How To Schedule Your Day and Be More Productive
Updated September 30, 2022
One of the best tools for better time management and productivity is to keep a daily schedule. An effective work schedule helps you stay focused on important tasks and less likely to miss events or deadlines. In this article, we explain how to schedule your day while providing some common tools and tips to help you be more productive at work.
Why is scheduling your day important?
Scheduling your day helps you plan your day's activities so you can use your time efficiently and accomplish your goals. A daily schedule can help you:
Set realistic goals. A schedule makes you aware of your capabilities and how much time you need.
Stay focused. You’re more likely to avoid interruptions and distractions.
Establish work-life balance. Being more efficient with your work assignments creates more time for other things on your to-do list If you include personal activities in your schedule, you can mindfully make time for yourself as well.
How to schedule your day
The key to successfully scheduling your day relates to focus, routine and time management. Follow these five steps to help make scheduling your day easy and effective:
1. Understand your motivation and your method
When creating and using a schedule, you first need to understand what you’re trying to do, with what means and to what end. Keeping a schedule will result in better time management, which in turn helps you to be more productive while meeting deadlines, working efficiently and achieving a better work-life balance.
As to method, select one scheduling apparatus and use that as the one place you track your daily scheduling routine, be it a daily planner or a scheduling app. A digital calendar or a program that syncs between your phone, computers and other electronics can be useful if you travel or work from multiple devices. Scroll to the bottom of this article for a list of manual scheduling techniques.
Related: How To Stay Organized at Work
2. Create a morning routine
Control your schedule by beginning the day with a morning routine that energizes and prepares you for the day. Wake up early enough to get ready for your workday without rushing or stressing. Understand how much time you need to eat breakfast, exercise, get dressed, check emails and commute to your workplace. Following a similar routine every morning becomes a habit that sets a positive tone for your day.
3. Organize and prioritize tasks
Write down your tasks for each day, then order them by priority, organizing them in a way that maximizes your chances of completing the most important ones. To prioritize the items on your schedule, choose a realistic number of big tasks—no more than three—that you want or need to complete that day. Keep your workload reasonable to give yourself the best chance of achieving your daily goals. Put these important tasks at the top of your list, and organize the rest of your schedule around them.
Place high-priority, challenging or time-consuming activities at the beginning of the day when you are likely to be most productive. If you feel less energetic and motivated in the middle of the afternoon, schedule low-priority or maintenance tasks, such as returning phone calls or filing papers, for that time of day.
4. Schedule tasks
Schedule a start and end time for each task based on how long you expect it to take. Overestimate the amount of time you plan to spend on an activity by 25%. For example, if you need two hours to complete a project, reserve two and a half hours on your daily schedule. This extra time ensures you can finish your work on time, even if interruptions occur. During high-priority activities, turn off your phone and email notifications or wear noise-canceling headphones to prevent distractions from causing you to get off-schedule.
When scheduling tasks, also consider factors such as travel and preparation time. Schedule breaks and meals for yourself. Allow for discretionary time as well to make room for the unexpected throughout the day for unexpected events.
Related: How To Make a Daily Work Schedule
5. Reevaluate your schedule
At the end of a day or week, reassess your daily schedule to find ways to use your time more effectively. Ask yourself the following questions so you can more accurately schedule your day in the future:
Are projects taking longer than expected? If certain projects consistently take more time than you allow on your schedule, know to reserve extra time for those activities in the future.
Are you utilizing your discretionary time? If there are items on your schedule that you are consistently postponing, or if you are allowing discretionary time that you aren’t using, you may want to reconsider what goes on your daily schedule.
Are you often derailed by the unexpected? Conversely, if you find yourself frequently getting off schedule due to unscheduled occurrences throughout the day, perhaps you need to make room for the unaccounted items by adding them preemptively into your schedule. Even if they are seemingly trivial events, adding a buffer for recurring events or just blocking out time for the unexpected can help.
Types of daily schedules
Professionals have developed a variety of scheduling techniques depending on their work styles, office policies and personalities. Here are five types of daily schedules:
The time-blocking method: With this traditional type of schedule, you assign yourself a certain amount of time to complete a task. You determine in advance what you want to accomplish that day and when and enter it into your calendar.
The Pomodoro Technique: This scheduling technique involves working hard for short, intense intervals (usually 25 minutes) and then taking a short break (for around five minutes). You choose an activity and set a timer while working on it, then repeat this process throughout the day to stay focused and productive.
The 52-17 method: This variation of the Pomodoro Technique works for 52 minutes and breaks for 17 as some experts have suggested these time increments to be particularly useful in improving focus and productivity.
The 90-minute focus method: Going off the notion that the body works in “ultradian rhythms" where our attention tends to peak then exhaust in natural energy rhythms throughout the day, you work for 90 minutes, take a 20-minute break then repeat.
The polyphasic sleep method: This unconventional schedule involves sleeping only three and a half hours each night but taking 20- to 30-minute naps throughout the workday. It gives you more time each day to be productive. This method can be effective for people who are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they sleep in short intervals rather than one long period at night.
The Covey Time Management Matrix: This method divides the day into quadrants where tasks are grouped according to the section where they fit, the most urgent items going in the first quadrant and lesser ones in the last. This method claims boes beyond time management to also assist with prioritization, allowing you to remove unnecessary items from your schedule altogether, when applicable.
Experiment with different scheduling methods to find one or a combination of techniques that helps you to maximize your productivity.
Tips for scheduling your day
When first setting out to organize your daily tasks and goals, having so many options might be overwhelming. Regardless of your chosen method, the following tips can help you keep control of your day’s tasks. When keeping a schedule, remember to:
Make it a routine. Begin your day with the same morning routine daily, be it exercise, meditation, leisure reading or whatever your morning regimen requires, then block out your day. Scheduling your day should be part of this routine, starting each day on track.
Adjust when necessary. If your current scheduling methods or daily routines aren’t working, adjust your methods.
Avoid multitasking. Multitaskers may work well under pressure and be a handy resource in many areas, but multitasking also directly opposes focus and time management.
Take notice of time. Be conscious that all the things you do take time, whether you include them in the schedule or not. Do you know how much time it takes you to make coffee, repark the car before the attendant comes or run a quick errand? Time yourself if you aren’t sure. Leave room in your schedule.
Eat the frog. Productivity experts often quote Mark Twain: “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” Do your larger or more challenging tasks first. People tend to procrastinate away from their more cumbersome challenges and gravitate toward what is easy or enjoyable, which over time can leave disorder and unmet goals. Schedule your day to get ahead of “the frog.”
Read more: 10 Methods You Can Use To Schedule Your Time
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