The Art of Scheduling

There's no need to feel buried by your obligations. Learn how to organise, recognise your rhythms, and feel lightweight once again.

Sticky notes on steering wheel

Scheduling is one of those things we mean to do – but maybe it ends up at the bottom of our to-do list, along with the hand-wash only laundry pile and this year’s tax return.

Like it or not, people who are extremely busy need a high level of scheduling in order to stay afloat. It’s your best shot at maximising results and minimising stress. So here are some pointers to help you craft a thoughtful schedule that will actually work.

Put a clock on it

The first (and most important) thing you’ll learn about time management is that you need to put your goals on the clock. While your schedule is never going work perfectly all the time, an attempt to work within time limits is better than setting no limits at all.

When you put a task on the clock, you’re injecting it with urgency, and setting up an expectation for yourself. Even if that expectation is self-imposed and completely arbitrary, you’ll be surprised at how motivated you become to avoid letting yourself down.

Embrace the shuffle

Unless you’re psychic, there’s no possible way to anticipate the outcome of your every endeavour. Some things take longer than expected, priorities suddenly change, opportunities pop up and others drop off. The more comfortable you become with constant shifting and shuffling, the calmer you’ll stay when the game changes on you.

A schedule is never a finished product, and you’ll need to accept it as a perpetual work-in-progress if you’re going to stick with it. If you find a schedule hard to stick to, consider giving yourself ‘free choice’ time for changing your plans or catering for ‘I don't feel like it’ moments.

Respect the learning process

It’s easy to feel unproductive when you’re not actually ‘doing’ anything (a.k.a producing output). But if you sit down in front of a new project and expect to start writing immediately, you’re going to become frustrated with your lacklustre performance.

It’s important to give yourself time to process new things. If you don’t know enough about a subject, you won’t know what questions to ask, and it’s those questions that drive you forward into ‘results’ mode. The learning and exploring stage of the journey is just as valid as the ‘doing’ stage, so factor in extra time and let it breathe.

Schedule downtime

Sometimes our minds and bodies don’t want to comply with a schedule – and that’s okay. To get the most out your day, it helps to identify where you’re likely to get stuck and schedule downtime as a remedy.

If you usually get tired in the afternoon, schedule a TV session, or if you’ve got a long workday, schedule in some midday exercise so you’re refreshed in the afternoon. Downtime doesn’t have to be physically relaxing but it does have to refresh you mentally; that requires a shift in environment or in headspace.

Anchor down your stray thoughts

“You can’t do it all” might be advice you’ve heard before. While there is some truth to it, a better line might be “You can’t do it all now”. We all get struck by moments of inspiration- to learn to cook, to read a book on entrepreneurship, to sign up to Judo- but as reality would have it, we’re forced to continue on with our priority tasks.

A psychological phenomenon, dubbed the “Ziegarnik Effect”, proposes that once a thought enters a person’s mind, they can’t fully move on without a resolution. Harbouring a number of incomplete thoughts can be uncomfortable, and potentially detrimental to your productivity. The best way to free up your mental disk space is to anchor these thoughts down somewhere.

Using a visual medium like Pinterest will give you greater piece of mind, as it has the feel of a photo album or collection worth treasuring, as opposed to a crumpled up ‘to-do’ note. You don’t need to follow through with an idea to feel a sense of mental resolution- just knowing it’s in safe-keeping is enough to clear it out of your head until you’re ready to return to it.

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