Why You Need Padding in Your Schedule

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There is an important concept in web design known as “padding.” Padding refers to the space around an element (e.g., the content: a photo or block of text). It surrounds the element but is inside the border and inside the margin.  The purpose of padding is to provide visual space for an element and help it stand out from the background.

In life, it is important to include plenty of padding in your schedule.  Like a design element in a web page, you will be much more balanced when you give yourself time on either end of appointments.  If you can buffer the elements of your day with a little breathing room on either end, you will feel less stressedfunction more efficiently, and enjoy your activities more, and generally feel better.

In a calendar, I refer to this padding as white space.  Looking ahead at my week, I try to consider the amount of unstructured time, or white space, in my days. I aim to achieve a happy balance between structured activities and down time. Ironically, sometimes it is necessary to schedule the white space.  But be that as it may, time to reflect and just “be” is vital to my sense of well-being and harmony.

This is definitely easier said than done.  In addition to the “must-do’s on my list, it is easy to get enticed by the variety of enrichment classes, workshops, concerts and events that are available in the greater Portland area.  As a society, we emphasize the value of enriching our minds at the expense of allowing ourselves time to just “be”, and I often get caught in this trap.

And it’s not just adults.  Researchers are beginning to evaluate the downsides of over-structuring our lives and the lives of our children. For instance, Howard P. Chudacoff suggests in his book, Children at Play: An American History,” that organized activities, over-scheduling and huge amounts of homework are crowding out free time and shrinking children’s imaginations and social skills. As parents, we can greatly help our children by modeling our appreciation of unstructured time, and by limiting the amount of structure we give to their days to a reasonable level.

What to do?

On the small scale:

  1. Try to get to work 15 minutes before you need to so that you can settle in and get comfortable before being consumed by the tasks of the day.
  2. Try to leave openings in your schedule for unstructured “just being” time.
  3. Take a lesson from Mad Men’s creative director Don Draper.   How much time does Don spend sitting at his desk, gazing out the window, or, even better, stretched out on his office couch, sound asleep?  Window-gazing is a highly underrated art form and a great way to let your brain rest and allow creative ideas to percolate just below the surface.

On the large scale, adding padding into your weekly schedule is vital for a healthy mind and a healthy body.  By this, I mean:

  1. Give yourself large chunks of unstructured time, to just be.  To read whatever strikes your fancy.  To sketch or doodle.  To call a friend.  To write in your journal.  To knit a sock.  To thumb through a favorite magazine. Whatever.  Just unstructured time.  This is when your brain gets to rest and recharge. An added benefit is that solutions to problems frequently bubble up when you’ve taken the mind off of your problem.  Great ideas and solutions are percolating beneath the surface, and giving yourself some unstructured “me time” is one of the best ways to allow these ideas to surface.
  2. Think about coming back a day early from your vacation so that you can transition between play and work more easily. We’ve all had the experience of staying to the last possible minute on a vacation only to come home, late at night, exhausted by delays and the stresses of travel, only to be faced with mountains of mail to sort, laundry to wash, groceries to buy and meals to prepare. Whenever possible, I use my last day of vacation as a transition day, rather than a travel day, and it has made a mountain of difference, both in how fondly I recall the vacation, and how easily I transition back to work.
  3. Consider a digital sabbatical, àla Rowdy Kittens or Gwen Bell. Unplug and unwind.

To recap: Why do you need padding in your schedule?  The short answer: because it provides breathing space in your day. And why is this important? Because you will be happier and less stressed if you do. Try not to over-schedule yourself to within a nanosecond of your life.

And, if all this talk about planning has made you want to be more organized with your planning, you might be interested in Charlie Gilkey’s Premium Planners. Charlie has designed a great series of planners to help you plant your blog posts or plan your day. Here is a link to his free planners*.

*While I am not an affiliate for these planners (i.e., I don’t receive any commission), I am always glad when I can bring great products to your attention.

Your turn: Do you have enough padding in your schedule?  What can you do to bring more white space into your calendar? Please let me know in a comment below.

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2 Responses to Why You Need Padding in Your Schedule

  1. I love this post – I’ve been thinking some of the same things lately. I wonder about taking this even to the next level, where you apply padding to your quarter, your year, or even maybe your decade? I know that my best ideas often come during “unstructured” time.

    It even makes me think of the Biblical concept of the “Year of Jubilee”, when even the land they farmed was given “padding”.

  2. Hi Luke,

    I like your idea about taking padding to the next level. “Big padding,” as it were. It would be so great to be able to take time throughout the year, perhaps at the change of seasons, to chill out and just be. This would probably result in great ideas and creativity, but these would be secondary to the pure joy of having unstructured time.

    Your mention of the Jubilee makes me think of a related concept, sabbaticals. I know some forward-thinking companies include sabbaticals as part of their benefits-package for their long-term employees. For those of us who are self-employed, it is a little trickier. But still doable, I think, with a bit of careful planning.

    It was great to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by!