Scheduling for productivity can be a moving target. And you may have a perfect schedule but So take time to assess the results of your efforts. Are you and your team being truly productive people?
How to Craft the Perfect Daily Schedule
Most tweaks are small, incremental improvements to my day, but every once in a while I learn something that completely upends the way I approach my daily schedule. Reading Daniel Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, was one of those eureka moments.
Not everyone has the luxury of setting their own schedules, but even if you work a traditional 9-to-5 job, there are ways you can time your tasks to get more out of your work hours. Here’s how I applied the science of timing to optimize my own daily schedule, getting more done, and creating more balance in my life at the same time.
How to Schedule Your Day Effectively
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of scheduling methods, let’s take a step back to see how you should determine what goes into your daily schedule and make it work for you:
- Define your why: Not every task is fun, but if you can articulate how it helps reach your goals, you can find the internal motivation to get it done.
- Set your priorities: As the saying goes, “if you don’t set your priorities, someone else will set them for you.” To take control of your day, you need to prioritize what matters.
- Estimate how much time each task will take: Accurate estimationsgive you a realistic view of how much you can fit into a day and accomplish what you set out to do.
- Work smarter: Systems and processes can help you accomplish more in less time by minimizing decision fatigues and dependence on willpower.
How to Schedule Your Day
Instead, you need a strategy so you can schedule for productivity and get the important work done efficiently. Here are some guiding principles to help you use a schedule for efficient days.
1) Define Your Why
Let’s face it. Not everything we do in a day is fun. There are definitely tasks we simply don’t want to do. We can rely on grit and determination to power through, but that can sap energy. Instead, find internal motivation by defining your why.
Everyone’s why is different, but it’s the meaning and purpose behind everything we do. This concept was popularized by Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why. Sinek demonstrates that “why” can truly motivate individuals and businesses to reach their goals.
Your why should be bigger than “Because I have to,” or “Because someone told me to.” For an individual, there why might be to provide a safe and happy life for their children. For businesses, a why might look more like, “To help people succeed.”
2) Set Priorities
There are literally millions of ways you could spend each day. And you can’t do everything. Without priorities, you may find yourself spending time on tasks that don’t get you anywhere. And if you’re a team leader or manager, you want to set priorities for your team so they know what’s important, too.
So you have to figure out what you really need to get done in order to achieve your goals in service to your why. First, write down everything you can think of. Then eliminate anything not related to your why. Then put your priorities in order of importance.
Having a direction to go in is just as important as going. A journey without a destination might be interesting, but without a destination in mind, who knows where you’ll end up.
3) Estimate How Long A Task Will Take
Once you’ve figured out what you need to do, figure out how long it will take. And we’re not talking about how long it will take in fantasy land. You need to know how long it really takes you to do the thing.
Meet your new daily planning companion
Many of us start our mornings with dozens of things we need to get done only to realize at the end of the day we haven’t crossed any of them off our lists. Sure, we got stuff done, but none of the things we planned. The counter-intuitive solution for getting more done? Pick just one big task per day.
You may be thinking: “How can I achieve all my goals if I only focus on one task per day?”. In Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky discuss the sneaky phenomenon of busyness without productivity. In between meetings and ad-hoc requests, it can feel like we’re on a treadmill we can’t get off.
Many of us start our mornings with dozens of things we need to get done, only to realize at the end of the day we haven’t crossed any of them off.
“Begin each day by thinking about what you hope will be the bright spot. If, at the end of the day, someone asks you, ‘What was the highlight of your day?’ what do you want your answer to be? When you look back on your day, what activity or accomplishment or moment do you want to savor? That’s your Highlight.”
If we’re being honest, ending the day with at least one big task out of the way is a marked improvement over what many of us are doing now. On a longer time-scale, finishing 5-7 big things per week is significant. Does that mean you’ll only complete one task per day? Generally, no. However, selecting and completing a single significant to-do fills us with a sense of accomplishment that creates momentum to tackle other tasks too.
Bonus: The A/B schedule
Here’s an example. Splitting your time between coding features and managing a team can split your attention. Instead, split your week into days with an A schedule (coding) and a B schedule (managing).
“We spend much of our days on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we are doing with our time. This is a problem.
“It’s difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of your schedule if you don’t face, without flinching, your current balance between deep and shallow work, and then adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking, ‘What makes the most sense right now?’”
How you make a schedule doesn’t have to be up to other people. The more control you take over your time, the better you’ll feel about your progress every single day.