Sunday, August 24, 2008

My New Schedule for My Life

Long-term readers have probably detected patterns in my blogging, and one of those patterns is that a key way that I get psyched for a new academic year is to plan my schedule, treating this as an artistic task: the art of creating a Good Day.

I've read back on my previous attempts, and think I have a better sense of what works and what does not work, and so, with brand new optimism, I hereby present my latest version:

1. Running. Today I got up early and went for a run! Because of this one-day success (the first time in about a year that I've actually gone running, as such), I now perhaps ridiculously think that I can integrate this permanently into my life at long last! Now, lest my patient readers think I've turned inexplicably irrational, let me explain. First of all, there have been times of my life when I've succeeded in maintaining a morning running schedule. In fact, this worked well for me two summers ago, when I even ran in a 5K at the end of the summer, and last summer -- until it got interrupted by my (minor) surgery. I tried to pick it up again last fall, but it failed miserably. Someone told me that maybe I'm just not a morning person. But my attempts to re-locate exercise to other parts of the day ended up failing too because my schedule just gets too busy and complex during the academic year.

But I've re-evaluated what went wrong last fall. I had classes every morning at 8:30. As the daylight hours get shorter, and the weather gets colder, it got harder and harder for me to get up early enough to fit the running in, until I did give up in discouragement.

But this semester is different. I only have 8:30 classes two days a week. So my plan is simple: get up at 6:00 am every morning, and on the mornings that I don't have 8:30 classes, go for a run. The mornings I do have 8:30 classes I can skip. In fact, building in these allowed days off will be good for me, I think -- otherwise I can push myself too hard too soon and risk injury (since, after all, I keep getting older as time passes...!)

On weekends I'll try to keep to the schedule in terms of what time I get up in the morning, but I'll let myself decide whether to run, or just walk, or give both a miss, based on how I feel. I'll try to go at least once during the weekend, but that's not a hard and fast rule.

The truth is, establishing a three- to four-day-a-week pattern will be a vast improvement over what I've managed lately. It is enough to build a solid base of fitness.

I think this is crucial for me, because when I do exercise regularly, I feel better about life, and better about myself. The effect is immediate. I'm feeling it right now! And the truth is, this is a nice way to start the day! Instead of worrying immediately about work, I will know that I will have this time for myself, to do something good for myself, and to immerse myself in nature: a world bigger than me and my little concerns! It will anchor me in much-needed Perspective!

And my training program is simple: Walk 10 minutes. Run as much as I feel like in the next span of 10-15 minutes. Walk 10 minutes.

I can gradually expand the middle section, marking with celebration certain milestones like "running 5 minutes continuously without strain," "running 10 minutes continuously without strain," etc., until I can run 30 minutes continuously again, framed within 5-10 minute warm-up and cool-down periods. When I'm there, I'll let myself stay there, and perhaps even start entering 5K races again if I feel inspired to do so.

2. Another feature of my schedule is that I am building in dedicated research times again. This sort of worked for long stretches well into each semester last year, and so my optimism is well-grounded, I think. My previous attempts have not been total successes, but they have not been total failures either. And I think I've addressed some problematic patterns I've noticed from the past.

So the plan is that on the days I have class later in the day, I start off with two hours of research (Monday and Wednesday; on Friday this extends to lunchtime). On the days I have my 8:30 class, I will go to my carrel immediately after class and work for an hour. This still gives me space to plan for my later class.

The key is that I must go immediately after class, without pausing to check e-mail. In the past, I allowed a half-hour gap to get a cup of tea and check e-mail, and that was my undoing -- I got caught up into dealing with administrative matters until then I had to shift attention to class prep again.

My new plan is to not check e-mail, but deal with all of that after my afternoon class.

3. Music practice. As is my usual schedule, I do this in the late afternoon or evening -- as soon as I get home, or, if getting home presses too close to dinner, after dinner then. Then the rest of the evening after music practice is time to do more work if I need to, or (rarely) to relax if I need rest.

4. Like I mentioned before, I will let Sundays be sabbath days.

So, I am feeling really good about all of this! Empowered by what looks like a good schedule, I think I may succeed in managing my busy life well while maintaining momentum on my research!


  1. My solution was to join a gym. My husband and I get up at 5 a.m. every week day morning and go work out. No weather issues, no excuses. I was going to run a 5K yesterday, but I hurt my achilles tendons and left knee. I've had to slow it down a bit. Maybe next spring.

    Good luck with your schedule! I'm eschewing a schedule in favor of a routine. I'm too contrary for a schedule.

  2. There was a time in my life when I got up at 5:00 and went to the gym to use the indoor track. But where I live now, the gym opens at 6:00 am, and only when the school year is in session. And at this small college in this small town, I run into my students and colleagues all the time. So going to the gym does not work so well for my purposes.

    For me, part of the value of running is getting outside. When running is well-integrated into my life, it helps me adjust better to the changing seasons. What's hard is trying to get it established just as the weather is getting colder. If I succeed in getting it well-established NOW, then the coming cold weather will not daunt me.

    I am sorry to hear about your injuries! How disappointing! I wish you a smooth and quick recovery!

    What do you mean by the difference between a schedule and a routine?

  3. I can see the value of getting outside and enjoying the seasons. I also know the scenery from the pavement is much more inspiring than from the treadmill.

    Once the run becomes uncomfortable due to excessive cold or heat, I know I will start making excuses. So far, the gym is working for me, but once the kids go back to school, I will be biking to my studio 2 or 3 times a week. This is my first year to do this, and I'm not sure how the weather will effect my determination. At least there is the gym to fall back on.

    In my mind, a schedule is something I write on a piece of paper and try to impose on my life. It is organized from the "top down," if that makes sense. A routine is something that is generated organically by acting consistently in a positive way on a daily basis. A routine works better for me because I don't question it, at least when it is working. I change it when something stops working, but it is important for me to make sure I change it with a new action, and not an inaction (i.e. just stop doing anything because what I was doing before wasn't working.)

    Schedules also break my day into time fragments that don't always jive with my real life, and although I can see how that would work for you in your vocation, it doesn't always work for me. Although with all three kids in school this coming year, my day will necessarily be organized around a traditional school schedule.

    Sorry for blogging in your comment box. I just let go of my personal blog, and am trying to keep my art blog about art. It's a transition.

    Thank you for responding to my comments! I hope you will never feel obligated, though.

  4. CS,

    You should feel good about exercising 3-4 times per week. Some experts actually say that this is better than 7 days a week because our muscles need more than 24 hours to fully recover. I go to the gym and every six months or so talk to one of the staff members about my exercise schedule and make adjustments as needed. And adjustments are needed. If you hurt a knee or something then just scale down the exercise or switch to something different.

    Our semester has started already and I haven't been finding research time yet. I am very enthusiastic about the critical thinking project that the University has given me release time to work on. If all goes well in the near future 27,000 students per semester will be using the webpages I'm creating now. Yet, I know I should schedule regular times to work on philosophy too. So far I've only managed to find time for that once this first week.

  5. Alissa - thanks for sharing your thoughts on the difference between a schedule and a routine. That's helpful. What I'm calling a schedule is maybe something in-between: it starts from noticing my routine and putting it down on paper, but then I do add recommended changes and in a sense try to impose them from above, so to speak. But I'm flexible about this. If it turns out too hard to impose something new into my schedule, I do re-think it.

    And yes, what you say about breaking a day up vs. letting things flow is important. We need to maintain flexibility. Some lives (or phases of one's life) are more or less conducive to the kind of scheduling I try to do. I think of what I do as trying to create spaces in which to attend to meaningful activities that might otherwise get pushed out by life's normal flow. Still, doing so can compress other dimensions of life too much, or limit valuable kinds of flexibility. In the end, I'm constantly fine-tuning.

  6. Richard,

    Thanks for your pointing out that it can be healthier to exercise 3-4 times per week. Your pointing this out has helped me to restrain myself from pushing myself too hard too soon.

    I wish you well on your project! It sounds really interesting and important!