A common theme I see in many clients is the stage when they need to get better at prioritizing and structuring their time. It’s that age-old time management dilemma. Once things get to a certain level of complexity, trying to simply stay in the flow leads to overwhelm.

Yet, at the same time, structuring your time can feel claustrophobic if you’re a creative visionary.

I remember when I had a conversation between two parts of me about this very issue: the part that loves building structure and the part that always says “No walls!”  Do you ever experience anything like this?

We often have parts that seem to be at odds with each other, such as the “pusher-achiever” versus the “in the moment” part. Usually, one side of the “disagreement” operates more visibly in your life while the other side gets pushed away.

The principles of successful inner negotiation are very similar to those for outer negotiation — you just need to dive under the visible positions held by both sides and find a common ground to reach a win-win situation.

Here’s an excerpt from my conversation:

Audrey: “No-walls part, if you were to come out more in my life, what would you like us to do more of?”

No-walls part: “Less walls and rules and structure, for sure.”

Structure-building part: “Well, now I’m getting a little worried. Not only do I love building structures, but many of our clients need help with exactly that.”

No-walls part: “Oh that’s fine, that’s not the problem at all. I just don’t want the kind of structure that’s made of stiff walls. There’s a huge difference between an articulated skeleton and a suit of armor. The suit of armor contains you and keeps you safe from threats, but it also immobilizes you.  On the other hand, a skeleton gives you a backbone. It gives you a flexible structure that allows you to stand upright and express in many ways out in the world.”

This conversation reminded me how the type of model you use when building any structure — such as a business plan or a time management system — will dramatically influence how you feel using it.

If it seems to you that structuring your time or structuring your business shuts down your creativity, it may be that you are seeing structure as a set of prison walls designed to discipline you. Imagine instead using structure as a backbone that supports your multifaceted expression out in the world.

For example, you might have a time management system that uses blocks of time. If you lock down every hour of the week, you’ll feel claustrophobic.  Imagine instead using the allocated times as interchangeable building blocks.  Your week is still committed to certain actions, but the way they are linked together is up to you in the moment.

You’ve probably seen diagrams of the spinal column. Not only are all the vertebrae spaced apart by flexible disks, but each bone has all sorts of hooks and nooks and openings for all the other systems to flow through. The bone material itself is also in a dynamic exchange with its surroundings.

No wonder we feel constrained by inert walls, because we are built to be flexible.  When we express our true essence in our work, everything we build needs to be as dynamic and alive as we are.  Where in the development of your work are you building walls when you should be installing skeletons and backbones?