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How to Create an Un-Schedule and Why You Should

by Jennifer on August 19, 2009

 

courtesy of rmlowe

courtesy of rmlowe

 

By Jennifer Blanchard

Psychologist Neil Fiore, Ph.D., is famous for creating the “un-schedule,” which is basically the exact opposite of a schedule.

Dr. Fiore created the un-schedule because he knew that all people—and especially procrastinators—often set up a schedule for themselves that is full of things they never end up completing. They then get disappointed in themselves and give up.

Fiore said in order for procrastinators to actually get stuff done, they need to do the opposite of creating a schedule and create an un-schedule.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. An un-schedule can help you look ahead at your week to see what you already have going on, that way you can determine the amount of time you actually have available to commit to your writing.
  2. It helps you keep track of all the tasks you do throughout your week.

So for the next week, try to create an un-schedule for your life. Be sure to take into consideration everything that you’re already committed to—work, commuting, activities with your friends/family, volunteering, fun, meetings, appointments, meals, chores, sleeping, etc.

Using the un-calendar provided below, write in everything you already know you are doing this week. See the example for additional guidance.

One thing to keep in mind, this un-schedule is not for things you know you should be doing. It is only for things you know you already are doing.

For example, write on the un-schedule things you know you’ll be doing, such as sleeping, taking the kids to school and eating dinner. Do not write on the schedule “exercise” or “write” unless you know for sure you will be doing that activity at the time you wrote it in at. If, however, you want to make time for exercise, but aren’t already committed to it, leave it off the un-schedule.

The Un-Schedule

An example Un-Schedule for the week of August 17 to August 23

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
5 am Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
6 Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep Sleep
7 Get ready for work; eat breakfast Sleep Get ready for work; eat breakfast Sleep Get ready for work Sleep Sleep
8 Drive to work Sleep Drive to work Sleep Drive to work Drop kids off at grandma’s for weekend Sleep
9 Work Get up; eat breakfast work Get up; eat breakfast work Run errands sleep
10 Work Take Scott to doctor’s appt work Dentist appointment work errands sleep
11 Work lunch work Meeting with accountant work errands Brunch with Carol and Steven
Noon lunch Drop Scott off at school lunch lunch lunch lunch Brunch
1 work Grocery shopping work Clean house work errands Brunch
2 work Conference call with work work Watch episode of Rachel Ray with Gavin Rossdale interview work errands Make meal plan for the week
3 work   work Pick up kids from school work   exercise
4 work   Pick Scott up from field trip dinner work    
5 Driving home from work Dinner Drive home Drop Scott off at Cub Scouts work    
6 Making dinner Take Kim to ballet dinner Drop Kim off at ballet work Dinner plans with husband Dinner with grandma
7 exercise   Family game night exercise dinner Dinner Drive home
8 New episode of House     New episode of How Do I Look? Helping Scott with science project Going to see new James Bond movie  
9 Put kids to bed Put kids to bed Put kids to bed Put kids to bed Science project Movie Put kids to bed
10   Sleep   sleep Put kids to bed movie  
11 Sleep sleep   sleep sleep sleep sleep
12 am Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep
               
Available Writing Hours 1 4 3 0 0 3 4

 

Based on this un-schedule, this person has 15 hours a week, at most, to dedicate to writing. Of course, this schedule only accounts for the stuff the person already knows she’ll be doing. There will most definitely be other things that pop up.

The idea isn’t for an un-schedule to be the be-all-end-all; it’s just a way for you to see where you have available time.

If you’re going to develop a habit of writing, you need to learn how to make time for it. But in order to do that, you first need to determine when you actually have time available.

Now it’s your turn. Create an un-schedule for your week coming up. As you go through your days, be sure to write in any other things that pop up. At the end of each day, count up your hours that are “blank” and write the total in the box called, “Available Writing Hours.”

Have you ever created an un-schedule before? If so, did it help you at all?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura Lee Bloor August 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Ugh, the thought of creating a spreadsheet of my time makes me want to throw up a little. If I saw just how little time I actually had to myself, I think it might depress me rather than inspire me. However, I am sure this approach may be useful to others.

2 jennifer blanchard August 19, 2009 at 5:15 pm

@Laura Lee Bloor I had the same initial feeling. Until I did a spreadsheet for myself and found out just how many hours I was fretting away doing stuff that was unneccessary, like watching TV and surfing the Web. You should give it a try anyhow. You may end up as surprised as I was.

As always, not every tool, tip or technique offered on this blog will work for everyone. That’s why I recommend giving things a try, but sticking with what works for you.

3 Sandra S Richardson August 19, 2009 at 10:39 pm

I have a lot of time to write mostly because I’m a homemaker with grown children. I’ve drawn one of these up and I’ll see if it helps, because as much time as I have I’m still good at wasting it. Most likely, I’m worse about wasting it because I have so much available.

4 CoachMarla August 29, 2009 at 12:55 pm

@Jen, Great topic! Fiore’s anti-procrastination strategies have worked for me for years and now I often help life-coaching clients to implement Fiore’s methods in their own lives to free up more time to write. It’s true: calendaring time as he suggests can really help make time for writing more visible!

@Laura Lee, I resisted trying this tool out myself when I first started, too. It’s really off-putting, I know. But if you’re up for it, one idea you can try is create a time log for yourself for 3 days…no more, no less. Just give yourself a chance to gather some info about the way you use your time.

@Jen, I’d have to say that without making some of the attitude shifts Fiore recommends (putting boundaries around our work; prioritizing “life balance” stuff as equally as we do work/writing, for example), his Unschedule isn’t at all as powerful as it could be. If folks are at all curious or interested in Fiore’s ideas, don’t cheat yourself: get a copy of his book and try out his entire methodology.

Thanks for the read & look forward to more,
Coach Marla
Life Coach for Writers | @MarlaBeck

p.s. – DIY Planner has a free “Unschedule” template. You can find it here:
http://www.diyplanner.com/node/4526

5 anna September 5, 2009 at 7:49 am

I don’t think this kind of un-schedule would work for me (also because I’ve only just finished a degree and don’t have such regular habits!).

I could see why it might be helpful to someone: when I used to write up long to-do lists I’d often find them overwhelming and end up cleaning the house instead.

What I do now is draw up an actual schedule, looking at days instead of hours. I draw a calender of a month and set up (realistic) writing deadlines. The induced pressure makes me find the time to finish things off!

6 jennifer blanchard September 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

@anna One of my main writing philosophies is that every writer should do what works for them. Procrastinating Writers is an outlet for you to find what does work for you and then keep it working over and over again. Thanks for reading!

7 ellen lindros September 8, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Thank you for this terrific idea. I often find myself stressing out about making time for writing and not putting the time into updating my photography website. I am just getting started with my writing career and think this un-schedule will help me in many areas of my life.
-Ellen

8 Ronda Levine October 22, 2009 at 12:47 am

Thanks for this. I resist scheduling not because of procrastinating but because the schedule creates a lot of anxiety when things don’t get done right when they are supposed to b/c life happens. Instead what I do is have routines and a reverse schedule. I think someone mentioned a time log. I track how much time I spend on different things. I’m always surprised at how productive it makes me – something about the having to be accountable for each moment I spend makes me want to get things done to put down on the time log…

9 jblan October 22, 2009 at 11:16 am

@Rhonda Levine You’re welcome! And thanks for sharing your ideas for making yourself productive. I’d love to hear more about how you track your time. I’d also love to learn more about this “time log.” Please share more with us if you have time!

10 Prue September 30, 2011 at 6:15 am

Great post!
I realised that if I want to write, the writing must come first.
3 days a week I’m trying to develop the habit of writing 10.30am – 12.00 noon. And 2 of those days 2.30pm – 4.30pm as well.

Find your best time for writing – early morning is hopeless for me because I go back to sleep. I need to move around first – if only doing housework.

Problem: on my writing days I book appointments into my diary because there is ‘free space’.
Solution: I put ‘WRITING’ in big letters in my diary so I can’t book anything else in for those days. This starts next week…fingers crossed.

11 Jennifer September 30, 2011 at 9:59 am

@Prue What a great plan! It’s good to schedule writing into your calendar so you know that you don’t really have free time. Let us know how it goes!

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