Something I’ve been chewing on for some time for this blog is principles that have had a great impact on my life, tangibly shaping who I am and will be. I’m not sure how formal I want to be, citing papers or anecdotes. I read a lot of compelling blogs and articles, but I can’t exactly prove that to you since I actively forget sources after I learn from them. Even though I archive these things in Instapaper, Pocket, and emails, I don’t currently feel like retrieving all those things for you. However, I’m at the point where I need to just blurt it out. Take this post for the projectile word vomit it is.
Structured unstructured time. In Lê brother parlance, fire-gazing time. The thousand mile stare. Sitting out on your rock. Unwind. Let your hair down. Put on your comfy pants.
Starting in high school, I borrowed a lot of time from Future Jon. I stayed up late nights to get school work done, I worked weekends, and I volunteered at church. In university, I started a long distance relationship with ma bébé, and then did co-op and served as Co-President of the Electrical Engineering Club. I have a type A personality, so you could say that I’m quite effective with my resources. I borrowed a lot of time from Future Jon, and now that I am Future Jon, I’m paying back that debt.
The mind needs time to unwind. You can’t just keep pushing it, or it’ll snap. That’s essentially what sleep is for: dropping useless memories and information and incorporating the useful. If you’ve read into sleep even a little, you’ll know that that phase consisting of rapid eye movement (REM) is the most important part — dreaming. Why is it so important? Your mind is playing, and it’s taking a Magic Bullet to some random memories.
If you look at it like a muscle, it needs time to heal and strengthen from all the exertion it faces. I’m going to the gym lately, and you can’t work out the same muscle groups all the time without giving them rest.
Allow yourself to be bored. I believe boredom is the best fuel for innovation and creativity, so stock up on it.
In “Seven Habits”-speak, this is the most important quadrant on the urgent-important table.
I won’t go into great detail convincing you that structured unstructured time is necessary. If you’re like me, you’re just gonna push through until you legitimately have the time or until it’s possibly too late. Come back when you’re ready. And possibly find some actual material with scientific evidence on the benefits.
How to SUT?
This is an exercise in discipline and restraint. This isn’t just time to watch TV, play games, reddit, or in my case, all three at the same time. This is structured time, after all. Based on the heating in the apartment, I’ll take the time to shower, make coffee, change into my Lululemon pants, put on socks and a t-shirt, maybe pull out the Snuggie, put on some relaxing music from Rdio, and just be. I’ll just sit and look around at everything. Let my heart slow down. Be in the moment.
This is where you read a book, take a walk, or sit and think your thoughts. Eat an apple and stare out the window. Sometimes, I honestly just sit on the couch or lay in bed and stare at a wall. Have a glass of water. Some reading material is kinda stressful to read, so I’m careful with my queue in Pocket. I like the image of sipping a warm coffee drink at a café while people buzz and rush about, but that’s not something I want to do because of -30 ºC (-22 ºF) weather.
One pattern for this resting period is the Sabbath Day from the Biblical Creation Story. If you can afford it, spend a day per week firegazing. Carrie takes good care of me, and that’s about as much as I can manage. The other day of the weekend is for chores. If you have a schedule that isn’t Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5, even better. Pick a time that works for you where everyone is busy and nobody will bother you.
You could meditate, but this isn’t like a daily 10-minute morning meditation session. I don’t think six of those a week could really sustain you long term.
Part of happiness is taking life at the pace you want. Don’t rush yourself. Don’t stress yourself out if you feel like you’re not doing it right.
You know what the ugly side is of this structure? Actively not making plans during your time off. I’m not saying necessarily to drop them if they’re already made, but don’t make those commitments in the first place. Someone wants to go for brunch, someone needs help fixing something or other, someone just popped into town and wants to hang out. Many of these interferences are avoidable, many aren’t. Cut it out of your calendar. This takes time, but it needs to be done. I’ve been out of town for a couple weekends, so it’s taking time to return to normalcy and peace.
To enjoy structured unstructured time, there aren’t any technological solutions, fancy breathing techniques, or apps you need to fuss with. This exercise needs character. It needs you to stop making excuses and just take care of yourself. It so happens that I’m writing this post on my day off, but hey, it’s that boredom fueling my writing after a full day of I’m not really sure what I did.