Optimizing the Crap Out of Time

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Optimize the problem

It’s no secret that I was an odd kid. What’s funny is that sometimes I forget just how odd I was (and still am). In the process of cleaning out some old papers this week, I was reminded of just how odd I could be. Inside a folder was a bunch of schedules. Not just any schedules, but schedules detailing how to spend my free time after school each day. Did my parents make these? Was it some form of helicopter parenting? Nope, I made them and I can clearly remember sitting in class each day (admittedly, not the best use of my school time) and optimizing my afternoons.

What a weirdo. These schedules listed things like:

  • Homework: 3:00 – 3:15. Was I super optimistic, gifted, or simply unwilling to spend more than that? (I think it was the latter.)
  • Star Wars: 3:15 – 4:00. Ah, this was during the Star Wars obsessed phase where I would play with my action figures and stage elaborate space battles.
  • Chores: 4:00 – 4:15. Again, optimistic, or lazy? Probably both.
  • Bike to library: 4:15 – 5:00. Probably so I could check out books completely unrelated to the 15 minutes of homework.
  • Dinner: 5:00 – 5:15. Yeah, I wasn’t much on lingering around the table for conversation. I had things to do!
  • Reading: 5:15 – 7:00. All those books I got from the library had to be read sometime.
  • TV: 7:00 – 8:00. This is the only block I remember being prescribed by my parents. I was allowed an hour a day and while I can no longer remember what was on during this hour, it must have been good for me to schedule it.
  • Bed: 8:00 – 9:00. If I remember right, I had to be in bed by 9:00 (I think this was fourth or fifth grade), so this last hour was for getting ready for bed and yet more reading until lights out.

Optimize watch

Other schedules show that I’d pencilled in time with friends, outside play, time with my stuffed animals, or any of a whole host of other hobbies and interests I had. (Of course, it’s worth noting that most of my time estimates were way off. I know I spent more than 15 minutes on homework. But I was hopeful…) Sometimes there were prescribed activities like piano lessons or sports practices. It’s no wonder I needed schedules. I had so much I wanted to do, so many interests… And with so much time being “wasted” at school (because that’s what it felt like to me), time would get away from me if I didn’t prioritize and focus.

Fast Forward to Today…

And I’m still making schedules. I’ve shown you my work calendar, but I also keep a separate calendar for my free time. Why, you ask, would anyone do this? Isn’t free time supposed to be, well, free? Yes, it is. But I also know myself. Left to my own devices, I would waste a lot of time. I wouldn’t intend to, but the inertia created by TV time would spiral out of control until I became a complete couch potato. Since I’m happier when I’m doing fun, creative, and interesting things, I try to make certain that my potato tendencies don’t take root. (I’m here all week. Tip your waitresses.)

Instead, I optimize the crap out of my free time, as well. I make sure I account for fitness, relaxation, hobbies, reading, and writing (things that aren’t income producing but which are fun and creativity-boosting, like flash fiction). I have a lot of interests and having a calendar enables me to see when something is slipping by the wayside. Oh, I haven’t studied my languages lately. Maybe I should devote more time to that. Hmmm. We haven’t gotten in much board gaming or Lego time lately, maybe those would be fun this weekend. Hiking? Winter’s almost over, we should probably pencil that in.

Optimize clock

Yes, I’m nuts. But optimizing the crap out of my time makes me happy. I’m not so strict that I can’t make substitutions. This isn’t boot camp, after all. For example, if I see that working on a puzzle is on the schedule for tonight and I just don’t want to, I put something else in its place. What I don’t do is go plop on the couch and vegetate. Scheduling is also good for making sure we have plenty of couple time. If we both retreated to separate rooms and watched TV, that wouldn’t be a fun marriage. This way, we make sure we do plenty of things together.

My problem is that I’m interested in so many things. Heck, just reading all the books I want to read is a lifetime’s worth of work. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and wish I’d done more fun things. Keeping a schedule keeps me from wasting my time. And while many people think I’m insane, I have had a few people try it at my urging and they say that their free time has become a lot more fun.

Scheduling takes away the, “What do we do now?” inertia that leads to couch surfing. It gives structure to free time, resulting in less wasted time. No more, “Gosh, I can’t believe we wasted three hours doing nothing when we could have been doing something fun.” Scheduling also keeps me from getting bored because activities are constantly rotated in and out. Come to think of it, my crazy schedules might be the reason why I was seldom bored as a kid. I always knew what to do next. You know what? It still works.


(Photos courtesy of Pixapopz, jarmoluk, geralt)


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