content I was creating. I rushed it, or even worse – I made an excuse for why I couldn’t get it done. What a gift it has been writing my sermons earlier in the week, and wrestling with it on a deeper personal level.

3. When I calendar well I have room to make exceptions. Life happens. People will want your attention, things happen, opportunities arise. When I keep to my calendar 90% of the time then I can give myself 10% of exceptions to something else. That’s one of the unexpected joys of block calendaring; I have the margin to do stuff I want to do. In the past, if I waited for a paper to be written I was stuck having to do it that night no matter what. Now, if I keep to my schedule most of the time, then I can mix it up when I want to. Because I’m already ahead of the game.

Thinking about trying out block scheduling? Here are three tips that might be helpful:

-    Block schedule the time you can control, and be flexible in the time you don’t. You can’t control the time that is dictated by someone else (school, shift-work, etc.). Just work with the time you have, and you know you have. Maybe you need to block schedule your evenings.

-    Evaluate your calendar seasonally. Seasons change, so you can go ahead and expect that your schedule will change as well. Look for exceptions, look for trends, and look for how much time you really need to get to the good deep-work.

-    Fight off the guilt. This is the hardest for most leaders (certainly for me). I want to be there for the people, and I am a people person. So when someone asks me to meet I want to find time for them. What I’m learning is that scheduling time for the work that I need to get done gives me permission to be present in the moment. I can be a better listener when I am not fretting over what needs to get done. Imagine that!

I’m no expert, and I’m still growing with this process, but nothing has changed my life more in 2017. I recommend giving it a try, it was by far, the best gift I gave myself this year.

As it turns out, Carey is currently giving away a free downloadable example calendar - click here to get yours.

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