“Graph paper models—you do that too!” I commented.
“My stuff is a different size in my head than it is in real life,” she replied.
I was moving, too, to a smaller space. And I couldn’t find my graph paper. The room seemed spacious, with its big windows and hardwood floor. But I kept expanding its dimensions in my mind. Then I’d do the math, and see that there was no way everything I imagined was going to fit into that 12-by-15 room.
I sketched out different room plans. Decided what my priorities were. Changed my mind. The night before moving day, a friend and I went over with a long tape measure and a list of my furniture’s dimensions. It was clear the coffee table and some bookcases just weren’t going to fit. It was clear that the room in my head was more like 14 by 20 feet.
In her book How Did I Get So Busy? The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule, and Reconnect with What Matters Most, Valorie Burton advises beginning with what she calls the AIM Assessment:
- Acknowledgment: Accept that there is a problem to be resolved.
- Inventory: Write down every responsibility and commitment that you are currently engaged in or will soon be engaged in.
- Model: Ask yourself, “What do I want my ideal life to look like instead?”
The problem might not be busyness (though I’ve used that word for something I don’t like about my life). The problem might be magical thinking. I keep being overly optimistic about how long it takes to do things and thinking I can check more off my to-do list than I ever actually can. Then I keep remembering how long it actually takes to, say, write an essay.
Or I look forward to two unstructured days when I don’t have to show up anywhere, and think I’ll get sooooooo much done. And at the end of the day—where did the time go?
My inventory is long, and a day isn’t going to stretch into 30 hours. A week isn’t going to expand into nine days. Clearly, not all the furniture of commitment I’d like to say yes to is going to fit into the room of my days. And stealing time from sleep is not the way to squeeze it in.
A few days after my move, as I continued to pack up some of the two-thirds of my possessions still at the old place, I found my graph paper. Maybe I’ll make cutouts of commitments and desires, lay them on a grid of my days, and see what I need to leave behind.