The recording of our daily activities reveals how we spend our lives. Yes, I am referring to the wise words of Annie Dillard: “how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” This sentiment started me on a sixteen-month study of ancient traditions, mostly Taoism and Buddhism but also Eastern orthodox Christianity, which is not the Christianity of the Western world. In short, the course is a synthesis of the last 5000 years of thought, providing me many resources for later study.
That is how I spend my days…now.
As I began my study, it became apparent that I had no appreciation of how I actually spent my days and thus, lived my life. In Dr. Symeon Rodger’s book, The Five Pillars of Life, I discovered an approach to routine that offers “the key to getting control of [my] time and [my] life.”
There was a certain correlation to the philosophy of ROW 80 or the “writing challenge that knows you have a life.” It seemed as if both ROW 80 and Dr. Rodger were helping me focus on my routine. They knew I had a life but did I know it, and if I did, how did I spend it?
It became readily apparent that a routine is not a to-do or want list nor is it a schedule of planned hours. Rather, it is a recording of a day in a life, and the recording begins right where one is currently, which is also known as gathering baseline data. Please appreciate that I applied Dr. Rodger’s program—“you can’t fix your life unless you understand it”—by asking myself, “If I don’t know how I spend my days, how am I spending my life?”
And so it began….
Dr. Rodger’s entire exercise of creating one’s routine takes four weeks (or 30 days). Within a few days of dutifully recording the activities of each day as each activity occurred, I discovered a distinctive rhythm to my routine, and it had a major effect upon my writing. There not only seemed to be more time for my writing but there was a true enthusiasm for writing every day. There really was a rhythm to my life, it seemed.
Essentially, this is how I recorded my days. First, I did not create a routine that I thought was a good life. Rather, I recorded the routine that I live every day to learn how I spend my days. It was revealing. I discovered that whatever I wanted more or less of in my day was possible, as long as I was honest about the rhythm that is my life.
- In week one, I recorded the activities of each day as they occurred. I wrote down single word or short descriptions (examples: Internet, Cooper 1/3 C, morning writing, grocery shopping) in no less than hourly blocks. Limiting descriptions and eliminating short blocks of time captured the important.
- At the end of the first week, I had three categories for that week’s events.
- The first category is those blocks of time that are always mine. I labeled them available for writing but regardless, it is my time.
- The second category is that amount of time that is always unavailable for writing. This is time set aside for day jobs or school.
- The third category is the time generally unavailable for writing—the time spent in relationships, an amount that is unpredictable and variable.
- During week two, I enforced the boundaries of my available writing time–no matter what. I discovered that I exceeded my writing time in quantity and quality for no matter when I wrote, there was time for writing. I did not have to force writing into my life. By the end of week two, writing was as much of a part of my day as my morning coffee.
- During week three, I increased the amount of time generally unavailable for writing by readjusting my “work” schedule—those required tasks that are not writing. Rather than having less time in my relationships, I had more. As I was writing regularly, I found myself more efficient at my “other work.”
- During the fourth week, there were unanticipated events but there really wasn’t an interruption in the rhythm of any day. It was more like the unexpected became a part of the everyday. I adjusted and I wrote.
Life is not simply discovering a routine that works—in fact, I don’t think that is life at all–but each life has a rhythm unique to it and therein may be the key. For me, the recording of my daily activities reveals the choices I make so that change occurs within the rhythm that is me and not as a reaction to what is outside of me.
In just over a month (35 days), I have written 40,000+ words in the first draft of nonfiction manuscript and have begun revising the initial draft of a novel. A month ago, I didn’t have the idea for a nonfiction writing project; three months ago, I had abandoned revising the novel. I blog once a week, in addition to my ROW 80 updates and check-in posts.
Ultimately, it is not about writing books or having a blog. It is about recording my days of how I spend my life.
“‘If you do not arouse a determined will and sharpen a resolute, decisive attitude but merely pass the days at leisure just as you are, even if you say you are practicing the Way, you cannot wake up and get free.’” (Translation from Practical Taoism, Thomas Cleary. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1996).