Schedule “life” first.

Every year, on January 1st, my year begins the same way.

I sit down with a strong cup of coffee, a very official-looking clipboard and a Sharpie pen, and I map out my professional goals for the upcoming year.

I write down:

— The books and articles that I want to write.
— The workshops and retreats that I want to produce.
— The clients that I want to collaborate with — and how many clients, and when.
— The exact dollar amount I want to earn — and the composite of books, products, services, and tickets that I’ll need to sell in order to reach that goal.

I write it all down. Then I schedule everything onto my calendar. Then I finish my coffee — and begin the hustle-bustle-rustle of making it all happen.

The weeks and months evaporate so quickly. The calendar moves from January to June in a flash of emails, phone calls, documents, plane tickets, and “I’ll be ready for dinner soon, sweetheart, I just need to finish one more thing…”

I work hard. Goals get achieved. My calendar is packed full of work. Beautiful, fulfilling work. But still… work.

Work comes first. Always first. And then — in the little cracks, corners, and crevices that still remain on my calendar — I try to insert “the rest of my life.”

“Life” gets pushed to the perimeter. “Life” is constricted and squeezed into a few hours here, a few hours there, a few stolen minutes in between this and that.

But this year, I decided to do things completely differently — a total reversal of what I’ve done in the past. This year, I decided,

“Instead of scheduling my professional goals and projects first, what if I do the opposite?”

“What if I schedule ‘life’ first?”

To me, it seemed like a radical, disruptive idea. Schedule life… first?! It’s almost scandalous. So un-American. So European!

This year, on January 1st, I sat down with a cup of coffee and my clipboard, and I wrote down a list of “life experiences” that I want to have this year.

Things like:

— Quiet mornings reading in bed with coffee and stroopwafel cookies.
— Taking Dudley to the park, watching him chase sticks and go berserk with excitement.
— A trip to see my brother play jazz at the Village Vanguard in New York City. (I know I’ll burst into tears of pride, joy, and excitement when he takes the stage.)
— Time for whatever-ing. Time for spontaneity. Time to arrange flowers, fluff pillows, light candles, putter around, and just… exist. Time to think about nothing and everything. Empty space for surprise invitations that might arrive later. Or not.

This year, finally, I am remembering that I am a whole, entire person. I am not just a worker. Not just a writer. Not just a consultant or entrepreneur or teacher or any other professional title. I’m a whole person living in a big universe — a universe full of songs I’ve never heard, and books I’ve never read, and pine cones scattered across forest trails, and the scent of a sopping wet puppy after he’s skittered through the garden on a rainy morning.

I love my work. I love my life. Both deserve space on my calendar. Just maybe… arranged in a different order than I previously thought.

This year, I scheduled life first — and work second.

This year, everything feels different.