Week 13/2023: Making a backup

Week of 27 March 2023

foreground rocks and a small wave crashing over a rock in the river with a cloudy blue sky
Afternoon walking

Tranquility by Tuesday: Create a backup slot

I’ve been writing about setting up my week so I can fit my new writing habit on three times during the week. This is explained in chapter 4 of Laura Vanderkam’s book Tranquility by Tuesday, which I’m slowly making my way through. The idea is that doing something three times is enough to count as “regular” but not impossible, like trying to do it every day often can be.

In chapter 5, Laura talks about making sure you have a backup slot for the important things, so if you run into a super busy week or everything gets messed up, you’ll still have a chance of getting those things done.

I imagined this would be as simple as identifying a substitute time to do my writing if something prevented me doing it in my regular time slot. (It’s not actually that simple . . . If I can’t make 11.00 on Sunday, I’m unlikely to be able to make 2.00 on Sunday either.)

Laura has a slightly different take on it. She explains that “having a backup” means not scheduling every single hour of every week when you do your weekly plan (you, know, that weekly plan I do on Fridays, right . . . ?) You need to actually schedule empty space.

Schedule empty space.

Ha.

This might be an hour every day, a morning every week, or even a full day. (I once tried this at work and made my entire Friday unavailable for meetings, and people still booked things in.)

Another method Laura suggests, which might work well for my paid work, is to heavily schedule high priority tasks into Monday and Tuesday and leave the rest of the week more fluid. Using this method you’d aim to get the most important things finished by Thursday, along with other less important things that you still want to get done that week.

This would leave Friday completely free to catch up on things that might have run over during the week and tackle things that came up during the week that weren’t high priority.

Laura says the key to this is keeping Friday absolutely free of commitments until you’re absolutely sure you don’t need it for something else, such as something that didn’t go to plan. That means no Friday meetings until you actually get into Friday, when you can see if you have any space for them.

If things have gone to plan, you’ll have time on Friday to read those articles you’ve been saving for when you have some time to read them (or is that just me), work on some behind the scenes stuff that never gets done, or even do some longer term planning.

This isn’t about leaving yourself free space in which you can do nothing. The point, Laura says, is to prevent yourself from not getting things done because “something came up”. Because something always comes up. You got stuck in traffic, your kid got sick, you had to go to yet another physio about your sore back . . . The idea is to build in space to deal with what you didn’t do when that “something” inevitably “came up”.

A backup.

If you plan for things to to go wrong, you won’t get derailed when they do. And if they don’t go wrong, you can go for a longer walk, or write another chapter of your novel, or finish that photo project you never have time for.

I think this approach could work well for my paid work week, and could be supported by the planning on Friday strategy, where I could

  1. plan out the rest of Friday, to cover whatever still needed to be done that week and any reading or behind the scenes work I wanted do
  2. make a tight schedule for getting through my high priority work on Monday and Tuesday
  3. make a loose plan for Wednesday and Thursday.

I’ll experiment with that for the next couple of weeks, even if the word “schedule” does make me twitch.

Week 13 summary

What was the best thing about this week?

I had coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen for several weeks, and I finally got my tax done. These two things are not connected.

What did I notice this week?

The light on the rocks on the beach. And on the cormorants.

Two cormorants on two rocks in some choppy water
Cormorants enjoying the afternoon light

What I’m reading this week

  • Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gadsby
  • A Guide to Eco-Anxiety by Anouchka Grose
  • Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam

Habit tracker

  • Morning ritual (Goal = 7): 7
  • Move (preferably before 3 pm) (Goal = 7): 7
  • Morning writing (Goal = 7): 5
  • The Little Red Writing Book exercises (Goal = 5): 0
  • Listened to writing podcasts (Goal = 2): 0
  • All four physiotherapy exercises (Goal = 7): 6
  • Mental health break outside during my work days in the office (2 days): 2
  • Finish work by 5.30 (Goal = 5): 5
  • Shut my computer down before 9.15 (Goal = 5): I completely lost track this week
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