Effective Scheduling in 6 Steps 

These 6 steps to effective scheduling get you off the treadmill of jumping from crisis to crisis and give you a simple system to make better use of your time.

People often tell me that  "there's just never enough time!" as they are asked to do more with less.

At the same time they have to deal with:

  • a constant stream of email and phone calls, 
  • umpteen requests from co-workers and clients,
  • inefficient meetings and tight deadlines.

No wonder people feel stretched and overwhelmed!

How scheduling helps

"Busyness can be laziness".

Tim Ferriss

I like this quote because much of modern work pushes you to be reactive and deadline driven. The benefits of scheduling are that:

  • you to plan in advance how you choose to use your time in a way that moves you toward your goals
  • builds in time for essential tasks
  • you create flexibility to deal with the unexpected 
  • you have  a visual picture of what is on so that you don't accept too much.

When setting up a schedule consider whether you want to set your schedule at the weekly or monthly level.

Personally I find that the 'goldilocks' of short-term planning is the weekly level.

Why?

If you:

  • plan at the daily level it is easy to be pulled into reactive work,
  • plan at the monthly level it is easy for your priorities to become old news, but. 
  • if you plan at the weekly level you are more likely to have priorities that are current and focused on the long-term.

If you use pen and paper then consider using this weekly planner tool.

If you like to use apps then the important thing is that it needs to be easy for you to enter the information. The calendar options in Google, Outlook, and Lotus Notes are all great for scheduling.

Once you have the tool that you are going to use then the process can be boiled down into 6 steps.

6 steps to effective scheduling

To start preparing a schedule consider using these six steps:

1. How much time are you spending at work?

Consider your role and consider your normal work hours.

This is pretty much the budget of hours that are available for you to schedule.

2. Protect the essential tasks you must do.

As with any job there are essential tasks that need to be completed.

If you are a manager then one of your essential tasks is to manage the team. So you may:

  • protect time for one-on-ones with your direct reports. 
  • ask for regular communication with your boss and protect that time also.

3. Schedule time for your big rocks

What are your big rocks?

These are the 2 or 3 projects or recurrent activities that are truly important to your job or your personal life. That if everything else stayed the same and you made progress on these it would have a massive impact.

If you don't know what these activities are then check out this article on your Pareto activities.

Key point

Consider when you work best and when your energy is flagging.

  1. Protect those times when your energy is best for your Big Rocks. 
  2. Consider scheduling low value activities typically for after lunch (Yes...I think the Spanish have it right by having a Siesta at this time).

4. Engineer flexibility into your schedule

Life has a habit of throwing curve balls into the most well-laid plans.

I think it was Eisenhower who said:

"no plan survives contact with the enemy!"

The unexpected is  going to happen. Emergencies will occur. You will be interrupted and this will eat into your time.  

The purpose of a good schedule is to have freedom upon firm ground.

You need to have space in your schedule to be able to move things around if (and when) the unexpected occurs.

5. What is your discretionary time?

The time that is left is discretionary time. This is the time that is left over to work towards your priorities and the actions that are sitting in your to do list (and not yet scheduled). 

How much discretionary time do you need?

This is very personal and somewhat dependent on the job and your personality.

For example, some people feel anxious to have all their calendar protected or they may be in a more crises-driven environment (so they are likely to have more discretionary time).

6. Analyze your schedule and activities

Calendar management is a key skill in time management. I meet many people who are working hard but not able to hold to the rigor of the calendar.

They keep moving items onto next week's calendar...this is frustrating and demoralizing!

The key reason for this is that they have not given themselves enough discretionary time. You have a few options to increase discretionary time

  1. Give haircuts to your low value tasks.
  2. Delegate out less important activities.
  3. Consider outsourcing some of your work.
  4. Harness technology and automate some of your workflow.

Key point 

You will be tempted in step six to give a haircut to your big rock activities.  Try to avoid this if you can!

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