Yesterday I wrote about having to “figure out which part of my day to take time from,” and if you’ve been reading Nicole Dieker Dot Com for the past six months or so you might be thinking wait, didn’t you try this experiment where you let the days unfold without trying to plan them in advance?

Yep, I for-sure did.

(If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you might want to read Thoughts on a 39th Birthday and On the Paradoxical Nature of Unlimited Time.)

Part of the experiment stuck, in that I no longer go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 5:30.

But as soon as the new year rolled back around, I started asking myself questions like “What is the biggest positive change I can make in my life?” and “What is preventing me from working on the problems and projects I most want to prioritize?”

(Wow, that’s a lot of Ps.)

The answer turned out to be you need to go back to time-blocking.


(You might ask.)

Time-blocking is the practice of setting aside certain parts of the day for certain activities. Many of us automatically time-block without thinking about it — we know that the first hour of our day is set aside for ablutions and breakfast, for example, or we always start our workday by spending 30 minutes on email.

But time-blocking gets way, way better when you think about it.

In my case, I started by making a list of everything that was important to me. Everything I wanted to prioritize, and everything I wanted to be part of a typical, ordinary day.

Then I started asking myself how all of these priorities could fit into an ordinary day. What would I need to de-prioritize, for example, in order to spend an hour every weekday writing this blog post? Where does chess study fit in? How can I do all of this and be done in time to have unstructured, intuitive, let’s-let-this-unfold evenings with L?

I essentially told myself “You have unlimited time to learn this Mozart sonata — but you only have 90 minutes of practice time per day. You have unlimited time to make your current musical composition as good as you hope it can be — but you only have 30 minutes of composing time per day, Monday through Friday. You get 15 minutes per day for chess study, so make sure you’re using your time in a way that will actually help you get better at chess.

This is where I have to acknowledge both the privilege and the freedom of being able to structure my days around my freelance work. If I weren’t able to use the hours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. exactly as I chose, I’d have to de-prioritize some of my longer-term goals.

(Also, I wake up at 7 now — not 5:30, thank goodness, but not 8:30 either — so I can get my piano practice done before I start freelancing.)

Why I am I telling you all of this?

Because it ties back into what I was writing about yesterday — that you have to set aside time for the things you want to do, and that I hadn’t set aside time to take this online course that I had wanted to take when I signed up for it in January.

That was a thoughtless choice, in the literal sense of the word.

I’ve turned next week’s overflow timeslot (because every week needs at least one overflow timeslot) into “course catchup,” but if something more important overflows (like a freelance writing project, because freelancing is the only thing I currently allow to overflow its scheduled time blocks), I’ll have to catch up on the course later.

But at least I have a block set aside for this work.

Which really means at least I have a plan.

Which really means at least I’ve put some thought into this.

There’s one more thing I want to tell you, and it’s that I really-really-really want to buy Cal Newport’s new Time Block Planner as a professional development expense and review it on this-here blog.

I don’t need a time block planner (I have my own system, and if you guessed “it’s a spreadsheet” you guessed correctly), but this Time Block Planner is supposed to help everyone put a little more thought into their workdays, whether they’re freelancers or have traditional jobs — and it’s even supposed to work if your days are highly unpredictable and most of what you do is reactive.

Which means I want to know how Cal is approaching time-blocking, whether it’s different from the way I approach time-blocking, and how I can steal the best parts of it for my own life.

I’d keep writing about how excited I am to learn more about this planner, but — you saw this coming, didn’t you — I’ve used up the time I blocked to write this blog post, and it’s time to move on to the next thing.

Which is, in this case, lunch.

See you tomorrow. ❤️

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