Let’s see if this sounds familiar: You sign up for something that takes place in the future, like an online class or a book club or a community choir. It’s something that you’re really excited about, not something that feels like an obligation. (Too many other things in your life already feel like obligations, after all.)

The future arrives, and the class/club/commitment begins. It might feel like a bit of a surprise, even if you dutifully put it on the calendar. (How is it already time for the first book club meeting?)

You realize that you are unprepared to participate in this thing that you really wanted to do. Your week is too full to read the book, study the course materials, learn the music for the choral rehearsal. (You might even wish you had never signed up for the thing in the first place, or secretly hope it gets canceled.)

We’ve all done this, right? I mean, I’ve been writing about time management for years and I just did this very thing myself — I signed up for an online class in January, the class started last week, and I realized that I hadn’t set aside any time in my schedule to take it.

Which means this thing that I really wanted to do, that could benefit my career and connect me to other writers and help me solidify what I might want to prioritize over the next year, is not getting done.

Because if you don’t set aside time for the things you want (or need) to do, you won’t do them.

I’m pretty sure I know what at least half of you are thinking right now:

Um… I just do the things I want to do when I want to do them? Without making a big deal out of it? Like, I don’t worry about scheduling time to read a book, I just read when I feel like reading?

There’s honestly not much I can say against that, if it’s working for you. But it feels like you might be answering a different question (“am I able to spend part of every day doing something I enjoy?”) than the one I’m actually asking (“when I add a new commitment to my life, do I also set aside the time the commitment requires?).

My argument is that you can’t decide to do a thing without thinking about when and how you’re going to do it — and I’m making this argument because I just decided to do a thing without thinking about when and how I was going to do it.

What’s this really about? Why am I spending this week focusing on the way time interacts with problem-solving?

Because I suddenly found myself with a time-related (and time-sensitive) problem to solve.

Basically, I signed up for Beth Jusino’s Market While You Write: Building an Audience Before You Publish Your Book on January 8, the class started on February 4, and I looked at my planner and thought to myself “You don’t have any extra time this week to take this class.”

Unless, of course, I sacrificed something that I was already prioritizing — like going for a walk, or playing chess with L, or writing music.

(I am getting so much closer to being able to beat L at chess. We are keeping track of the games by how long it takes for one of us to gain a significant advantage over the other, and my daily chess study is proving advantageous.)

Luckily, the course is asynchronous and will run through the end of February, which gives me plenty of time to catch up — but if the course is supposed to take an hour per week and you don’t set aside an extra hour in Week 1, you have to set aside two extra hours in Week 2.

This is the flip side, by the way, of things take the time they take — which, if you don’t want to click that link, has to do with my decision to take as much time as I needed to solve every problem in a particular Mozart piano sonata, even if it takes the rest of my life.

Because I don’t have the rest of my life to take this course, and you don’t have the rest of your life to participate in that book club.

Which means that I have to let these things take the time they take, too — and figure out what part of my day they’re taking time from.

More tomorrow. ❤️

4 thoughts on “You Have To Set Aside Time for the Things You Want To Do

  1. On chess study: you used to be using a specific book which you decided was *not* (at this stage) helping you get better at beating L and it sounds like you also didn’t take my suggestion to handicap the weaker player with a piece adjustment. So…what *are* you doing now with your 15 minutes a day that is successfully making you a better player against L? Did you find a better book or web resource? Are you perhaps playing against computer players of escalating difficulty level? Or did you come up with your own chess-learning system, and does that mean you’ll eventually be *writing* a better “How to improve at Chess” book?

    Incidentally if you want to see (and/or criticize) the chess position I came up with for a tv program, it should appear in episode 4 of _The Equalizer_ on CBS. (Probably airing February 28th).

  2. Playing without a key piece on the board seems like it would defeat the purpose of teaching me how to play chess (especially because we’re both trying to memorize standard chess openings, which neither of us have really studied before).

    The thing that has helped more than anything is taking 15 minutes to ask myself “if I move here and L moves there, how will I respond? Where is he most likely to move next, and why would he make that choice? If he doesn’t make that choice, what are three other logical choices he could make, and how can I respond to each of them?”

    It helps that each of our chess games lasts about a week, with us only making one or two moves per day.



    1. That makes sense! Playing out all the lines in your head as far as you can is a really useful skill. If you want, you can augment it further by writing down all the moves and reviewing the whole match (once it’s over) with your opponent to see what lines were in *their* head that diverged from yours.

      I think the main point of giving a piece handicap when learning is to better equalize the mid-game or endgame so you can make progress working on those *without* having to first have mastered openings. Though if you just had L give up, say, the *queen-side rook* it wouldn’t interfere with otherwise playing out the vast majority of openings…

      Another option is to use a chess clock and give one side more time. As in: you have one hour to make the first 30 moves and L has 15 minutes to make the same 30 moves; if someone’s clock runs out without 30 moves having been made, they lose. A nice thing about that option is that it is really fine-grained – you might mutually decide that one side needs a precisely *13-minute* time handicap.



  3. Also, in case you’re curious, the only (or at least primary) reason I lost our most recent game is because we decided to sit down and finish it in real time. Without my daily “if X then Y” analysis, I missed one of his potential moves and he was able to take control of the board. I did recognize it immediately afterwards, btw — I said “oh wow, I didn’t think about what would happen if you moved there…”

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