Thinking inside the box(es): the blessing of a schedule

I’m coming up on three years of being unemployed now.

Now, I will admit there are a couple of asterisks attached to that statement.  I did a three-week temp job riding public transportation for a consulting firm.  I’ve also done a little freelance wordsmithing (business letters and the like) for a couple of friends who needed such things done.  And from August 2009 until last month, I was spending several hours a day caring for a severely disabled child.  But still, I haven’t had semi-permanent, full-time employment since just after Lehman Brothers went splat.  (Probably not coincidental.)

All that time NOT spent on a 9-5 or similar schedule has been rough on me.  I’m someone that needs to be busy — even if I’m doing nothing much, it needs to be a “doing nothing much” that keeps me focused and occupied.  (Prayer isn’t a problem; that’s “doing something,” and I have to be focused so I don’t miss what God might say.  But no silent meditation for me, thanks.)  Which means that I end up finding things to fill the time, but without the requirements of a job, filling the time can end up meaning looking at funny captions on pictures of cats for two hours at a clip.  And that sort of thing was beginning to happen more and more.

Clearly, I needed to get myself on a schedule.

That’s the underrated thing about having a job.  It’s not just the money, the sense of accomplishment, and the chance to interact with people, there’s also the discipline it imposes on your life.  For eight or nine (or more) hours a day, five or six days a week you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to be doing.  So you don’t have to worry about filling those hours — they’re filled for you.  Once you throw in the commute, meals and getting ready for work, that leaves at most four hours each weekday that you’re awake, which forces you to prioritize your other activities.  And weekends become a nice break from the routine.

Take the job away, and the whole system can fall to pieces.  Instead of having to think about filling a few hours, the whole blinking day yawns in front of you like Meteor Crater in Arizona.  Weekends lose their luster because they never end.  Projects you never got around to finishing get finished … and then what?  You have to search out opportunities to socialize, but most of the people you’d hang with aren’t available — because they have, y’know, jobs.  And with no reason to leave the house many days, that can adversely affect dress, hygiene, sleep, and physical and mental health in general.

So boy, do I miss having a job.  And boy, has it affected me.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that if life wasn’t going to provide a schedule for me, I needed to provide one for myself.  So over the weekend, after some prayer and ponderin’, I came up with one for the weekdays, at least.  Here’s what I got:

  • 6:00 Get up
  • 6:00-6:15 Mix meds
  • 6:15-6:45 Exercise on elliptical
  • 6:45-7:15 Shower
  • 7:15-9:30 Transportation, breakfast, Internet
  • 9:30-11:00 House cleaning (M-Th), shopping (F)
  • 11:00-12:00 SF reading
  • 12:00-12:45 Lunch, Internet or SF reading
  • 12:45-13:30 Pick up & bathe Sean (M), garbage (W), various projects (TThF)
  • 13:30-15:30 Transportation, Hoover (W), Sean’s bath (F), Internet
  • 15:30-17:00 Dishes, scrub pots, prepare dinner
  • 17:00-17:30 Dinner
  • 17:30-20:30 Writing (fiction MWF, blog TTh), Sean’s bath (W); after writing, Internet

There’s a lot of detail that isn’t spelled out there, so let me dig out a few key bits:

  1. Yeah, I used military time — also used by nurses (like my mom was) and people who get sick of writing “a.m.” and “p.m.” (like me).  Hope it’s not too confusing.
  2. At some point, I really need to write a piece about buying an elliptical training machine.  It’s doing wonders for my weight  and stamina … when I use it, which is not often enough.  That’s why it’s on the sked, so I’ll do it on the daily (or close to it).
  3. Those “Transportation” listings are the main thing keeping me from nabbing a full-time job (well, that and the economy continuing to suck).  With Sean in school now, that means that we have to get three people (Nina and both kids) on the road in the morning and back in the afternoon, usually to three different sites and at three different times.   Sean’s school runs from 8:00 to 1:40 (1:00 on Mondays, plus physical therapy at Hoover MTU at 2:00 Wednesday), Charlotte’s goes from 8:45 to 2:40, and Nina, being a substitute teacher’s aide, can start anywhere from 7:40 to 9:00 and finish anywhere from 12:00 to 3:10.  (Today was a real hoot, as Nina had two assignments, morning and afternoon, at two different schools five miles apart.  Hope than never happens again.)  The only reliable way to get everyone where they need to go is for me (the only person in the family who can drive) to play chauffeur.  So any job I take has to be swing or graveyard, or independent sales.  I royally stink at sales, and my office-clerk skills don’t translate too well outside of day shift.  Not complaining, just stating the facts.  It is what it is.
  4. The “SF reading” relates back to one of my projects for 2011: plowing through as much award-nominated science fiction as I can.  I’ve found it best to break it down into chunks (20-30 pages at a time) and go through it methodically; if I want to do more, I can at night or on the weekends.  I’m making progress, though my goal of cutting the list down below 200 novels by New Year’s Day is looking unlikely.  210 is possible, though.
  5. I am amazed at how much housecleaning gets done just by setting aside 90 minutes a day for it.  If I keep it up, by Labor Day you’ll be able to see the glow coming off this place from orbit!  (Okay, not really, but it’s already looking a lot nicer.)
  6. “Various projects” refers to anything that needs to get done, isn’t listed elsewhere and involves more than just a phone call or a quick jotting of notes.  At the moment, Project Enemy #1 is sorting all of my late mom’s thousands of mostly unlabeled, undated photographs and putting them in albums.  I’m kinda scared to, truth be told, but I just need to dive in and do the best I can.  Aunt Pati, if you’re reading this and planning a trip to California, let me know and I’ll put ya to work, ha ha …
  7. That pot-scrubbing will probably drop off the list for awhile after this week — I’ve got just one baking pan and a couple of cookie sheets left to scour.
  8. And see, you’re on the schedule too — Tuesdays and Thursdays (and Saturdays), I plan to be here for you, dear blog-reader!  (If I start another Congregational Journey — which is possible; more on that in a later entry — I’ll be doing Sundays too.)  Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’ll churn out fiction, like my ongoing Iron Man fanfic.  Oh, almost forgot — posted the next-to-last chapter of that yesterday, check it out!  (Though I plan a follow-up set of shorter stories that’ll carry me through the rest of the year.)

What isn’t listed on the schedule is how much better I feel, after using it for only two days.

It’s such a great comfort to NOT have to think, “okay, now what am I gonna do with my time to keep from going Charlie Sheen-y?”  If I’m bored, and it’s 9:30, it’s time to Comet the bathtub/touch up the paint on the baseboards/spray and wipe the kitchen window/run a washload.  Eleven in the morning?  Break out Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and plow through another 25 pages.  (Probably the only way I’ll ever finish a Neal Stephenson novel — they’re long, dense and contain more characters and plots than the entire NBC prime-time lineup.)  3:30 p.m., the warmest part of the day?  Do the dishes, and have an excuse to run cold water on myself for a half-hour.  And in the cracks between, I can still log on to the Internet and read the articles at Grantland, or laugh as the silly customer requests at NotAlwaysRight, or play the occasional game of Yahtzee Party at Pogo.  But I’m not spending the whole day on those.

Having that one piece of paper worth of discipline is doing wonders for me.  I get more accomplished (’cause I have to break away from the LOLcatz eventually), I get more variety in my day, I worry less about how I’m gonna spend my time, and the bathtub looks nicer.  That’s what personal discipline is supposed to do — make our lives easier, and save our brains for the important stuff.  It’s a blessing and a half; all I have to do is keep doing it.

Which is, I know, the hard part.  But at least I’m off to a good start.


5 Responses to Thinking inside the box(es): the blessing of a schedule

  1. Lori Knutson says:


    This is a very timely piece for me. I’m in my second week of no school, and I’ve been feeling very discombobulated! (not sure if that’s how you spell that)

    There’s a two week span between the second summer term and the fall term at ASU which thankfully is almost over. Last week I worked six days which was a blessing. This week I don’t work because I have my kids (share equal custody w/the ex), and I’m keeping busy with them and various errands.

    I am really looking forward to starting school again on Monday because I feel very out-of-sorts without it!! Not exactly how you feel without a job, but similar, I imagine.

    This is yet another great post with which I and probably a lot of people can identify. Good job on developing a schedule, and glad to hear that it’s helping! Stick with it!!


  2. […] than a month ago, I wrote here about the blessing of having a self-imposed schedule, and how I was hoping it would add some more discipline and purpose to my life.  I closed that […]

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