Do you live in a house with an alleyway? An alleyway is a path at the back of blocks of houses to get to the garden or shed. The reason such a path is called an alleyway is that the fire brigade uses that path to reach difficult places and roll out hoses, and alleyways help ensure that fire does not spread from one block of houses to another. It works as a buffer.

In forests you have alleyways as well: here, too, they are intended to make life easier for the fire brigade and to slow down the fire. Because of the width of such a firebreak, the fire is less likely to spread easily: they are buffers. You can always see them well if you look from above.




Alleyways in my schedule

I use firebreaks in my schedule in the same way: I block time to have buffers. Before you know, you keep working without looking around. You just keep going to get everything finished. Before the weekend, before the holiday, before the end of the year.

Alleyways help me ensure that the fire of ‘go, go, go!’ does not spread. They help to make sure that I don’t just keep pushing, adding jus‘ one more thing and exhausting myself because of it.

Those alleyways in my schedule are meant to catch my breath. It’s space: space to do something fun, something creative, space to not be busy with all the to-do lists, and everything I ‘must’ do. It’s space to do nothing for a while, to just stare out the window if I feel likt it. Time to take a walk. To do what you really need most at that moment: make sure the ‘go, go, go!’ fire does not spread.

Give yourself space

It took a while before I could really give myself space. For a long time – if I was doing nothing –  I immediately started working when I heard someone coming in. Just imagine if they saw me do nothing, just sitting there. What would they think of me?

Or I told myself that I wanted to finish just a little bit more, only to drag myself away from the computer a few hours later, exhausted. With just enough energy left to be a couch potato.

When I seriously started to schedule time in my agenda to do ‘nothing,’ I noticed that in the time I was working, I got more done, made better decisions, had less stress, could think more clearly. Alleyways in my schedule have since become commonplace.





Ten years ago, I already wrote about doing less and achieving more. I learn the PhD students I work with the 80-20% rule: never plan more than 80% of your time because the rest of the time will fill up with unexpected things. If you also schedule alleyways, you’re sure to become more productive. Because paradoxical as it may sound: you get more done by doing less.

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