A bit of history on the title, first:
My mom is the business manager for a dentist. Nearly a year ago they set up a system to help them maximize profits. They had their schedule set up in blocks. The early morning was reserved for easy, non-drill procedures, the afternoons for new patients and high-cost production. This alleviated full days full on low-cost appointments. It was a system that helped them make more money, and it’s a system I put in place to help with both my writing and everyday life.
If you’ve been following along since day one (or went back and read the first blog post of mine), you’ll know by now that I have ADD. And even though the medicine makes life exponentially better, there’s still some issues. I have a lot of habits I picked up to deal with/give-into the problem that I now need extra work on to fix.
What that means is I’m really bad at doing things and now there’s no excuse.
I still have a tendency towards laziness because my unmedicated brain needed it and now I’m just used to it. Whereas before it was a necessity, now it’s a choice. And it’s one that I’m working on every day to change. And block scheduling has really helped.
The wonderful thing about block scheduling is that it’s super easy to customize and personalize to fit your lifestyle, needs, and activities. Science tells us that the ‘average brain’ (as if there’s such a thing) can only focus for two hour intervals before it needs a break. (Someone ought to let schools in on this knowledge). But each person is unique, and so your ‘focus’ time may be different. You could last as long as three hours or as little as ten minutes. But that’s what’s great about block scheduling. You get to create the sizes of the blocks.
Let me show you what mine currently looks like:
-Up between 8-8:30
-Breakfast and phone games (I have a lot). Done by 9
-Clean up or work until 10
-Hyperfixation time til 11
-Clean up or work until 12
-Take medicine around 12 or 1
-Hyperfixate until hungry/1
-Lunch and phone games. Done by 2
-Clean up or work until 4
-Hyperfixate until hungry/7
-Whatever the heck until bed around 10/11 (It takes me a solid hour to fall asleep)
Do you see how much wiggle room I even gave myself? That’s the other joy of block scheduling. There’s always room for that last-minute emergency patient that just has to be seen at 10, or that 45-minute drill procedure that ended up taking an hour. The walls of your blocks aren’t stiff and straight. They’re flexible. They’re more like rolls of clay you can smoosh about day by day as you need.
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about schedules. You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em.
I hate ‘em.
I can’t tell you why, but the very concept of a ‘routine’ makes me want to die. Doing the same thing every day for all of eternity is torture. And that hasn’t changed with the medication, I’m pretty sure that’s just a part of my personality.
But this is…routine without routine. That’s a thing. By creating blocks for myself that I can stretch and smoosh as I please, I’m making space for getting things done, while also allowing the freedom to do what I want as the fancy strikes me.
From 9-10 I have to clean or work. But I can choose what I want to do. One day I might do the dishes and clean the counters. The next I might work on some writing. Maybe I’ll apply to more freelance jobs (I am for hire. Call me). Or maybe, like today, I’ll start on a blog post because it’s been a while since the last one and I’ll be so into it that it’s now 10:38 and I’m still working.
Block scheduling is mainly there to get me to do something on days when I want to do nothing. I even consider proper human socialization as work (of course, with our current need for social distancing) so I might spend that hour skyping with a friend or talking with my roommate. Anything that accentuates my well-being or gets my work done belongs in those squares. And I’m free to mix and match as I please.
Of course, if you’re one of those people that loves schedule and routines (who may be an alien I’m still figuring that out), then you can make this schedule as tight and rigid as you’d like. You might have it set up so that from 9-10 you write, and nothing else. You might even go so far as to break that block into smaller blocks and say from 9-9:30 you work on one project and from 9:30-10 you work on the other. Or you might just say from 9-11 you’ll write and just work on whatever the inspiration is for that day.
It doesn’t matter. There’s no wrong way to do a block schedule.
Okay. That’s not completely true because there is a sort of…hypocriticalness that falls into the schedule. But I promise you it’s one that’s actually good for you.
For those of you who don’t know, people with ADD and its variants have these things called hyperfixations. Others get them too, but with the brain of chaos, it’s a lot more intense, and can actually last months if not years. Having one of these is torture. Because literally all your brain can focus on is that thing. It can be a show, a game, a book, your cat, a new friend. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that’s all your brain wants and doing anything not related to that is akin to being tortured for information, only you don’t actually know what it is they want to know.
I don’t recommend it.
As I said before, medication has helped a lot. But there’s still that intense need and desire that pops up when something new and good shows up that makes my brain do the ahhhh and makes doing anything else really hard. Not impossible, but difficult.
So, the point.
In my schedule you’ll see I’ve carved out time for my current hyperfixation. If you’re between fixations right now, or simply don’t get them, you might fill this in with whatever free time/relaxation activity you enjoy, be it reading, sewing, or making chairs from toothpicks. Whatever it may be.
I use my hyperfixation (currently Animal Crossing, big surprise, I know) to get my work done. I essentially hold it hostage. This is where the ‘doing it wrong’ part can occur.
If I take, as I am now, an hour of my fixation time to finish work, I haven’t really done anything wrong. All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but stopping the workflow you’ve got going on to play makes you a little crazy and is not conducive to a good work-ethic.
However, let’s say your current fixation is a T.V. show. It’s got those hour long episodes that are really 45 minutes long. It’s 10. You start an episode. It’s now 10:50 (maybe you took a pee or snack break). The episode is over. You have 10 minutes until you’re supposed to be cleaning or working. You think ‘it’s okay. I can just start the first bit of the episode. I’ll totally stop at 10.’
Next thing you know it’s midnight and you’ve done nothing all day. A great deal of this requires you actually stopping the thing you want to do to do the thing you need to do. A lot easier, for me, with medication, but still hard.
Another way you might break the system is by not doing the thing you want to do until it’s time, but not doing anything else. I haven’t really been super productive one day if I sat around doing nothing from 9-10 just waiting until I’m allowed to play. I only get to play/rest if I’ve actually done something.
Of course, flexibility is still a factor.
As example: I painted some of my kitchen cabinets the other day. As you can imagine, my muscles were pretty much dead for a while. (Still kind of are). This means my work and clean times were considerably shorter and less intense, because I was recovering.
The thing about block scheduling is changing it up as you need to fit what’s going on. It provides enough structure and routine to help you get things done, but it allows for enough change that you don’t feel bogged down by certain tasks or stuck in a rut. And you can even have different schedules for different days (particularly useful for if you’re in college).
But I’m not going to lie and pretend like this isn’t easier for me to pull off because I have no kids and work from home even when there’s not a mandate to do so. But it can still work, for everyone.
If you do have kids, a lot of your schedule is going to revolve around their own. But fret not! There’s still time in the day for relaxing. In fact, there’s lots of ways to unwind and relax with your kids. Play a board game with them, watch a movie together. Read to them. If they’re older maybe they can share an island with you in Animal Crossing. If they don’t need any help with their homework, take that half-hour (in an ideal world right?) off and put your feet up for a bit.
And this schedule can help with work too. (I assume, anyway, I haven’t been able to actually try it out). With most jobs you have a list of things you need to do, either projects to complete or daily tasks to repeat. Schedule them out. If you have to re-fold shirts, take note of the time and do it every hour. Schedule in your own mini-breaks to get some water or go for a quick walk. The work day is, unfortunately, not conducive to actually getting work done. But you can still take control and set up blocks for yourself to keep focused and productive.
I’ve been at this schedule for about three weeks now, and it’s worked. I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done, but that’s for an entirely different reason. I’ve been keeping up on cleaning, painting cabinets, and getting in the hyperfixation fix!
So give it a try. Flex and mold as you see fit. You may be surprised by how un-routine your new routine feels!