September 15, 2019

Schedules and willpower

Schedules and willpower

For everyone life is about time allocation. You put your time where you think it is most valuable and decide each day where the allocation falls. “I don’t have enough time for that” can be said in a much more honest way: “That isn’t a priority for me”.

I believe everyone has goals, even if they are part of every day life. “I want to relax every evening and play games” is one type of goal, but so is “I want to work enough to pay off my student debt”. Both of these take up time that is allocated, either explicitly or implicitly. By making these allocations explicit, it helps with steering oneself through life. This is a type of active participation where you take control of your situation instead of coasting and seeing where you land up. [1]

The willpower shortcut

Friends and colleagues have consistently commented on my willpower and how I manage to maintain focus. While I believe willpower is something that grows when you use it, like fitness or strength, I would attribute a lot of my “willpower” to following a schedule. While this still requires focus and commitment, the levels are far lower than forcing yourself to do a task at a given time.

Consider the following example: You have decided to start running every morning because you believe it will make you healthy and fit, get in better shape and maybe get to that 5km mark you’ve never managed to achieve. Every morning you decide to wake up at 6:00 to go for that run. These are great intentions with real conviction to back them up.

However, the first morning comes around and your alarm wakes you up. You hit the snooze button and your half sleepy self starts to talk through all of the reasons why this isn’t such a great idea: “you’ve had a rough nights sleep, you need the rest”, “you can run later, just do it this evening instead”, “be kind to yourself”. All of these are shortcuts - just the act of entertaining these thoughts takes you off the rails.

Instead of committing to an action, commit to a schedule. This allows you to defer your will to following a schedule, instead of following a given action. It’s the difference between “I need to go for a run” and “I need to do X because the schedule tells me to”. By doing this, it’s easier to not give yourself a choice and stick to the plan. Before those thoughts come in trying to convince you otherwise, you sweep them aside because in your mind you are the schedule dictates what you need to do.

This takes some getting used to, but is easier than it sounds and super effective.

How I have used scheduling

I went through and pulled an old schedule up I was following around 2015. At the time:

  • I had a full time job
  • Was keen to become a fantastic trail runner
  • Had a trail running website I was working on
  • Had enrolled in a distance degree through LSE via UoL
  • Had a side project I wanted to continue working on

I followed this schedule, and variations of it, for years. At the time I could manage as I had no commitments and decided to limit socialising in favour of personal growth.

While the above example may seem out there, they key point is that I managed to get a hell of a lot done every week. I got two long trail runs in on the weekend - my favourite past time, enough hours to study towards a degree, side project work and held down a day job. The result is that I grew phenomenally on a personal level, gaining skills and experience, while still maintaining some sort of balance.

Another benefit of using a schedule is to ensure you get enough downtime. While productively is a real driver for me, I am all too aware that there has to be a reciprocal wind down. I would sometimes find myself working far too much when there was a push to do so, and the counterweight of having a schedule to stick to ensures I didn’t hit any burn out.

Scheduling today

Currently I have different goals, including spending time with my girlfriend, more time on business and less on running, but scheduling still helps to maintain balance with a high output.

In closing I’ll paraphrase both Jocko Willink and David Goggins:

Do not rely on passion to fulfil a purpose - passion fades, rely on discipline.

[1] Jordan Peterson has done some great research into this which is well worth the read.