ONCE IN A WHILE, WHEN YOU’VE BEEN out driving, the chances are you’ve probably seen some road work going on. At the site, you did come across some orange and white colour cones acting as barricades, to keep the traffic out from areas that are being worked on. Isn’t it?
These barricades keep the work and the workers safe from rushing vehicles on the road and let the workers do the maintenance and repairs without dodging cars.
Just imagine what if we can do the same with our time. What if we can set barricades around our time to keep it safe from the vehicles of distractions and interruptions. What if we can just focus on the completion of our work at hand.
Well now you can- with something called Time Schedules.
If there is one thing that defines the characteristic of 21st-century modern workplace and life it is: If you don’t control your schedule, it will control you. In short, either you control your schedule or your schedule will control you. It is thus very clear that scheduling your day is extremely valuable. However, you can’t just surf through the entire day and just wish for a productive life.
Instead, you need some tools and techniques to schedule your time to get the most important work done effectively and efficiently.
Here are some amazing time scheduling techniques to help you manage your time for maximum productivity and potentiality.
Time blocking is a very effective method to control your workday schedule. The idea is you mark your entire day’s schedule with dedicated blocks of time for various tasks such as:
- Focused work time for important and priority tasks.
- Shallow work time for urgent but not important, daily maintenance tasks, such as answering emails or phone calls, meetings, updating documents, paperwork, team chats, and much more.
- Regular work time for routines and rituals to keep you focused and energized the whole day.
- Break time to recharge and rejuvenate.
When you fill your workday with a fixed time schedule for all the above tasks and activities, you become more aware and conscious of your available time. This awareness empowers you to say no to distractions either digital or in-person. So, if you are eager to learn how to say no, then time blocking is an ideal tool. It also makes it harder for others to kill or steal your time.
“Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity.” says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work “A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
Time Blocking is a time and productivity management method where you divide your work hours into specific blocks of time periods of time dedicated and devoted to accomplishing just one thing at a time. Each block is dedicated to carrying out a specific task or a group of tasks.
If you are in the habit of making a daily to-do list that is non-prioritized and open-ended, then this is an ideal method to prioritize that list in advance and start your day with a concrete schedule on what work you need to focus on and when. You can also do the same with your weekly list.
Mary Riddell a British journalist spent nearly three months with Bill Gates studying his day-to-day schedule.
She writes in the Telegraph “His day is planned for him, in the style of the US president, on a minute-by-minute basis. Every meeting and handshake are timed to the second.”
Bill Gates a man worth $ 124 billion values his time equally. The Microsoft founder has a habit of planning out his day to the minute by dividing his schedule into five-minute intervals. To stay productive, Gates time blocks his schedule into fixed slots for specific tasks every day tries to stay away from distractions for that timeboxed period.
Benefits of Time-Blocking.
Time blocking forces you to face your open-ended to-do list and get intentional and committed about how you spend your finite time.
Just think how easier it becomes for you to focus and concentrate. With hours or days that are time blocked in advance, you are saved with the hassle of constantly making choices about what to focus on.
Your task is clearly cut out, all you now need to do is just follow your time-blocked schedule. Whenever you get off-track or distracted, just peep again at your schedule and get back to the designated tasks you blocked off time for.
Understand this: when you do time blocking you are bringing all your cognitive mental resources to focus on one thing: single-tasking rather than spreading your focus too thin across several things: multi-tasking. The less you multi-task and the more you single task, the more you build your mental muscles and the easier it becomes to be more focused and dedicated.
Call to action.
Start using time blocking today by choosing your highest priority task, and block out the time you need to finish it. And then the next task and so on. It is a fine art of taking complete ownership of your time and owning time is equal to owning life.
Believe me, it can be an incredibly useful tool to help you plan and organize your personal and professional life.
This technique is for someone who has a lot on their day’s work plate. It is a very effective strategy for all those who have far more responsibilities, the ones who wear many hats, both personally and professionally. Are you one of them? Then Day Theming is for you!
The concept is very straightforward and simple: You dedicate each day of the week to a “theme” and then devote the entire day working on that theme. Instead of marking aside blocks as in time blocking, you assign each day to each task, project, or responsibility.
Sound quite simple, but don’t let the simplicity fool you.
Always remember: Simplicity is power and complexity is confusion.
Try it and you’ll feel the power of this simple but amazing technique.
There can be many versions of this technique. Let me share two of them.
The first one is from Jack Dorsey the founder of Twitter and Square. Waking up at 6.15 A.M, he spends 8 hours per day managing both companies by distributing his time equally between them. When asked about how he manages to successfully lead two large companies at the same time, and still be very productive, this was his answer:
“The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday, I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week”
Another version of Day Theming is used by one of the busiest men on planet earth- Elon Musk, founder and CEO of two billion-dollar companies: Tesla and SpaceX. He is a strong advocate of the Themed Days model, with a simplified version and a slightly different approach than Jack’s. Rather than visiting both companies every day, each day he just concentrates on any one company. He leads SpaceX on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday he is at Tesla returning back to SpaceX on Friday and the weekend.
Now, before you dismiss this model with the excuse that both of them are CEOs and thus can do whatever they want, let me tell you this is true but is a half-truth. The other half is that you too can apply this technique in life irrespective of whether you are heading a billion-dollar company or not.
Anyone who is working on their own, or are their own boss: be it a start-up, a small businessman, a freelancer or a corporate executive who has the freedom to schedule his own work can easily use this model for time schedules.
Let’s say you are a writer, blogger, vlogger, YouTuber or any freelancer, then your week could look something like this:
- Monday – Administrative day (emails, paperwork, reports, etc)
- Tuesday – Content producing day- Book/Blog writing day, Recording videos.
- Wednesday – Editing, publishing day (Audio/Video mode)
- Thursday – Learning Day (reading books or blogs, watching videos or vlogs, listening to podcasts)
- Friday – Brainstorming day for next book, blogs, podcasts or videos.
- Saturday – Content promotion day (social media, Reddit, Quora)
- Sunday – Family day, Planning Day for the week ahead.
Who knows, maybe you’re already using this model without even knowing it. Every person is different, so be free to customize the theme as per your work demands.
Benefits of Day Theming.
One of the most important benefits you can get from theming your week is your ability to focus. By picking a theme to work you put blinders on your brain, forcing it to focus narrower and deeper. As you dive deep into a task for a long period of time, your brain focuses and concentrates better, gets more done, and thus achieves momentum. More the momentum more the focus and vice versa.
Whenever I sit to write a blog article and if for the first ten minutes, I am able to work on it with undistracted focus, my brain settles into the focus mode. Day theming enables you to get into a flow state which automatically becomes a barrier to distractions. And whenever you work in bouts of uninterrupted time your productivity skyrockets and you can achieve amazingly far more in less time.
Another big benefit of day-theming is that it allows you to prioritize the work that’s actually meaningful and important to you. We all have important goals and objectives we’re trying to achieve, whether that’s trying to write a book, launch a new start-up, or learn a new skill.
But in this hyper-connected VUCA world, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s truly important and get drowned in the noise and busyness of daily life. Being able to dedicate one day each week to a particular task or project that’s actually meaningful and purposeful to you can offer you a powerful sense of satisfaction, and which also means we don’t miss out on creating something that has real, tangible value.
In addition to ensuring your long-term success, day theming prevents you from wasting precious energy each morning on deciding what you should focus on. With a day theme in place, you know your main priority for each day.
Also, by creating themes for each day of the week, you focus your attention on predetermined issues which eliminates the constant need for making decisions about what to do next after each completed task. It saves a lot of time and highly increases not only your but also your teams’ productivity.
Dedicating each day to a single theme creates a predictable and reliable pattern of work and further limits the cognitive load of context switching. It offers mental clarity. As a result, you will have less decision fatigue and thus more energy to spend time with your near and dear ones.
Keeping in mind let me clarify, theming your week doesn’t mean becoming rigid with your schedule and sticking with your theme like glue. Be flexible. It also doesn’t mean that you are supposed to carry out only tasks that are in line with the theme and stick to it 100% of your day.
This is almost impossible to expect, as we all have to perform other admin, maintenance, or things that just come up from nowhere. What theming means is that the assigned task is the focus of the day, is the priority, and is the most important. It is also true that themed tasks might just take a few hours to finish and then you have the rest of the day for other assignments. So, it’s all about focus and priority.
As we saw earlier Time Blocking is an excellent way to stay on track and focused, but there is a catch. With time blocking there is a possibility that the task or project you are working on can stretch out without any boundary. You’ll agree that every project should have a deadline. The deadline creates a boundary, and boundaries- self-imposed or by someone else are excellent tools for structuring and scheduling your day.
What’s the solution? Time Boxing.
Time Blocking and Time Boxing appear synonymous, but there’s an important difference.
With this model, you set a limit on the amount of time you are going to spend on a particular task or project. Still, confused? Consider this:
“I will work on a new blog post from 9 am to 1 pm tomorrow.” – Time Blocking example.
Now here’s a Time Box version of the above sentence “I will finish my new blog post tomorrow between 9 am to 1 pm.”
Now mind the difference: the time box statement imposes a boundary on my blog writing schedule and puts a finishing deadline.
This self-imposed “time box” forces me to work efficiently because I have set a limited amount of time in which to complete the blog writing task. Believe me, it’s a great way to challenge yourself and zoom your productivity.
Again, Elon Musk is an interesting example of someone who is notoriously known for putting in 80-100 hours per week and still somehow manages to spend enough time with his family and friends. So, how does he do it? Well, one of his secret weapons that makes him superhuman in time and productivity management is the use of time-boxing.
Musk uses timeboxing from the moment he wakes up in the morning by assigning specific timelines to the tasks that he plans to accomplish on any given day. It is said that Musk has his full-day schedule broken down to 5-minute intervals.
Benefits of Time Boxing.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s wrote in the economist “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This became the Parkinson’s Law meaning work will automatically expand to fill the time allotted to it.
For example, if an assignment is allotted 10 minutes to complete, people will take 10 minutes, but the same task is given 30 minutes, surprisingly people will tend to take 30 minutes to finish it. Though he wrote this in reference to bureaucracy, it has turned out to be a perfect explanation for what happens to tasks without proper deadline or boundaries.
Time Boxing is an excellent cure for Parkinson’s law. Putting a boundary or a cut-off time on a particular activity makes you more aware and mindful of the big picture. The focus shifts from the hours you put into the value you bring in.
Time Boxing is a great way to avoid perfectionist tendencies and help create a more realistic estimate of the finishing time, thus staying within the scope and delivering a project on time.
Call to Action.
A timebox can be as short as 10 minutes to several days or even months, depending on the importance and intensity of the activity or project. One project might take a few days, while another may require a few months to complete. A timebox has project milestones, deadlines, and deliverables.
Legendary Jazz singer and composer Duke Ellington once said “I don’t need time. I need a deadline.”
Time Boxing uses Ellington’s statement as a guiding tool for scheduling your time.
Task Batching is the planning process of grouping similar activities or tasks together and doing them all at once rather than executing them ad-hoc throughout the day. Any activities that require a common skill, are of similar pattern or require the same amount of focus and concentration are the perfect candidates for task batching.
Now imagine this hypothetical scenario: On a typical day, you need to make 5 client calls, attend 5 meetings, make 5 proposals, write 5 emails, and research 5 topics.
Now there are two ways to achieve the end result.
No 1: You make 1 client call, attend 1 meeting, make 1 proposal, write 1 mail, and research 1 topic, and thus zip around 5 times bouncing between each area.
No 2: However, instead of bouncing and switching between each task, what if you decide to perform each activity in clusters like- you finish making 5 calls, attend 5 meetings in succession, make 5 proposals in one go, compose all 5 mails at a time and research 5 topics in succession.
Just think and reflect- haven’t you made yourself informally five times more efficient by grouping and batching all the activities.
Fortunately, there is no logic or maths in this one but pure science.
According to scientific research, the human brain cannot perform two tasks that require high-level brain function.
Our Prefrontal Cortex is the control center or CEO of the brain which handles all executive functions. It is linked to both the right and left half of the brain. When you monotask both halves of the brain take care of the task, but when you throw in the 2nd task at the same time then the right half takes care of the 1st task and the left half of the other.
In short, when you multitask, you are not doing two things at once, but actually, you are just shifting or switching your focus between two things.
The problem with this switching is that it adversely impacts the four ingredients of productivity: time, energy, attention, and focus. It also leads to the start and stop process in the brain which rather than saving time costs you more time. The downside is that it makes you more mistake-prone and extremely inefficient.
“One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus.” says Jacqueline Leo, a media executive “One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off important things.”
Benefits of Task Batching.
A huge but often hidden benefit of task batching is that it can reduce your stress levels. Stress has a big psychological impact, even the way you think makes a big impact. In the above example of a hypothetical scenario, Just, taking all 25 tasks and turning them into 5 batches change the way you perceive things. It makes the load far more manageable. Less stress means more satisfaction and more confidence, you’ll be happier at work.
Another benefit is the increase in focus. The time spent between switching tasks and shifting attention can cause energy and decision fatigue and reduce your ability to focus, making distractions and interruptions a habit. Task batching allows your brain to stay in the single-tasking mode for longer, and as your brain becomes more used to the single-tasking mode the more your focus improves.
Finally, it maximizes your productivity. By doing so you’re able to create a more focused workflow, conserve energy, minimize distractions, eliminate procrastination, become detail-oriented and develop super productivity habits.
Now whether you are leading mega-companies like Bill Gates, Elon Musk or not, we all are surely leading our lives and we all have the same 24 hours on a given day. Whether you consider them as role models or not, you’ll agree that they are massive achievers in life, and it would be a great help if we could learn some productivity secrets and time management skills from them to make ourselves super productive and successful.
No matter what method you choose from the lot, if you are persistent and diligent about them, you will experience a massive difference and even transformation in your personal and professional life.
Also, remember the importance of being consistent. As researches show, repetition is the key to habit-formation. Once you’re habituated to the process, you can unleash the true power of these techniques.
Who knows you could become super-human not by changing the way you work, but just by rearranging time schedule?
Vaccinate your precious time from the viruses of distractions by using the above time scheduling strategies.
Schedule your time or lose it forever. The choice is yours!
After trying out these techniques, let me know your experience with them. I would love to hear from you in the comments box below!
Happy Time Scheduling.