If you’re struggling with managing your time properly, one of the best places to start is to create a schedule. In this post, I’m going to break down, step by step, how to create a simple schedule that will help you take the first steps towards better time management.
Why create a schedule?
I know some baulk at the idea of living life according to a schedule, because they think it is restrictive and boring and requires discipline. Who wants to live like that?
They want to be spontaneous and free and do what they want to do! And maybe they want to get loaded and they want to have a good time. And they want to have a party. (If you get that reference, comment below!)
But the reality is, if you want to fit more in and get more out of your life, you need to plan and you need to schedule your daily activities.
And this applies whether you’re currently a high school or college student, working full-time or a stay-at-home parent. And it might even apply if you’re retired.
If you don’t control and organize where your attention goes each day, it will be decided for you, either through constant distraction or because you end up always reacting to the needs, wants and demands of others.
I’ve found that scheduling my time each day is the only effective way to organize my daily tasks to fit in everything I need to do and want to do. Far from being restrictive, scheduling actually gives me the chance to have some control over where I give my attention. (You can never have complete control due to external factors.)
Yes, it does require some discipline, but that discipline ultimately creates more freedom.
Of course, days don’t always go exactly to plan and just because you make a schedule doesn’t mean that you’ll never go off track – you will. But from my experience, having a schedule in place provides a framework that helps to get me back on track when everything goes pear-shaped.
So, what’s the best and easiest way to create a schedule?
Let’s takes a look . . .
How to create your schedule
There are actually a few ways you can schedule your time and I will cover these in other posts, but to start with, I want to show you the steps I use to create a basic schedule for the week.
Once you can get that working, you can begin to explore other methods to improve on it.
There are a couple of core parts to time management. The first is about scheduling and how time is allocated to various activities throughout the day.
The second part is about how we manage the time within each block we have allocated, for example, using the Pomodoro Technique, time blocking, etc. But in this post, we’re going to focus on the broad scheduling part.
1. Choose a medium
Firstly, you will need a scheduling tool (a calendar, basically!)
Analogue or digital?
It doesn’t really matter, but find a template that you feel comfortable with. I have recently started using Plan, but there are dozens of options out there to choose from.
2. Block out mandatory & repeating tasks
The first step here is to block out time for all of the mandatory stuff.
You have 168 hours in a week, but a big chunk of that time is going to be allocated to working and sleeping.
If you are an employee working full-time, it is likely that your hours are set for you, so for the purpose of a schedule, we can say that 09.00 – 17.00 is work time.
Scheduling is a lot more than getting the tasks you need to complete onto a calendar.
For most of us, there are going to be large (and small) chunks of the day that are going to be set out for us. For example, a job that requires you to be there from 09.00 to 17.00 with a set lunch hour. Dropping off/picking up kids from school and/or after school activities.
And for work, we will probably need a schedule within the broad 09.00 to 17.00 schedule.
These chunks are usually not flexible and to a large extent are dictated to us.
Doing this may seem very simplistic, but laying everything out provides a useful visual tool to help you with your planning process.
In this example, I am only using weekdays.
Mealtimes count as fixed, but of course, in reality, there is some flexibility here. For example, many people use their lunch hour for a quick gym session and then eat a quick lunch afterwards or at their desk during the afternoon. And dinner may happen earlier or later depending on what you have planned, as with the next example.
3. Add activities that need to be done, but are flexible
Once the mandatory stuff is covered, it’s time to add the other stuff that needs to get done.
This includes things like exercise, chores, grocery shopping and other errands. Scheduling the same time each week for these is a good strategy as it creates routine and ensures time is blocked off, making it less likely for other things to interfere with that period of time.
In this example, you can see that exercise and grocery shopping have been planned for this particular week.
4. Add activities such as socializing and hobbies/interests
When people think of time management, they often only think about it within the context of work and trying to get as much done in the shortest time possible. While part of it is about getting more done with your time, it’s really more about allocating your time appropriately to create a balanced and productive life. So, not just at work.
That means it is important to allocate time to activities outside of work, so you should always schedule this stuff too – otherwise, you will find that work and the demands of others will end up occupying this time.
As you will see from the example, there is still a lot of time unaccounted for. This is the point where you can start thinking about the goals you have, what you need to do get there and where you can allocate time to work towards them.
Technically, in the example above, I have Tuesday 6 am until 7 am and some time most evenings I can use, if I don’t decide to block it out as family time.
5. Colour code the most important stuff
You don’t need to do this, but I find that it helps to see how your week is looking at a glance. You can use different colours for work, socializing, urgent, etc., in a way that you find useful.
I use time blocking, so use different colours for work, blogging and personal/family time.
How to deal with interruptions
Of course, your schedule will often get interrupted due to unforeseen events, necessary appointments and other impromptu tasks, especially when you are in an office environment.
This is a whole topic in itself and I will cover techniques to deal with this in other posts. But, for now, I would say that actually having a schedule is a huge help when it comes to overcoming interruptions, as mentioned above.
The best strategy for dealing with interruptions is to deal with them proactively. For example, check your emails at scheduled times, but make sure it is turned off at other times, so you won’t receive notifications and get distracted from your current task.
Let your colleagues know in advance when you have scheduled out time for so-called ‘deep work’ so that they know not to bother you during that period.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
I don’t think it is possible to manage your time well unless you use some kind of scheduling technique for your day. Otherwise, you just end up working in a reactive way without any clear goals or focus.
I prefer to use time blocking for specific activities and make sure that my whole day is scheduled for something – even it is just blocked out for ‘miscellaneous’ stuff.
Check out this post: How To Use Time Blocking
[Featured image credit: Emma Matthews]