When you think about it, controlling time is empowering.
And not even in a Back to the Future, get-into-shenanigans-with-cowboys-and-thugs kind of way. Controlling time means that I can control how much I want to accomplish—and when I accomplish a lot each day, I feel pretty good. Like, kick-butt-and-take-names good.
Take last week, for instance: I studied and took my statistics final, caught up on a week’s worth of economics assignments in two days, wrote and published five articles, and celebrated my birthday without obsessing over my to-do list.
It’s because I learned about personal scheduling for the first time—and I’ve definitely converted to the fold. Consider the benefits:
- They keep you accountable. For those without managers to prod them for results (or those who only have scribbled-on sticky notes to track their work), schedules provide intrinsic motivation.
- They cut out wasted time. Deciding on the order of tasks in advance helps you avoid time-sucking traps. No more little breaks that turn into hours of procrastination.
- They keep your priorities in check. Some things never get done if you don’t prioritize them—like phone calls (I can’t stand talking on the phone for some reason), chores, or bills. Scheduling less-desirable activities encourages you to take care of them and move on; better yet, it creates more time for things you actually enjoy doing.
- They force inspiration. This one is important for creative types! More brilliant ideas will come with more work—but you have to do the work first.
Anatomy of a Schedule
Most of what I know about good scheduling comes from experts who specialize in increasing productivity—one particular podcast with Ed Gandia and Carol Tice gave me the framework for a solid schedule. Here are a few things you need:
- A sense of the true time it will take to finish each task.
- Chunks. I used to rely on 15-minute pomodoros to time my work, but Gandia explains that you need 15-20 minutes just to get centered. Try 50-minute chunks instead: 20 minutes to find a flow, and 30 minutes to siphon raw focus for the task.
- Buffer time. A few extra minutes between activities will keep you on-schedule and ensure that everything actually gets done.
- Breaks. It’s simple: structured breaks with light physical activity help you recharge. I spend 20-minute breaks walking around my neighborhood, lifting weights, stretching, or reading.
Other Scheduling Tips
- Focus on one project at a time. You will spend less time shifting gears.
- Incorporate rituals. Drink the same beverage, sit in the same place, read a daily inspirational message, or listen to the same kind of music. These can condition your brain into recognizing that it’s time to work.
- Be a hermit (sort of). If you set up camp in a hard-to-find place, fewer people will interrupt you and everyone will still get your attention within a reasonable time frame.
- Schedule big time-suckers later in the day. Don’t even look at email or social media accounts until you’ve had a few solid hours of work. I can get on Twitter and lose 20 minutes before I realize what happened.
- Write it up a night in advance. Gandia recommends constructing your schedule ahead of time because your mind will operate more rationally and you can realistically allocate your workflow.
Maybe schedules aren’t for everyone—but in my case, I find myself more motivated to wake up right away and do the aforementioned butt-kicking (and then some).
Do you use a schedule? Has it helped/hindered your productivity? Leave me a comment!