By: Victoria Raphael
We live in a world of human “do-ings” rather than human beings. Everyone is in motion. How many people do you know who aren’t complaining of long days and too much to do? In spite of the over-scheduling most people just want to get through their litany of tasks and have more time for the things they enjoy. One of the biggest reasons people hire coaches is to help them get a handle on managing their lives. Before we can help them navigate their massive activity lists it helps to know what dominant action style they employ: that of SCHEDULING or SPONTANEITY. Like anything else these elements fall along a continuum and people are always going to employ mixes of both. Let’s examine both elements and draw some conclusions on how they can be used as coaching tools in helping people get things done.
Surprisingly scheduling and spontaneity have a lot in common. Both involve ACTION and INTENTION. The difference being the spontaneous person lets intention arise at the moment and then determines his course of action. The intention and action may very well be the product of a distraction or something that just “popped up” at the moment. The scheduler has thought out his intentions and plotted his actions in advance. Distractions are not permitted to enter the equation even if they may be “good” ones.
Both types of people are pursuing the same goal…..getting what they want out of life, thus making themselves HAPPY. The common desire is to waste less time on “have to’s” leaving more time for the “want to’s.” Both style elements have their pros and cons. The key is recognizing your dominant style, understanding the benefits and consequences of both, and knowing how each element can serve or deter, depending on the needs of the immediate situation.
Scheduling simply means choosing how to allot time and resources towards completing a number of tasks. It provides a procedural plan indicating a precise time and sequence and implies a certain sense of discipline and commitment. Self-discipline allows one to take action regardless of emotional state, physical well being, or the absence of interest. In some cases it can override choice, at least at that particular moment in time. Intentions won’t manifest without some form of self discipline. In its most extreme form self-discipline almost always guarantees you will follow through and reach your goal.
Time management is a form of self-discipline and works in tandem with scheduling. It involves the employment of techniques and tools used to get things done. It promotes action, making sure tasks are accomplished within a prescribed time limit. TM encompasses the skills of planning, decision making, goal setting, and prioritization of activities (or action steps) in a particular order of importance. A crucial part of TM is allotting some “contingency” time for emergencies with left over “discretionary” time for enjoyment. If too little remains you need to re-negotiate your workload.
On the up side schedulers may find their lives more organized. They are on time, on task, and meet their commitments. The fridge is full, the house is clean and days run like clockwork. Keys are seldom lost and the checkbook is always balanced. On the other hand schedulers may have little time for enjoying family life or their immaculate homes. Obligation, duty, and keeping up appearances may prevail over having a good time. They can easily miss out on opportunities which crop up serendipitously……or on just savoring life’s little pleasures.
“Spontaneous” is a feel-good word. We think of being able to do something at the spur of the moment just because we want to. It’s a chance to take advantage of unplanned opportunity. Spontaneity is unrestrained, employs free will, and comes from our natural feelings. It incorporates room for unpredictability and surprise in the most pleasant of ways. Like scheduling it promotes action. Spontaneity should never be confused with impulsiveness. Impulsiveness employs rash, erratic behavior with no restraint or forethought. There is absolutely no consideration of consequences or of the effect on the big picture when acting impulsively.
Spontaneity hinges on how much you can trust yourself. To act spontaneously one needs a feeling of self-confidence and a sense of faith in one’s own judgment. Spontaneity is liberating. It originates from a state of low anxiety. In this less rigid, loosely controlled frame of mind there is minimal concern about making mistakes, vulnerability, or about the opinions of others. Openness to risk is enhanced. Fear goes out the window while living in the moment prevails.
Spontaneity is a catalyst for creativity. MRI studies on jazz musicians show that their brains turn off self-censoring mechanisms when they improvise music. Creations flow without evaluation. The same thing happens during brainstorming. The separation of creative thinking from the critical can come later. When we speak of artists getting lost in “the flow,” or “the zone”, this is it. They become so engrossed they lose their conscious selves. Underlying beliefs are bypassed. Inspiration and intuition take over.
Works of art originate in the unconscious mind drawing upon accumulated knowledge and experience, tapping into inner wisdom regardless of how much thought or preparation was initially involved. Being in the flow is a coveted experience. Time and space disappear because the individual is acting in one of the deepest states of SATISFACTION. It is the height of a heightened experience, putting one in a place essential to the dynamic of happiness.
Does being spontaneous trump scheduling and discipline? Spontaneous individuals do capitalize on the joys of the moment. They indulge themselves more often, taking things day by day. These people stop to smell the flowers and eat the fruit which falls from the trees, doing what they feel like rather than what they have to. The downside is that things aren’t getting done. Work is accumulating, vacation days have been used up, there’s no clean underwear in the drawer and the library books are overdue. It’s not fun anymore when life gets chaotic.
Call In The Coaches
Coaches help clients take action and achieve goals. A common request is for help in organizing, and completing daily activities. A second is for life balance. To make both scheduling and spontaneity work for you, start by knowing your style. Then let go of any guilt you carry from being too much of either. Guilt equals stress. Accept the way you do things. There are no wrongs or rights here, just a need for perspective; a need to know when to utilize either trait to your advantage or make adjustments. Checking out the big picture before moving ahead is the key. Couple this with a sense of discernment to determine the benefit of a particular activity choice and you’re on your way.
Consider the PARADOX of scheduling vs. spontaneity. The harder you work putting routines and systems in place for yourself the more likely you are to experience those spontaneous “aha moments” of free flowing ideas. Having more structure and preparation in place can actually free you to be more spontaneous. Dancers and singers can perform spontaneously only because of the discipline they put into practicing their art. A writer may have ideas that come to mind anywhere at any time. It’s easy to take a break to jot down thoughts as they appear, however the actual development of a piece requires a form of discipline (or scheduling) where you sit down to work without interruption. Without it there’s no time or space to continue the idea flow and refine your work. Neuroscience has confirmed that routine is a key that unlocks creative inspiration. A component of this is what is called “setting the stage” which involves all sorts of associative triggers like your being in your art studio, in front of the computer, or listening to a certain type of music while working.
We need foundations, framework, and guidelines, but with the flexibility to make adjustments and take advantage of serendipitous opportunities. In turn, we need breaks from routine to have time to think, generate ideas, and let them flow. We can become prisoners of either of the two elements. No matter what your type you probably employ both more than you realize. Be ready to see how each element enables or impedes. Uncontrolled spontaneity can keep you from doing things that need to be done. Too many distractions can keep you from being free. A large list of scheduled events easily prevents you from having fun and from being open to life’s little miracles. Too many “to dos” leaves no time for “improvisation” in life.
For the spontaneous, be open to adding some scheduling discipline to a few areas of your life especially those that have direct effect on others. The same goes for the schedulers. Allow yourself to stray from your agenda. Deviate a bit. Give yourself time for unstructured activities…..then let everything else go and get on with things. The key is self-awareness and remembering that both scheduling and spontaneity involve intention and promote action.
Here are some ways to balance scheduling and spontaneity in your life depending on the need and the situation at hand. Take some time to reflect on the statements and ask yourself the questions which follow. Both elements can serve you well and help you achieve what you want out of life.
-Know your life values. Discover your purpose. Do your actions match these?
-Evaluate incoming stimuli that prompt you to do something. How important are these distractions? Are there bigger priorities? What are the consequences of giving in?
-Know what regularly pulls you away from what you have to do. How can you avoid such patterns?
-Take a moment to think before you decide to do something.
-Get your mind to slow down and look at your schedule realistically. Can you do everything on your list?
-Go with your gut.
-Listen to your body. It needs you.
-Take it in stride if you have to miss something that is routine or scheduled. What’s the worst that can happen?
-No matter where you fall on the continuum, think about the way both elements can benefit your life.
-Consider which style is more pro-active for YOU and why.
-Are there are times when self-discipline works against you?
-Define how you see shifting priorities. Are they good or bad?
-How much of what you do is habitual? Do you make time to engage in discovery and exploration?
-Do you use life’s stresses to seek change and newness?
-Create conditions for successful spontaneity. Schedule activities but leave room for things to come up.
-Be prepared for opportunity.
-Don’t forget to slow down, breathe, stop talking, and turn your thoughts to your life’s passions…..then open yourself to experience “the flow.”