Goof-Off Time and Other Techniques

One of the efforts that we at Framework are undertaking this year is that of defining a method of time management that fits the Caribbean tempo and lifestyle.

The reasons why none of the popular approaches used worldwide has become popular in our region are varied and many: too much rigidity, too much technology, not enough humanity etc.

While the best approach I have found is the one described in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, even this approach does not provide a complete time management solution for our way of living.

I know this from personal experience, having lived in both North America, with its daily predictability, and here in the Caribbean, where life is filled with unpredictability. At the moment of writing, for example, I have been waiting for 7 weeks to receive DSL service…

In my reading this morning, I realized that my own time management tricks have evolved a great deal over the years. In particular, my calendar has evolved to the point where I discovered that I actually have three calendars in one:

  1. A Repetitive Action Calendar
    This is my weekly calendar of regularly scheduled items. It contains items that I have scheduled do to each day, each week, and each year at regularly recurring intervals. For example, I went cycling this morning at 4:00am with my cycling club, a regularly recurring Thursday morning activity that I undertake whenever I am in town. It is pre-scheduled into my calendar, and requires a loud and intrusive alarm clock to set it into motion! Each month at around this time, I balance my check book. I also pay my phone bill. Each year at around this time, I set an appointment to look at issuing various tax documents that are due on January 31st for the prior year, and also at scheduling my company’s annual meeting – -a legal requirement. These recurring activities are all programmed into Microsoft Outlook, although I do use a variety of other tricks to help me to remember them, such as a programme at that sends me an email reminder to complete one particular tax document that I seem to forget about each year!

    This “Same Action Calendar” keeps my life humming in the background, and I never have to remember to do any of the actions in it. I love to find new things to put in this calendar, because each time I do it, I relieve myself of the burden of having to remember, or to rely on someone else’s memory, or to rely on a piece of mail that can get lost.

    When a new action comes up, such as a weekly conference call, I love when it is conducted at the same time each week, because I can place it in my Repetitive Action Calendar and completely forget about it.

  2. A Next Step Calendar

    This is my calendar of projects, and all other activities that happen only once, broken down into the “Next Step” that I must take in the sequence of actions to complete the project.

    This includes activities such as “Contact Web Designer” which is the next step of a larger project called “Update Website”. Another activity is “Install Monitor” which is part of a project called “Install New Office” (I just moved offices).

    The calendar of Next Steps is, admittedly, filled with more fun and exciting activities than the Repetitive Action Calendar, which is filled with lots of mundane activity, some of which I normally detest. They are both critically important, however, to my functioning as a professional.

  3. The Unscheduled Time Calendar
  4. This next calendar is one that is truly Caribbean. It is also called the Interruption/Emergency/Goof-Off Calendar.

    This one is critical for mental health and sanity for those of us who work in the Caribbean region. It is a calendar of time that must be devoted to fixing stuff that breaks, recovering from emergencies, cooling out from the heat, drying out from the rain, waiting for stuff to happen (like for the Fedex man to come between 8:00 and 2:00 when he comes at 2:30) and responding to interruptions of a human or inhuman nature that are such a part of life in the tropics.

    Life here is all about going with the flow, and there is a lot of stuff flowing about, that one needs to learn to go with – enough to drive a North American or European professional absolutely crazy. This time needs to be put in the calendar (just in order to reflect reality).

    Each day tends to differ from the plan – significantly.

    Staying at the office in a meeting all day? Schedule very little Unscheduled Time.

    Going on errands to the tax office, post office and bank, while picking up the children?Plan for a LOT of Unscheduled Time to account for the pothole that blows a tire, the long line at the post office, the bank that can’t find your account and the tax office that… nuff said.

    Plus, you may need to spend an extra fifteen minutes with that one child who had a tough day and is looking a bit forlorn.

    Each professional is different in terms of what their Unscheduled Time Calendar looks like, and it needs to be carefully tweaked to match the circumstances of the day, week, month or (God forbid) year.

Putting Them All Together

Of course, these three calendars are not actually three different pieces of paper, or three different electronic files. Think of them as transparent overlays that come from three very different ways of thinking.

In actual practice, they are being assembled at the same time as the Caribbean professional builds his or her calendar for the day. He or she ensures that all three mindsets are carefully balanced to produce a day that is not just productive in the traditional sense of the word, but also realistic and relatively peaceful.

After all, isn’t that the goal of trying to manage time in the first place?