The Irrationality of Apportionment

I remember in 1st grade, doing calculations on how much time I’d spend, say, brushing my teeth each day. If I use five minutes per day on that, that’s 1825 minutes per year, or 30 hours, or a whole school week! My, how much time that was wasting! That’s 2% of my life!

Of course, keeping your teeth clean is very important, a task well worth 2% of your time. But it is when we apply this sort of bean-counting to everything we do, that we run into problems.

When you try to break your day down into minutes and then assign chunks of them to certain projects, like “shoot creative photos for thirty minutes,” it works well on paper, but then in practice it falls flat. You might not even notice it at first. You’ll be busy following the list you made to the letter, taking photos that are decidedly uncreative, thinking you’re making some big accomplishment. Then when you’re waxing the car (or whatever the hip thing is to do nowadays), and you see some great scene like Leafy Sunset 6, you’ll ignore it because it’s not on your list. You’ll miss out on all sorts of opportunities.

You can’t schedule creativity or inspiration. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you can’t schedule your life. Sure, you can make a “schedule” and follow it, but it’s not going to be any better than what you’d do applying yourself without confinement, nor will it wring an ounce of efficiency out of you.

Apportionment’s real value is in building discipline. Once you’ve become disciplined, meaning that you’ve found goals worth focusing on and you’re working toward them, scheduling is just a waste of 2% of your life itself, because you’re so in tune with your work that rigidity shackles your powerful spirit, rather than channeling a weak, uncommitted one (which probably isn’t worth channeling anyway). It’s a lesson that lasts a lifetime, but the lesson itself doesn’t need to take a lifetime. In fact, when I say 2%, it’s often more like 30%. Read stuff like Me and GTD: my worrying addiction to getting organised and Could GTD be harmful? for an example. GTD = Getting Things Done = scheduling to the max. Of course, I’ve been talking more of creative arts rather than the mundane chores apportionment is more often applied to. But I find that apportionment only makes those chores more undesirable; you’re actually less likely to follow through than you would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a rigid schedule.

Further, you have so much untapped creative potential that organizing what you have is going to produce far less than cultivating what you don’t. Work on your strengths, and many other things will fall into place. Hone the talents you already have, rather than the ones you don’t. See the big picture, rather than immersing yourself in the tiny details. This is the difference between someone who keeps a messy desk and gets work done, versus someone who meticulously keeps a clean desk but gets work done. Right now, my desk is covered in piles of school papers, photography accessories, and junk mail needing discarded, yet I’m getting more work done than if I fixed those problems and came back. And the “work” is fun, because I’ve been wanting to write something about this sort of work for a while.

One place you’ll find people often using apportionment is in restricting addictive time-sinks, like emails, blog stats, RSS feeds. You might say, “I will only check these once a day, because they continue pulling me from my work while providing no value.” The immediate problem with this, is that you’re working from a negative perspective rather than a positive one; you’re trying to remove the distractions, rather than let the distractions remove themselves. And they will remove themselves if what you’re focused on is so engrossing that it captures your undivided attention. You’ll see this often, with children playing video or computer games, or younger children making buildings out of blocks. That kind of masterful focus is something we lose when we grow up, instead trying to substitute kludges like demands and scheduling. But if we can get back in the flow to begin with, all of this becomes mere child’s play.

So get back into that flow. If you’re passion isn’t providing that sort of in-built noise filtering, you’re approaching it from the wrong angle or it isn’t right to start with. If you don’t schedule, you don’t have to be afraid of change, and change is much better mastered than feared.

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