Forget Conscious Uncoupling; Try Conscious Unscheduling

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I recently sat next to a highly successful Hollywood executive over dinner. He let it slip that he was oddly looking forward to the following day. "Why?" I inquired, imagining an impressive gathering of senior executives discussing a potential multi-million dollar deal. I couldn't have been more wrong when he answered: "My meeting got cancelled."

We laughed about how ludicrously giddy we become when appointments get cancelled or, better yet, an entire business trip somehow disappears from our calendars. It's as if we want to raise our hand and shout BINGO with a card full of free spaces resulting in, well, free space. I then began to notice a trend: many people had the same reaction... including me. In the interest of full disclosure, my own empathetic assistant sends me smiley faces like this one :) when someone calls to cancel a lunch.

It left me wondering what is at the heart of this giddiness and, like anything in life that gives us joy, how do we strive to get more of it?

The cause, of course, is simple. We are too damn busy. In "Overscheduled and Overextended: How to Stop," Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D. writes:

We are overscheduled, overbooked, overextended. And some of us even wear it like a badge of honor. You know the type. 'Oh, I'm so exhausted. I have to finish a report by noon, meet so-and-so for lunch, then I have exactly 15 minutes to drive home, then take Johnny to soccer practice at 6 P.M.., then go back to the office until 10 P.M. -- I'm so tired. (Then adding a long yawn for emphasis.)

What makes the "cancelled meeting" phenomenon particularly intriguing is that it relies so heavily on fate. We're not thinning out our own schedules, we are leaving it in the hands of someone else, shirking any notion of responsibility.

In "Why 'Busyness' is Not Productivity" from Psychology Today, the author cites New York Times writer Tim Kreider's "The Busy Trap," article in which he argues:

[O]verly busy people are busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they're addicted to busyness... They feel anxious and guilty when they aren't either working or doing something to promote their work." He/she adds "idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice. It is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.

So in order to avoid a rickets-like depravation, here's an idea: While Gwyneth Paltrow is contemplating her "Conscious Uncoupling," why don't the rest of us contemplate conscious unscheduing? Let's think about giving ourselves that free space by cancelling or postponing our own meetings. Let's consider not saying yes to everything and not being everywhere we think we should. Let's leave holes in our own schedules and decline an occasional invitation. Let's remind each other that we are, in fact, finite resources.

On a personal note, if you're reading this and happen to have an upcoming meeting with me, please don't cancel in the hopes that I'll get one of these: :). If we each do our jobs right, we will have consciously unscheduled our calendars, took control of our own time and maybe even given ourselves a magical bit of free space.