Everyone has a schedule. Everyone complains about their schedule because there are not enough hours in a day to get everything done. Eventually, the schedule becomes your enemy that ruins your life.
I am here to tell you that it is possible to get your schedule under control, stick to it even, and still have time for personal life. There are no secrets, really, just little tricks to make your schedule a friend. All the little tricks fit into one big piece of advice:
always be prepared.
What is a schedule?
Your schedule is a list of time-sensitive commitments. It is a reminder that you have to be somewhere at a certain time for a certain purpose.
Your schedule is a part of Time and has very distinct features.
- You cannot be in two places at the same time. Therefore, the ability to populate your schedule with appointments is limited. Treat your schedule with respect: only important commitments go on the schedule and you have to honor them all.
- Your schedule is not set in stone. Often it is possible to re-schedule appointments, if necessary. Use this feature with caution. You don't want to be a flake. If you have to re-schedule, notify everyone ahead of time. If you neglected to do it, you'd better show up, hell or high water.
Stick To Your Schedule - No Excuses
You miss deadlines when you do not know they are coming. "Schedules surprises" happen when you do not have a good understanding of your task roadmap.
Can you list all your commitments for a year? A month?
For each project, know at least 2 things - (1) how will you know you are "done" and (2) what is the next action required to move it forward.
You have to review your schedule and your tasks at least once a week. You decide what to do and what not to do for the upcoming week. Define your work load and save the projects you are not doing for the next weekly review. You will have a very clear picture of what is coming your way and what you need to do to prepare.
My process of staying on schedule is simple.
- Review. Review each project weekly (at least). Imagine, how you would feel if you did it right there and then. Will you be happy? How will you know that it is done? How will it affect your life or your work if it is complete? If the project helps you accomplish your personal or professional goals, keep it. If not - kill it.
- What is the next action? For each project that needs to be done, decide what needs to happen next to move the project forward. Are you the right person to do it? Delegate as much as you can. Set a reminder to check on the status sometime in the future.
- You are it. If you are the right person to do the task, add the next action to your task list. Decide if you need to finish the task this week. If not, postpone the work on the project till the following week. You will review the project and the task during your next weekly review.
- Get perspective. Take a step back and look at all the projects you have to work on the following week. Which ones are personal and which ones are work? What is your job exactly and how do these projects help you achieve your career goal? Prioritize the projects: the ones that help your career first, the ones that help you not to get fired second, the rest - third.
- Set time for big tasks. Take another look at the big tasks. Decide, how much time you will need to achieve them. Block 90 minute chunks of time on your calendar to work on these projects. Do not schedule a specific task. Instead, schedule time for "uninterrupted work" to give you flexibility to decide which task takes priority. Make sure you make that appointment.
- Calendar review. Review your schedule for the week. Note all the appointments and their locations. Do you need time to get there? Do you need time to prepare? Do you know why those appointments are on your calendar and what you expect the outcome to be? Clarify or cancel all appointments that do not make sense to you.
- Prioritize. Identify the projects that have to be completed on the days scheduled even if the world comes to an end. How far out can you move other projects if necessary? What about appointments? Which can you re-schedule and which ones are absolutely necessary to occur? This exercise will help you to expect the unexpected and quickly re-arrange your schedule if necessary.
- Optimize. Once you know what your work load is for the week and your project priorities, find ways to optimize your schedule. If you are going to a grocery store, pick up your dry-cleaning on the way. Mark all your tasks that you can do in 15 minutes. The "quick hit" list will come handy when you have a spare moment.
Now you are ready for the week. Take 30 minutes at the end of the day to plan the next day. Note your priorities. If something comes up and you need to re-arrange your schedule, you will be ready without missing deadlines. Develop daily routines to keep you productive.
Routines. Develop as many routines as possible for your reoccurring tasks. Routines are nothing more than mind tricks, reflexes. They are initiated by a trigger and an action follows. Everyone has "maintenance" tasks - check logs, go to the gym, have lunch. Some routine tasks are easy: you get hungry (trigger) - you have lunch (action). Others are trickier, like going to the gym. Identify or invent triggers for your routine tasks and stick to them. For example, every Monday at 9am check ranking for your core keywords and record the results in your spreadsheet.
Be an over-achiever. If you have time to complete a task ahead of schedule, do it. It is better to have more time available for Twitter and Facebook than be stressed that you have not talked to your friends for days. If you run out of things to do (like, that's going to happen), do a project review. Go through the same weekly process and identify the next set of tasks you need to do as soon as you can.
Batch-process your tasks. When new requests show up, new ideas pop into your head, etc. write everything down and put it in your inbox. You do not have to decide anything about that thought or request at the moment it arrives. Once a day at least, process your inbox and decide what to do about that request or idea. You can delete it, delegate it, or do it (now or later). Decide if it is a project and what the next action is; add it to your system appropriately.
How do you manage to stick to a schedule? Do you have a routine that helps you stay productive? Share your tips in the comments.