Sabbatical and Unstructured Time
It sounds good, but then when you get there it’s a swamp. And it can feel like a huge swamp sucking you down into just wasting your life.
What do you do with the problem of having a lot of time but not being able to use it well?
I have a simple trick I call the Writer’s Ritual Ladder
It’s too simple to be believed, but if you try it you’ll see how powerful is its action on unstructured time.
And then you’ll keep doing it and never have to be in the swamp again.
You know how it goes on spring break, summer, or sabbatical: first you need the chance to breathe and recuperate. Then you have your big list of things you’re going to get done.
Then there’s a little trouble starting up. A little of this and that. Then you look up, and realize time is ticking. Then you’re a deer in the headlights, freeze and can’t things done.
That goes on a little while, and before you know it, you can’t believe that you wasted practically the whole that time.
Then comes remorse and regret. Recriminations are distributed and it ends in defeat.
Maybe next time.
But the power of Writer’s Ritual Ladder can change all that and it is so easy it can only be seen to be believed.
What you need is structure and order in your unstructured day, but you can’t watch over yourself for a whole day, all the time, in constant surveillance and enforcement. No one has that kind of power and energy.
If you have a lot of unstructured time the danger is you may try to control all that time, and fail miserably.
What you need is a strategic structuring force and momentum in your life, applied in just the right way, at just the right time, and that gets your day going in the right direction.
Here’s How You Do It:
One step at a time, and first thing in the morning.
If you commit to a zillion good practices all at once you’ll not be able to keep it up. So you step into a few ritual elements, tiny bit by bit.
Drink a Glass of Warm Water first thing in the morning. That’s it. Just commit to that, and make it easier by leaving out the water the night before. So there’s very little investment. All you have to do is reach out and drink it. Plus, the virtual absurdity of committing your faith to simply drinking a glass of water as the solution to your problems will disarm the mind that thinks it has to be the 24-hour enforcer. You want to do something that challenges the tyrant.
Belittle that tyrant for one week and already you may start to feel the effects of the structure, and by week two you will definitely feel it. The temptation will be to pile a bunch of other practices on here but if you do, you might drop them all. So start here.
You need the water after the dehydration of sleep, and by adopting the new practice you are setting habit momentum and structuring force in motion.
Add in a physical exercise that is easy and brief to do. Just a few moves, nothing much. Now you are drinking water, and exercising a bit. By this point the repetition of 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 at the start of your day is creating a sense of order and structure.
Week Three: Add in ONE other small repetitive action. Some good choices are:
— a calming, centering practice like meditation, cup of tea and gaze at the sky, or other “empty” moment of pause—where for a brief period of time you are relaxing and doing nothing. And doing it every day.
— a sensible food ritual, eat one item exactly the same every day—something very healthy and fortifying, something either prepared in advance, possibly left out and easy to grab if appropriate, or made on the spot (like a green smoothie).
— read poetry, or write a page off the top of your head, or read something inspiring. Remember to leave it out the night before: your book, laptop, notebook, whatever…
— or anything else that is replenishes you and is easy to do.
Week Four: Add ONE more, and this is a good place to let it all play itself out.
You have four repeated actions. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.
Every day starts with 1-2-3-4, and the effect of that structuring force puts the mind at ease. It gives a sense of control and direction to life, and you will find suddenly that you are not in a swampy condition. And since the actions are inherently healthy to your writing instrument (your body and mind) it is stacking good conditions into the mix too.
It’s really the simple repetitive patterning that is the amazing thing!
So the secret sauce is:
1, 1, 1 ,1, 1, 1, 1
1-2, 1-2, 1-2 ,1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2
1-2-3, 1-2-3 ,1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3
1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4
The structuring power and force of the Writer’s Ritual Ladder technique is that you stick to it because it is easy at first, and then you start to catch a whiff of what it is doing to you, which is what fuels it in the future.
That part, the whiff, I can’t give you—you have to do it and you will see what I mean. You will be shocked! After a few days of water-only in week one, you’ll start to catch a whiff of it, and then the surprise will build.
Definitely in week two you will start to feel it, and by that point you’ll want to keep going on until you get to a 4-step ritual of new repetitive behavior.
Then you will see very clearly and powerfully how fidelity to these super easy steps wards off the stagnation and floundering that can result from unstructured time.
This is the secret sabbatical saver, summer rescue, spring-break redeemer.
Just stay true to the simplicity and ease and keep the rules. Don’t jump ahead and do not turn back.
Always drink your water. Start there, and vow with all your might to drink your water every morning. That’s all, and let the powerful effects of ritual take you the rest of the way up the ladder.