How I chunk my time

I talk a lot about “chunking my time,” in such a huge amount, it’s probably time to talk about what this even means. I’m not sure who coined the phrase. Tony Robbins takes the credit for it so unless someone knows a different person to thank, I’ll take a moment to thank Tony Robbins for giving me a phrase I use and a technique I love.

So what is “chunking your time”? This is (rather cleverly) an approach to organizing your calendar by the bricks and crevices in your life. The idea is to take all your non-negotiable time slots, like your daily job and your commute time, and then breaking down the cracks into manageable pieces so you can get all your daily goals accomplished.

Time management includes coffee. This has nothing to do with chunking your time but I really like this picture. Also coffee.

In case you are wondering why you should do this, for me it comes from a story.

Nearly ten years ago, I worked with a woman named Isabelle. She was very wise and very sensible. One day in a conversation with her, I confessed that I wanted to go to law school. “You should go,” she said. I then went on to tell her the half dozen reasons why I could not go. One of them was that if I did law school part time, which would be the only way I could afford to go, I would be fifty before I graduated.

“You’re going to be fifty whether you attend law school or not. Don’t you want to turn fifty having accomplished something you love?” she asked.

This was the kind of person Isabelle was. She was sensible. She was also right. It didn’t matter how I ran my life. I was still, eventually going to be fifty. In the end, I made the VERY difficult decision not to apply to law school. No matter how I ran the numbers and squished everything together, I kept running into a bottleneck. I won’t get into the reasons because they are immensely personal. But I made the decision and I’m good with it because it was the right decision. I wish things had been different but they weren’t.

Incidentally, I’m going to be fifty in April. Isabelle was right on that. While law school wasn’t on the books for me, she had made a very good point. If I get doing what I was doing, I was going to keep getting what I was getting. I was 40. My job was very high stress due to a very difficult manager. We were basically playing Survivor: Charlotte’s Career Edition. I didn’t like my odds. I began distance education courses through a University that offered the option.

Through a series of backwards and forwards steps, plus a great deal of luck and timing and right place, right time, I carved out a very nice career for myself in IMIT with a side line in union activism. (It’s hard to call it a side line now. It’s a crazy balancing act on a good day.) Over the last ten years, I have learned to master the skill of chunking my time. As a single mom with a youngish child, setting boundaries and learning how to work in the niches of my life became my skill. Now it’s as comfortable for me as any other daily habit.

Let’s assume you want to learn more about etiquette. (I’m choosing that because I have Emily Post’s most recent edition next to me.) Whether you want to read, attend a class, or watch YouTube videos, you are going to need to find time to do that. Where do you find time to learn about your greatest new passion, which includes how to eat fried chicken politely. (Who doesn’t want to know this?) If you have no demands on your time and had the foresight to be born independently wealthy, you can just dedicate the rest of the week to your new pursuit. But if you have a day job and a busy family, you’re going to need to figure out how to fit your new passion into the only 24 hours you have in your day.

…Or you can just put it off until tomorrow every day. But if you’re going to be fifty anyway, you might as well get used to chunking your time. JUST SAYIN’.

Step One: Block out the time you can’t control

Figure out your non-negotiables in your schedule. You need time to sleep. You need time to see your family. You have commute time. You have work time. Block it all off in your calendar or planner.

Step Two: Find the gaps

See what cracks appear in your time. You have a lunch break. Can you read on your lunch break? Do you have a job where you could listen to a podcast and still do your work without sacrificing quality? What about your commute time? If you are in the car for 30 minutes, can you listen to the audio version of an etiquette book? (I still listen to a podcast when I am making dinner. It doesn’t matter where I am in my life, old habits die hard. I’d probably be unable to turn on the stove if I didn’t have something to listen to.)

Step Three: Schedule it and mean it

For me, two spaces always showed up when I was a single parent. The first was my lunch breaks. I reserved half my lunch breaks for homework and essay-writing. (If you work at RJH, you saw me on the mezzanine every lunch break with a pink laptop bag.) My daughter used to play baseball, so when she was at practice or doing a pre-game warm-up, I was in the car reading no matter what the weather or light was. I couldn’t use my laptop comfortably in the car, but I could read. (I’m sure I got repeat eye strain from trying to read by the interior dome light, but I was committed.)

Some lifestyles are more demanding than others. When I was a single mom to a young child, it felt like days just whipped past and all I was doing was surviving. Learning how to chunk my time meant that I gained some control in my schedule. I didn’t get more “me” time. Young children just need attention and there is nothing that will change about that. But the library always had book cassettes (yeah, I said I’m nearly 50, right?) and today every phone has access to millions of educational resources that can be done in small bites.

There are two things I really want to leave you with. The first is that learning to chunk your time is a difficult exercise if you don’t have a greater vision. For me, I had been desperate to take control of my life and move my daughter and me from welfare, to a job, to a career, and then into new career potentials. That urgency meant that I was committed to doing whatever it took to access a work force that required me to have a skillset I didn’t have. My jump from single-mom-on-welfare to career-mom-with-a-lot-of-upward-mobility didn’t come in a single step. It came in a series of tiny frustrating baby steps. I had a vision. I stuck to it. It took about twenty years to achieve.

The second thing I want you to know is that you must be patient with yourself. There will be days when you’ll be the superhero of chunking your time. There will be weeks when you have done nothing and you’ll want to be hard on yourself for your failures. In hindsight, I loved every single moment I got to spend with my chubby little toddler. She needed to throw sticks into the creek and watch them sail away, only to appear out the other side. I did not accomplish my goals on those days. But I would not trade those moments. When you are distracted by life, have patience with yourself.

Whatever your goals are in life, I hope you crush them. Chunk your time. Have patience. Have a bigger vision than yourself. You can achieve anything if you break it down into tiny steps and then fit each tiny step into the tiny spaces of your life.

In case you’re left saying, but wait! What does Emily Post say about how to eat chicken, here’s what it says in the 19th Edition on page 694.