Create a Realistic Schedule
Develop your schedule
A detailed schedule enables you to:
- Commit to accomplishing certain tasks within a specific time frame.
- Visualize your available time and your plan for allocating it.
- Easily see uncommitted blocks of time.
- Ensure that your A- and B-priority tasks are occupying most of your time.
- Minimize stress by avoiding committing to too many tasks at the same time.
There are many different types of scheduling tools, including:
- Phone-based calendar apps
- Paper-based planners
- Integrated calendar and task management software
- Networked scheduling programs
- Wall or desk calendars
Start with your priorities
always begin with your A-priority tasks. Insert them into appropriate time slots over the coming days, weeks, or months. By scheduling these first, you are sure to have time to deal with your most important responsibilities. Then assign your B-priority tasks to specific time slots.
Keep in mind that you have periods of high and low energy each day.
- Schedule activities that require concentration and creativity during your peak energy periods.
- Schedule routine tasks, such as handling email or reviewing reports, during low-energy periods
Build in flexibility
Crises develop, you are pulled into meetings, and unexpected opportunities arise that require attention. To accommodate these situations, build flexibility into your schedule:
- Don’t book every minute. Leave time to deal with crises and unexpected demands.
- Avoid back-to-back meetings. You need time after each meeting to process the information and execute action items.
- Include breaks. By incorporating moments to rest and reflect, you’ll improve your focus.
- Look ahead. Plan to complete activities ahead of deadlines to give yourself leeway in case something unexpected comes up
If you’re going to get somewhere, you have to work backwards from where that place is. And you have to do what I call “building in transition time.” You have to build in transition time.
We need 15, 20 minutes in between to think about how to make the next meeting productive, how to make the most use of what’s going to happen next in our day so that we could really be present to that, so that we’re not checking e-mail in the middle of it. So that we can actually do what we need to do that would normally take us an hour and a half, we could do it in half an hour, 45 minutes.
That transition time makes our day go much more smoothly. It ensures that we end up where we need to be in time. And it allows us to be present when we’re sitting in the room doing what we’re supposed to be doing
Peter Bregman — CEO, Bregman Partners, and Author, “18 Minutes”
Consider starting your day by accomplishing one key task. You’ll feel a sense of achievement, make progress on an important project, and build momentum for the rest of the day.
Consolidate tasks such as email, paperwork, and phone calls. For example, set aside 9:00–9:30 a.m. and 4:30–5:00 p.m. for these tasks. Consolidating tasks usually reduces the total time required to do them by eliminating startup and switching time.
Keep your schedule easily accessible. Check on your progress throughout the day to make sure you are on target.
Make time for re-planning *
Course corrections are often necessary. Learn to evaluate your success by how you invested your time based on the circumstances that arose that day, not by whether or not you did everything as originally scheduled.
how to reallocate your time, consider:
- What is most important now?
- Can you make any trade-offs? For example, if you attended a daily project meeting yesterday, can you skip it today to take care of something more pressing?
- What can you delegate?
- What can you say “no” to?
- What deadlines and timelines can you change?
- What can you do less of—and less perfectly—yet still add value?
Create effective to-do lists
An effective to-do list includes:
- Meetings you are scheduled to attend
- Decisions you must make
- Calls you must make or be prepared to receive
- Reports, emails, and other items you must write
- Unfinished A- and B-priority tasks from the previous day
- Miscellaneous tasks, as you have time for them
Make a daily to-do list
As you compile your list, be realistic about how many things you can accomplish. If you are new at creating daily to-do lists, include only half the number of items you think you can complete. Also, be diligent about keeping low-priority activities and urgent but unimportant tasks off the list. Otherwise, you may be tempted to take care of these items first and then have no time left for important work.
Begin by addressing tasks that are both urgent and important. These are the things that must be done immediately, have tight timelines, and support your top-priority goals.
Next, address tasks that are important but not urgent. The more time you can spend on important tasks with serious long-term consequences, the more effective you become.
Delegate or schedule a time to address tasks that are urgent but not important. Let others know when you’ll be available to meet with them or briefly give them ideas for solving the problem on their own.
Use your to-do list
If you are not prepared to undertake a task at its scheduled time, focus on the next priority. Complete it, then return to the original task. Don’t delay that primary task more than once.
Cross each task off your list as you complete it. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction. You will also clearly see what tasks you have not yet finished. At the end of the day, transfer any remaining high-priority tasks to your to-do list for the next day, and schedule a time to complete them.
- The first is do great work with my current clients.
- The second is to grow and develop my business.
- The third is to speak and write about my ideas.
- The fourth is creative pursuits, some kind of creative pursuit that’s not going to necessarily bring me money, but is going to fulfill me.
- And the fifth is to nurture myself and my family. Those are my five top areas of focus.
And that is our time management problem. What we want to do in the moment is different than what we want to have done by the end of the day. And so we really need to be strategic about what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do in order to make sure that we’re not eating all the wrong things, and that we have to bring back to our table—our desk—a to-do list, a calendar, a set of tasks that represent what’s most important to us, our highest priorities, the things that we most want to focus on in a year.
Peter Bregman — CEO, Bregman Partners, and Author, “18 Minutes”
View unexpected downtime as a gift and use it wisely
- Schedule an appointmen
- Make a quick note
- Update your schedule
- Make a brief phone call
- Outline a meeting agenda
- Read and respond to an email
- Skim journals, magazines, and newspapers
- Plan your weekly schedule
- Outline notes for a report
Check your progress
- “Am I completing the tasks I set for this week?” If not, what’s preventing you from doing so? For example, are you underestimating the amount of time needed to complete certain tasks?
- “Am I making progress toward achieving my goals?” If not, you may be including too many C-priority tasks in your schedule.
- “Do I feel more focused?” If not, you may be failing to cluster similar tasks together or to take occasional breaks.
- “Can I sustain this schedule?” If not, restructure your schedule to match your energy level or reassess your priorities
You know, we talk about time management, but you can’t manage time. The only thing you can manage is yourself
So rather than thinking about time management, think about self-management: How is it that you can use your day—how is it that I can use my day—to get the most bang for the moment that we have?
I scan through my email before I start and discover there is one—the 201st—that is absolutely critical to moving my project forward, I can handle that one email and possibly even ignore the other 200, and end up making more progress than if I had tried to do every single email. Because the secret to time management and to organizing your day isn’t do as much as possible. It’s make as much progress as possible.
Do those first. Then, if you feel like it, do all of the rest of it. But you can’t manage time. All you can manage is your decisions about how you’re going to spend your day and what you’re going to do.
Stever Robbins — President, Stever Robbins Inc.