It started with something small: I missed brushy trash pickup last week. I had my reasons, like that the week before I was recovering from a head cold, sleeping away my outside-of-work hours. Also, that the brushy trash in question was still standing, as dead shrubs at the southeast corner of the house that were killed by the brutal summer, so removing them represented a bigger project than just hauling already fallen branches to the curb. Brushy trash day is usually a big day for me, though, so I felt bad about missing it. Which led my to look at my weekly to-do list and wonder why I never seem to get half of it done. And, next thing I knew, I was thinking about everything, from the garden projects to the home renovations, that have been on my all-inclusive, back-of-the-mind, someday to-do list seemingly forever, and I decided that I needed to get a handle on my time.
When the to-do lists fail, I get out the grid. The grid is a spreadsheet of all the available hours in the week, with each cell (square) representing a half hour. Though the grid is a computer file that I can type into, I prefer to print the empty grid and fill it in by hand. I love charts and graphs, so a blank grid of all of my time is always appealing, and some part of me is just sure that I'm going to find the hidden half an hour that solves all my time-management problems.
I found a stack of blank copies of my time grid at the bottom of a drawer, but they were dated, representing the schedule I was on as a teacher. To be useful now, I needed to modify the spreadsheet to reflect my swing-shift reality, with days starting at 10 or 11 AM, and with my weeks starting on Monday, not Sunday. (If it were up to me, I would print calendars with Mondays in the far-left column and Sundays in the far-right.) And I almost did modify my time grid and print out an updated copy to begin mapping my week into.
Then I remembered the first time that I ever made a grid of all the hours in my day and put myself on a strict program of recording how I used each half an hour. I was in ninth grade and I was feeling out of control and hoping that, if I could just locate all the wasted time in my day, I could make myself more productive. I hand-drew the grid onto notebook paper and made a key of symbols to draw in each square indicating how I used the time. I probably enjoyed making the grid, just as I enjoy the idea of mapping my week onto a blank spreadsheet now. But it makes me a little sad now to think of my fourteen-year-old self, a girl who was getting all A's in school and spent her out-of-school hours riding and caring for horses, helping her mom with yard work, reading, taking walks down the gravel road, and eating meals and watching movies with her family, trying to force herself to be more productive.
And, as I remembered that grid and the determination I had towards wanting to feel in control, I remembered the other component of my ninth-grade self-improvement campaign: Project X. The goal of Project X, which was so named so that I could write it on my to-do list without fears of being found out, was to quit masturbating. Of course, despite repeated attempts to really quit this time, I always failed to complete Project X, until eventually I became old enough to realize that quitting masturbating simply wasn't an option and, besides, why would I want to?
In contrast, I did manage to make myself more productive starting in ninth grade. As high school progressed I added more and more to my schedule, starting with track, then cross country, then college-prep courses, then drama and an expanded group of friends, then driving to school, to my sister's school, to my friends' houses, to almost-weekly sports events, and to the stables, then honor society, and then, finally, I filled out all that I was doing on my college applications. By my senior year I wasn't sleeping enough but, despite that or maybe in part because of that, I finally felt good about myself. At least, I did when I wasn't crying my way through a rare but telling I-can't-do-this-anymore breakdown.
Over twenty years later, I not only understand why Project X was
doomed to failure, but I also recognize the underlying fears that
led me to put Project X at the top of my to-do list so many times – fear
of being out of control in my own body, fear that I was dirty or bad or
gross, and, worse of all, fear that my peers or family would find out
that shameful truth about me. And I can appreciate how beneficial failing
at Project X was for me. By failing to control my natural desires, I
learned that out-of-control can feel awfully good, and I got to spend
the first years of my sexuality with myself, finding out what feels good
to me. I can't know what that alternative universe where I succeeded at Project X is like, but I'm quite sure that I prefer this one, where I have a lighter, more accepting view of my sexuality rather than one of shame.
Yet, when it comes to trying to get a handle on my time, here I am, just as many years later, still pulling out the schedule grid when my to-do list stagnates. While there is nothing wrong with time management or using to-do lists or charts or grids (and, seriously, I do love to build a spreadsheet), I know that the reason why I associate my time grids of today with the one that I made in ninth grade is because the underlying feeling is the same. That feeling goes something like, I am not good enough because I do not do enough. And that feeling is neither light nor accepting, but instead weighs heavily over my life, constantly pressuring and judging how I use every minute. I'm living in universe where did I succeed to get my use of time under control, or, more accurately, where I have succeeded in believing that, if I could just get a handle on my time, then I could finish my to-do list and finally relax a bit. Instead the list just seems to get longer with every year that I grow older, and I can't help but wonder just how much I could gain by finally failing to have control over my time.