How to Avoid Overbooking Yourself as a Scanner
Photo courtesy of Kenna Takahashi.

How to Avoid Overbooking Yourself as a Scanner

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

This is a guest post by Benjamin Paul.

If you’re a scanner, multipotentialite, lovable space cadet, or whatever you like to call yourself, one of your biggest grievances with the world is probably that you just don’t have enough time to pursue everything you want to pursue.

Maybe you’re a waiter who has no time to act. Maybe you’re an actor who has no time to study science. Maybe you’re a scientist who looks back on your days as a waiter and misses the human interaction.

But what’s not often talked about is what to do with that free time if and when you find it (or it finds you).

“Down Time” for a Scanner

We often use the word “down time” to describe our free time. But this word, while it may be an apt description for how many people spend their free time, might not be the most apt word for a scanner’s free time. If anything, a scanner’s free time is “up” time that is full of restlessness, rather than the relaxation that’s supposed to come with “down” time.

Perhaps the biggest issue for scanners with free time is not filling it up with stimulating activities, but how to avoid overbooking to an extent where those activities lose their meaning and their luster.

1) Committing Just a *Little* Bit More than Seems Right

The first, and probably most important habit that’s helped me to avoid overbooking is to assign more time to a newly-found interest than seems right, but never SO much time that it feels like it’s become my default thing to do.

A few years ago, I decided that I knew I was funny, but I wanted to be funnier. I signed up for an improv class.  Initially, I went go to the class once a week and that was it. It was fun but I felt like something was missing, So I started going to shows a couple times a week. I made friends with some regulars at the theater.

I lived in NYC, where, due to long distances and the insularity of most neighborhoods, it’s often difficult to see your friends regularly. I could easily go for weeks without seeing good friends of mine, but my improv friends could always be found at the theater. It was ten times easier to hang out with them than to hang out with any of my other friends. Before I knew it, I was devoting all of my free time to improv.

On an average day, during my “down” time, I have to decide whether I want to practice one of my musical instruments, continue a conversation with a stranger I met earlier in the week, teach myself a language, write a comedy monologue, just watch TV… and so on. It’s not easy to decide. But, during my improv phase, it was easy to decide what to do. I always went to the improv theater.

When Your Interest Dies Down

Eventually, it just felt too weird, and I stopped doing improv comedy altogether. It was comforting. I remembered that I was much more than just an guy who does improv comedy. But I soon began to miss it. I started going to an improv “mixer” (improvised open mic) once a week. Then I began practicing with an improv group one day a week… but that was it. I certainly didn’t use improv to fill my entire cache of free time the way I had before.

I spent about half of my free time – which is a lot of time – doing comedy-related stuff, but I didn’t go beyond that. You could call it a “happy medium,” but the interesting thing was that it didn’t feel like a happy medium. The part of me that doesn’t like booking too much time with one hobby was actually uncomfortable with how much time I spent on comedy, even when it was just that 50% of my free time.

But spending that much of my time on one hobby for a few months really paid off. It didn’t just make me feel more confident in my comedic abilities- it also improved my ability to focus on a specific hobby, and that skill carried over to many of my future hobbies.

2) Medium-term thinking

Committing a little bit beyond your comfort zone should also be accompanied by medium-term thinking (as opposed to long- or short-term thinking), which is a very helpful way of thinking, especially for a scanner.

It’s very easy to split the world between the smaller picture (what seems right for tomorrow) and the bigger picture (where you see yourself in the next few years or so). The smaller picture is often easy to think about because, well, it’s small, and planning for tomorrow often doesn’t involve much introspection. The bigger picture, to the contrary, involves a great deal of introspection- when you think about the bigger picture, it’s often very tied up with your identity.

When not encouraging us to think about the smaller picture (Buy this product! You need it!), our society is often encouraging us to think about the bigger picture. Want to go to go to a professional school? You’ll need to stay in one place and study one subject for FOUR WHOLE YEARS.

Postponing an Interest for a little while

Think of one of the interests that you sometimes are anxious about losing if you commit some time to another interest. Can you live without it? (Probably not.) Can you live without it for, say, three months, while you pursue something else? (You probably can.)

Time is valuable, and nobody wants to waste it. If you’re interested in drinking and watching football, you willl seek it out (and find it) whenever you get the time. But if you’re interested in what feels like a hundred other things, and none of them are easily available at your local bar (except for drinking and watching football, which are only one of your many interests), it feels natural to go after all of those hundred things with every minute of time you can find, no matter how much you might burn yourself out in the process.

Overbooking is very much a natural outcome of being a scanner. There are no magic breathing exercises, or magic writing exercises, that will get rid of it. (Seriously, if you find one, please tell me about it!)

But by committing to things just a little bit outside of your comfort zone without allowing them to become your default time-killers, and engaging in medium-term thinking, you can bet that, at the end of every day, you’ll find yourself feeling a lot less over-extended, and a lot more satisfied with how you spend your time.

How do you avoid overbooking yourself? Share your tips in the comments.

Benjamin Paul has spent most of his life between Upstate New York and New York City. He has been a video editor, cultural studies student, data entry processor, salesman, adult ESL tutor, and probably a bunch of other things that he’s forgotten about. He is the creator of the blog Young Urban Amateur. If you are interested in discussing lifestyle design with him, send him a good old-fashioned email.


  1. Holli says:

    As someone who regularly struggles with overbooking myself, I really appreciate this post.

    I haven’t found my perfect balance, but do make adjustments as needed when I feel myself getting into overwhelm mode. I do try to focus on one major thing until I achieve a goal. And keeping myself open to opportunities as they open is helpful. For example, I was visiting a relative for a summer party, and made a quick short for a modified Clue game. It was spontaneous with only an afternoon to write and shoot, but was an outlet for my passion to someday make films. I got up a few hours early the next day to wit it.

    Anyway, great post, I’ll be back to check out others’ tips ND comments.

  2. I’m also constantly overbooking myself and driving myself crazy. I find myself wanting to say yes to so many projects because I have so many interests and they all seem so fun! But what ends up happening is that I can’t commit, don’t finish, or don’t even execute most or any of them. It ends up being much LESS fun in the end.

    I’m back in the Big Apple (for now) and you are right, it’s tough to see your actual friends.

  3. Benjamin says:

    @Holli- That sounds like a great way to live. It sounds like you follow through with the “little” things, which is hugely important. Many filmmakers would probably say, “Nah, I’m not going to put time into some silly video, I’ve got real projects to be (putting off) working on.” I also love that feeling of waking up early to work on a short-term project you started the day before. Sometimes I get pleasantly surprised by that feeling!
    Anyway, it’s good to hear that you’ve found (at least for now) a way to balance your time and energy. I think that just being in touch with that feeling of “overwhelm mode” can go a long way.

    @Brian- I just took a brief look at your website and will give it a better look in the future. It looks like you already do get a lot done. It’s interesting how a person can feel overbooked and spread thin while their resume (or website, in this case) demonstrates high levels of commitment in productivity. I wish you the best of luck with your current and future professional endeavors, and with your new life in New York City!

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