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Effective Scheduling: Planning to Make the Best Use of Your Time

The Importance of Scheduling

Scheduling is the art of planning your activities so that you can achieve your goals and priorities in the time you have available. It helps you:

  • Understand what you can realistically achieve with your time.
  • Add contingency time for "the unexpected."
  • Avoid taking on more than you can handle.
  • Work steadily toward your personal and career goals.
  • Achieve a good work-life balance.

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Effective Scheduling: Planning to Make the Best Use of Your Time

Effective Scheduling: Planning to Make the Best Use of Your Time

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_07.htm

mindtools.com

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Key Ideas

The Importance of Scheduling

Scheduling is the art of planning your activities so that you can achieve your goals and priorities in the time you have available. It helps you:

  • Understand what you can realistically achieve with your time.
  • Add contingency time for "the unexpected."
  • Avoid taking on more than you can handle.
  • Work steadily toward your personal and career goals.
  • Achieve a good work-life balance.

How to Schedule Your Time

Set a regular time to do your scheduling.

Decide on a scheduling tool to use to organize your time. You can use pen and paper or choose an app.

Identify Available Time

Start by establishing the time you want to make available for your work.

How much time you spend at work should reflect the design of your job and your personal goals in life.

Schedule Essential Actions

Block in the actions you absolutely must do. These will often be the things you are assessed against.

Schedule High-Priority Activities

Schedule in high-priority and urgent activities, as well as essential maintenance tasks that cannot be delegated or avoided.

Try to arrange the high-priority tasks for the times of day when you feel most productive.

Schedule Contingency Time

Schedule some extra time to cope with contingencies and emergencies.

Some interruptions will be hard to predict, but leaving some open space in your schedule gives you the flexibility you need to rearrange tasks and respond to important issues as they arise.

Schedule Discretionary Time

The space you have left in your planner is "discretionary time". Use it to deliver your priorities and achieve your goals.

  • Review your prioritized To-Do List and personal goals.
  • Evaluate the time you need to achieve them.
  • Schedule them in.

Analyze Your Activities

If you have little discretionary time available, question whether all of the tasks you've entered are necessary. Some tasks can be delegated or tackled in a more time-efficient way.

If you find that your discretionary time is still limited, then you may need to renegotiate your workload or ask for help.

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A one size fits all solution

Instead of relying on a tool with all the bells and whistles, find out where you’re struggling and what’s essential for you. 

For example, if scheduling is taking you away from product development, then you could use a scheduling tool that uses machine learning to automate most of your scheduling needs. If you’re wasting too much time on email, then consider using a tool to help tame your inbox.

Less anxiety

Time management is only useful when you’re aware of your limitations and don't let the system dictate your entire life. 

In other words, when you don’t tread lightly (especially at first), time management can add more stress to your life.

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To-do lists and calendars

Once you write down the tasks you need to perform, you then have to clear space in your day to put some of those tasks onto your calendar.

This calendar maintenance is itself a useful exercise for fighting the tide of interruptions you’re always facing. It pulls your brain out of a reactive mode and forces you to think about the long term. 

Planning your goals

Planning turns abstract goals into concrete work.

For most people, the challenge is making sure we get the big-picture projects done, those that make work fulfilling. And it's hard to achieve them without breaking them into a coherent set of concrete actions you can take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

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.

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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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