Scheduling with intentionality is critical for maximizing daily productivity. If you don’t carefully manage your calendar, your calendar ends up managing you—and that’s never good.
The key ingredient to optimizing the way you spend your time is paying closer attention to what makes its way onto your calendar. Five simple tips can help put you back in charge of living and working productively:
Plan Your Schedule One Week in Advance
Some entrepreneurs swear by daily planning as the key to optimizing how they spend their time. Others meticulously plan out an entire business quarter, and some look even further out than that. Go with whatever works best for you while keeping in mind that many of us had plans for 2020 that, in hindsight, seem laughable.
Life happens. There’s a careful balance to be struck between making plans and allowing space for unforeseen events or opportunities. Using a weekly planning regimen establishes a desired framework for the next seven days but also allows for daily tweaks. Make sure you’ve scheduled some downtime each day—more on that below—and you’ll be better prepared to pivot.
For example, an emergency situation on Monday afternoon might require the cancellation of everything from 2 p.m. to the end of the business day. If you already have a framework set up for the rest of your week, you’ll be able to scan quickly and adjust. A weekly plan frees you to accommodate the unexpected without overbooking or missing deadlines.
Give Names and Time Slots to Downtime
Far too many entrepreneurs still think of breaks as “something other people do.” These individuals typically operate out of the mistaken idea that taking a break equals wasting time. However, that assumption is outdated. Regular breaks actually increase productivity.
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Don’t set some vague, undocumented goal of taking a 15-minute break every two hours, though. Instead, schedule at least one time slot per day and decide in advance how you want to spend that time—as long as it is not work-related. By giving each break a specific name, such as “Tues. a.m. break: 15 min. walk,” you guard against not using that time purposefully. Looking at your planner first thing Tuesday morning might also remind you to toss your gym shoes in the car.
Be sure to avoid the two equal and opposite errors of (1) taking too much time for a break, and (2) not taking one at all. Put a hard start and stop time on your downtime, and bring the same level of discipline to your daily break that you bring to meetings, phone calls, emails, etc.
Unleash the Hidden Power of Routines
Research suggests that up to 40% of a person’s daily productivity is powered by routine. Everyone has routines, but not all of them have been consciously chosen. There’s a strong possibility that yours may need a tune-up.
The word “routine” has something of a negative connotation, but routines are often very helpful. A morning routine can help put you in the right mindset to begin your day, whereas an evening one helps your body wind down from stress and get a good night’s sleep.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is a big fan of routine. She gets up at 7 a.m. every morning to take her dogs for a walk. After that, she does some reading and meditation followed by an hour of exercise. Winfrey’s morning regimen gets both her mind and body active and engaged to take on the day. At the day’s end, she relaxes with a bath to help prepare her for a good night’s rest.
It’s easy to walk around on autopilot thinking the big thoughts, but try taking some time this week to pay more attention to your daily routines. Look for areas where you could be more intentional about what happens in those time slots.
Learn How to Say No
If you feel duty-bound to commit to everything that comes your way, it won’t be long before you’re stretched too thin. There is an art to saying no that allows you to remain friendly and clear without giving offense.
One of the simplest ways to gain mastery over your schedule is to examine your underlying reasons for being too quick to make commitments. Do you fear you’ll be perceived as rude if you refuse? Do you feel obligated to pay forward the help you received earlier in your career?
After you identify the source of your “yes” reflex, you can begin to short-circuit your auto-response. Try offering everyone a standard reply that will give you time to weigh your options: “I’ll need to consider your request more thoroughly. Could you follow up with me by email?”
Keep Multitasking and Task Switching to a Minimum
There are many self-proclaimed gurus who tout the benefits of multitasking, but advances in brain research are telling a different story. Multitasking is actually bad for productivity. When attention is divided between different tasks, overall efficiency takes a huge hit.
When scheduling your day, keep tasks separated. Focus on one thing at a time.
If you’re still tempted to multitask, try timeboxing. This time management technique divides your day up into boxes of time dedicated to one task. For example, you might label 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. as “content creation” and allow no interruptions during that hour. When 11 o’clock comes around, you stop creating content—no matter where you’re at—and move on to the task occupying the next time box.
Back-and-forth task switching is another trap to avoid. People who habitually bounce around from spreadsheets to email to text messages to social media are often exhausted at the end of each day and at greater risk of burnout.
If you attempt to implement all of these hacks at the same time, you may do more harm than good. Start improving your productivity with small tweaks here and there, then see which changes produce the desired results.