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Use these 5 scheduling methods when a to-do list just isn't working

The Pomodoro Technique

Is all about working in short, massively productive, intensely focused bursts, and then giving yourself a brief break:

  • Choose a task
  • Set your timer for 25 minutes
  • Work on the task until the timer ends
  • Take a short break (around 5 minutes)
  • Every 4 Pomodoro sessions, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

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Use these 5 scheduling methods when a to-do list just isn't working

Use these 5 scheduling methods when a to-do list just isn't working

https://www.fastcompany.com/90324081/use-these-5-scheduling-methods-when-a-to-do-list-just-isnt-working

fastcompany.com

5

Key Ideas

The time-blocking method

Simply means planning out your day in advance and dedicating specific hours to accomplish specific tasks.

Doing this requires determining in advance what you will accomplish and exactly when you will accomplish it. Once you have those in mind, enter these into your calendar and then get to work on those tasks at the appropriate time during the day.

The most important task method (MIT)

Rather than writing out a massive to-do list and trying to get it all done, determine the 1-3 tasks that are absolutely essential and then relentlessly focus on those tasks during the day.

Once you determine your 1-3 most important tasks, they are scheduled first in your day. You then make progress on essential items before you get bombarded by distractions. 

The Pomodoro Technique

Is all about working in short, massively productive, intensely focused bursts, and then giving yourself a brief break:

  • Choose a task
  • Set your timer for 25 minutes
  • Work on the task until the timer ends
  • Take a short break (around 5 minutes)
  • Every 4 Pomodoro sessions, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

90-minute focus sessions

You take full advantage of the energy peaks and troughs that occur throughout your day: Work 90 minutes and then rest for 20-30 minutes.

Working in 90-minute bursts allows you to correlate your maximum energy levels with your task list, which then gives your productivity a major boost. You’re working with your body instead of against it.

Polyphasic sleep method

Polyphasic sleepers break up sleep into multiple short phases, which allows for less sleep overall and significant increases in productivity.

The amount of sleep in each phase can vary, with some people sleeping only in 20-minute naps and others grabbing larger chunks of sleep and then supplementing with naps.

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There is no perfect method for everyone

There is no "one size fits all schedule" for maximum productivity.

Because we all have particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to time management and productivity, what works...

The Time Blocking Method

It involves planning out your day in advance and dedicating specific hours to accomplish specific tasks. 

It’s important to block out both proactive blocks (when you focus on important tasks) and reactive blocks (when you allow time for requests and interruptions).

The Most Important Task Method (MIT)

Instead of writing a big to-do list and trying to get it all done, determine the 1-3 tasks that are absolutely essential and then focus on those tasks during the day. 

You don’t do anything else until you’ve completed the three essential tasks.

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By the hour

This works well for the chronic procrastinator: those who say they will do it later and then wonder why it never gets done.

Instead of getting overwhelmed, tackle your to-do l...

The Pomodoro Method

Rather than trying to work flat-out, break down your day into a series of work-sprints with a short rest period after each session.

Set a timer for 25 min and focus exclusively on your work for that time, take a 5 min break, and repeat.

Some people find that taking a 5 min break destroys their flow. But it does help to break long complex tasks into a series on manageable sprints.

The 2-minute rule

The 2-minute rule is a strategy for quickly assessing and taking action on small tasks so they don’t take up too much mental energy.

Ask yourself if a task is going to take you 2 minutes or less. If so, just do it.

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Breaks keep us from getting bored

The human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days.

The fix for this unfocused condition is simple—all we need is a brief interruption (aka a break) to ge...

Breaks and brain connections

Our brains have two modes:

  • focused mode, which we use when we’re doing things like learning something new, writing or working) and 
  • diffuse mode, which is our more relaxed, daydreamy mode when we’re not thinking so hard.

The mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming—something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower.

Breaks help us reevaluate our goals

When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. 

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The philosophy of working "smart"

... is to maximize your productivity when you are working so that you can get more stuff done in shorter periods of time.

By working smarter, you'll find yourself with more time in th...

Find the to-do list app that work for you

The best one for you depends entirely on your working style and personal preferences.

You can use a physical notebook around everywhere you go, but it's easier to use a to-do list app or tool that syncs across all your devices. That way, you can access your to-do items whenever and wherever you need to, whether you're at your desk, in a meeting, or on a business trip.

Prepare in advance

Write out your to-do list the day before:

  • You'll free your time to dive right into your to-do list in the morning - one of the most productive times of day.
  • It can help you spot obstacles ahead of time and prepare accordingly.
  • Knowing what you have going on well in advance could help you relax and sleep better the night before.

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The Planning Fallacy

We all have busy schedules, but we are incorrectly planning our day around the time we have, not around priorities.

Our estimates on how long certain tasks will take are almost always ...

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important."
The 4 Kinds of Priorities

The Decision Matrix on how to approach tasks has 4 quadrants:

  • Quadrant 1: The Urgent Problems which are important.
  • Quadrant 2: Not Urgent but important tasks
  • Quadrant 3: Urgent but not really important
  • Quadrant  4: Distractions and time-wasting tasks. 

Prioritize the important (Quadrant 2) to attain maximum benefit from your work.

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Time blocking
Time blocking

It's the practice of planning out every moment of your day in advance and dedicating specific time “blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities.

When you fill your c...

Time blocking and focus

By scheduling every minute of your day you not only guard against distraction but also multiply your focus.

Also, focusing on one task at a time can make you up to 80% more productive than splitting your attention across multiple tasks.

Cons of the time blocking practice
  • It takes a lot of time and effort.
  • Few of us (if any) have the same schedule every day.
  • We’re bad at estimating how long tasks will take to do.
  • Constant interruptions and “urgent” tasks can destroy your system.
  • Flexibility is key in most workplaces.
  • You can lose sight of the bigger picture if you focus just on each day.

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Make planning a habit
Make planning a habit

Some mornings we feel motivated to create a to-do list, but that is often the exception. We need to get things done, even when we feel disengaged.

Start by setting the alarm for you...

Align your to-do list with goals
  1. Break down your big goals into daily tasks. You can't add "Get in shape" to your daily to-do list, but you can add "spend 30 minutes on my bike."
  2. Consider your week as a whole. You likely have multiple goals. Some goals benefit from daily activity, while working towards others a few times a week can create momentum.
  3. Add your have-to-do tasks last. We often fill our to-do lists with have-to-do tasks that crowd the whole day. Adding it last forces you to fit your have-to-do tasks around your goal tasks.
Have one daily priority

Many of us start our mornings with dozens of things we need to get done, but later realize that we haven't crossed any of them off our lists. We did get stuff done, but none of the things we planned.

A balm against hectic days that pass without progress is to choose a single activity to prioritize and protect in your calendar. If you struggle to select your top priority, ask yourself, when you look back on your day, what do you want the highlight to be? That's your priority.

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Write A Stop-Doing List

Remind yourself of items that don’t bring you joy, and contribute very little to your long-term goals.

This way, you’re unlikely to spend a lot of time doing time-sucking, non-rewardin...

Schedule Procrastination Breaks

During this allotted break, give yourself permission to do time-wasting activities (social media scrolling included) until you got bored and want to move on to your next task. 

Divide Your Day Into Themes

And if your job isn’t ideal for focusing on one thing per day, you can dedicate your morning to one focus area, your early afternoon to another, and late afternoon to another.

This way, instead of being overly restrictive about finishing a task in that time period, you have the flexibility to do any work that moves you forward in that particular focus area.

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Copying successful people

Putting highly successful people on a pedestal can unknowingly hinder our own efforts. We get caught in comparisons and it’s easy to forget that they’ve had and still have their own set of struggle...

Maximize every moment

Working well is not about maximizing every waking moment of the day, in order to get more done. And the focus on maximizing time may actually diminish our creativity.

Instead, try identifying and focusing on the few hours of the day you are most productive.

Setting Big Goals

To achieve sustainable productivity habits, it’s best to build up with easily achievable tasks.

Small chunks of accomplishment will amount to something big eventually.

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Personal Productivity Curves

A lot of the internal things that affect our productivity are out of our control. Our energy, focus, and motivation follow their own path or “productivity curve” throughout the day. 

Energy curves

We’re naturally more energetic and motivated at specific times of the day. Researchers call this our Circadian Rhythm. Every person’s rhythm is slightly different, but the majority follow a similar pattern.

  • Waking up. Our energy levels start to naturally rise.
  • Around 10 am. We’ve hit our peak concentration levels that start to decline and dip between 1-3 pm.
  • Afternoon.  Our energy levels rise again until falling off again sometime between 9–11 pm.
90 Minute Cycles

We work best in natural cycles of 90-120 minute sessions before needing a break. When we need a break, our bodies send us signals, such as becoming hungry, sleepy, fidgeting, or losing focus.

If you ignore these signs and think you can just work through them, your body uses your reserve stores of energy to keep up. It means releasing stress hormones to give an extra kick of energy.

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