24 January 2022

    James Francis

    Tips for managing your schedule

    Take expert advice on how to get your time – and your life – back under control.

    “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days,” said the author and salesman Zig Ziglar – and it’s an observation that resonates with many people. We feel like every day is a rush, packed with meetings and tasks, and all we can do is long for a lazy weekend or the odd day off.

    The bad news is that it will never end unless – and this is the good news – you take charge of your schedule. But how can you do that? Let’s look at some steps to get your time and your life back under control:

    Find out how you spend your time

    “Once you know how you’d like to spend your time, it’s important to figure out where the time is going now. If you don’t know where the time is going, how can you know if you’re changing the right things?"

    So wrote Laura Vanderkam, author of the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. One of the first steps she recommends is to find out where your time is going. You might think you know, but that is seldom the case. To track your time conveniently, download an app such as Toggl or Harvest, log your time usage for a day, week or month, and study the results.

    Find your best times for specific tasks

    “All times of day are not created equal. Our performance varies considerably over the course of the day, and what task is best done at a certain time really depends on the nature of the task. If we look at the evidence, we can be doing the right work, at the right time.”

    Author Daniel Pink explains that there are good and bad times for different tasks during the day. How effective you are depends on your internal body clock as well as willpower. It also means you’re better at particular tasks at different times.

    Figuring out those periods is very useful. Do you focus better in the morning? Then do demanding, single-minded tasks. Are you better at studying in the afternoon? Plan accordingly. But if you force yourself through your tasks, you’re doing more harm than good.

    Plan the week ahead

    "Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

    Apart from former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, many other successful people have referred to the importance of planning. It’s a key characteristic of high-powered individuals: they plan their week – usually on the day before it officially starts.

    So delay that Sunday series binge for an hour while you create some structure for your week. You may prefer to plan on a Friday or Saturday or split the task across the weekend – but get it done. Come Monday, you’ll be more prepared, and you won’t waste energy or feel aimless.

    Manage notifications and email checking

    "Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don't read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds."

    These words from Dr Maryanne Wolf, UCLA Professor-in-Residence of Education, should resonate. We allow our devices to lead us by the nose. How often do you mindlessly scroll through your phone to kill time? That's not necessarily a bad thing. But know that those activities take up time and energy – and the leading culprits are notifications and emails.

    It only takes a few seconds to distract your mind from a task, but it can take up to 20 minutes to regain that focus. Try turning off unnecessary notifications, and block out time for tasks such as checking email.

    Use a meeting tool

    "If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings."

    Humorist Dave Barry is right that meetings can be a big waste of time. But sometimes they’re necessary. The problem is that when you need to get people together, it’s common to waste time going back and forth to see who’s available when. You can avoid this easily by using a calendar manager, such as Calendly, Acuity, and Youcanbook.me, which offer free basic features. Connect with your calendar services, such as Office365 or Google Workspace, set your available times and dates, then share a link for others to see when you’re available.

    Block out times for focus

    "Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus."

    Alexander Graham Bell makes a good point: focus is very important. As mentioned above, it can take a lot of time to regain focus – and even more if it’s the wrong time of day for you! Focus is precious, so create time for it. Block off parts of the day, or even entire days, from meetings and other distractions.

    Avoid multitasking

    "When we think we're multitasking we're actually multi-switching. That is what the brain is very good at doing - quickly diverting its attention from one place to the next. We think we're being productive. We are, indeed, being busy. But in reality, we're simply giving ourselves extra work."

    Author Michael Harris debunks the myth of multitasking. Quite simply, very few people can multitask successfully. Numerous studies have shown that multitaskers think they’re doing a good job. In truth, they’re falling well short of what they would have achieved by focusing on one task at a time. Yes, there’ll be occasions when you have to do things simultaneously, but  be smart about it: choose uncomplicated tasks with low focus demand, for example, chatting on the phone while washing dishes. But don’t fall into the habit of multitasking. It drains you faster and makes you less effective.

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    - Cover image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

    James Francis