The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. — Stephen Covey
If you are anything like me, your general tendency is to wing it. I do like to prepare, even to a fault sometimes. But, I also like to jump in headfirst and figure things out as I go.
This pays off some of the time. But it often leaves me with egg on my face. Especially when it comes to having a productive day.
Over the past year, I have realized the importance of planning out the day to avoid this happening on a daily basis. And, the results have been outstanding for such a simple habit.
Here are a few benefits of following a schedule:
It allows you to partition the day so that the things that need to get done, get done. Say goodbye to any excuses related to ‘I ran out of time,’ or ’too many things came up.’ A schedule allows you to allocate specific time to important tasks, and avoid those that are unnecessary.
It streamlines the decision-making process. Have you ever found yourself wasting 30+ minutes deciding what to do next? I sure have. A schedule rids the need for excessive decision making throughout the day. This allows you to transition from task to task without any unnecessary conversations with yourself, that may or may not end with you watching Netflix.
You have actual excuses to get out of things that you don’t want to do. The next time a friend asks you to join them at a crappy event, you now have an excuse. The question, ‘what better do you have to do?’ will no longer be rhetorical.
Your downtime actually means something and isn’t riddled with guilt. If at the end of the day you decide to allocate an hour or two for watching TV, great! If you completed all your mandatory to-dos, you earned that time. Sit down, and chill out knowing that you smashed the day.
You realize how much time you actually waste on bullshit. 20 minutes here and there might not seem like a lot at the time, but it adds up at the end of the day. By scheduling your time, you’ll notice how much you could actually get done.
How to make a schedule
Choose your medium. Paper or online? I prefer paper because it’s easy to slip into your pocket and reference fast. But, Google calendar/notes are also great, especially as adjustments are seamless. Although, if you know yourself well enough to think that you’ll end up procrastinating certain tasks, stick with paper.
Decide if you want to make your schedules the night before or in the morning. This may seem trivial, but if you want to reap the benefits of a schedule, it needs to become a habit that you do every day. By deciding when you will make your schedule, it reduces the chances that you’ll forget. For example, how many times have you ever forgotten to brush your teeth? Probably not many. This is because people (most, anyway) brush religiously every morning and night. Whereas, you’ve probably already forgotten to do something today that you said you would ‘get done at some point.’
Make the template. As mentioned, if you are using an online calendar, you can skip this. Otherwise, keep it simple. Break your day down into 30-minute increments with ample space adjacent to include task titles and some notes.
Schedule your most important tasks first. If you only got one thing done today, what would it be? If your day allows, this should be the first thing that you tackle. This prevents you from using the ‘I ran out of time’ excuse. Additionally, like most aspects of life, the important things are usually the most uncomfortable. This makes it more likely that you’ll push them back throughout the day, and perhaps even for weeks and months if not tackled. Overcoming a hard, uncomfortable task early in the day also increases confidence and momentum. As Mark Twain said, ‘If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day.’
(Check out Tim Ferriss’ post, “Productivity” Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me), for a deeper dive.)
Schedule in a few things that you enjoy. Once you have included all your major tasks, feel free to fill the rest with things you enjoy. This could be hobbies, spending time with friends and family, or anything else that gets you going. Most people think of a schedule as a constraint system. But, the goal of a schedule is rather to design a day that you would enjoy. It grants you the opportunity to enjoy true free time.
Ensure you include adequate time for incidentals. Something will crop up during the day that will throw off your schedule. Maybe a friend stops by unannounced, or your daughter suddenly needs a ride across town. But, they don’t have to ruin your perfectly orchestrated day. When making your schedule, add in an hour or so of buffer time. You could lump this in with your free time at the end of the day, add it in as an extra task (one that isn’t too important), or simply in-between tasks. Then, when life happens and your grandma calls, you’re prepared for it.
Change your life in 10 minutes a day
By simply partitioning your day beforehand, a schedule allows you to eliminate distractions, improve productivity, decrease stress, and most importantly, design a day that you would enjoy having.
All it takes is a pen, paper, and 10 minutes. You won't regret it.