Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the importance of accepting full responsibility for your time and energy by taking ownership of your schedule. First, we discussed the importance of full engagement and strategic disengagement as tools to better manage our energy and increase productivity. Next, we introduced various tactics for managing our time, including prioritizing our various commitments, setting clear goals that guide action, and maintaining boundaries with ourselves and others. This week, we will be sharing some specific and practical guidance to help you successfully manage your schedule.
Before we dive in to the “nitty gritty” of scheduling, we want to revisit two key points that were addressed in previous posts:
OUR ENERGY IS RENEWABLE, BUT OUR TIME IS LIMITED.
No matter how hard we wish and pray, there are only 24 hours in the day, there are only seven days in the week, and there are only 52 weeks in the year. The good news is that, for the most part, we get to choose how to spend our time. Therefore, our ability to make the most out of the time we are gifted each day is wholly dependent on our ability to prioritize, plan, and take action in alignment with our values.
THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY.
There are general tools and tactics that can help you be more effective, efficient, and productive with the schedule you set for yourself, but your schedule only needs to make sense to you. Our schedules and planning strategies are unique because WE are unique, and the truth is that nobody else cares what your planner or calendar looks like if you are showing up on time, completing tasks, honoring commitments, and meeting deadlines. Ultimately, the most impressive schedule is the one that works.
A TALE OF TWO SCHEDULES
Sometimes, the easiest way to make a point is with a visual aid! We have shared a glimpse of our own weekly schedules to demonstrate that there is more than one way to carve a pumpkin.
JEFF’S ELECTRONIC CALENDAR
Reminders, goals, and to-do lists are maintained on an iPhone.
Some advantages of using an electronic calendar include ease of portability, various sharing functions, and automatic reminders and alerts. The ability to switch between multiple calendar views instantaneously can also help to keep longer-term goals and future deadlines in perspective. The downside to e-calendars is that there are few options to add goals and to-do lists in the same application.
AMANDA’S PAPER CALENDAR
Reminders, goals, and to-do lists are tracked in “free spaces” and on sticky notes.
Some benefits to paper calendars are they provide more space for creativity and serve as an anchor document for long-term and short-term planning. Lists, notes, stickies, and bonus areas for brainstorming helps to keep everything in one place and in the user’s direct line of sight. Disadvantages include the need to manually flip through pages to see a layout of a full month and that paper calendars are not easily shared with others.
No one method is perfect; there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Keep in mind, too, that a hybrid strategy that utilizes both paper and electronic calendars can be beneficial even if it requires a little extra work to keep both updated.
Though maintained on different platforms, our methods for scheduling are VERY similar! Both examples include designating color-coded blocks of time to general categories of tasks, activities, and commitments (e.g., teaching, writing/research, full-time job, training/exercise, personal). Of note, each block includes a general, shorthand description of the specific tasks that need to be prioritized during that stretch of time.
Blocking time is a highly effective scheduling strategy that allows you a degree of flexibility within a given block to modify as needed. Each block of time is focused on a single activity and does not conflict with other activities; though both “grading” and “student advising” might fall under the broader category of “teaching,” each has their own block of time during which we can complete a specific set of tasks. For example…
Grading might include time focused on grading papers and might also include talking to students, returning student emails, updating or revising assignments for future semesters, or collaborating with teaching assistants.
Student advising time might be filled with back-to-back Zoom conferences or include pockets of downtime that can be used to catch up on paperwork.
A homework block might include completing a specific assignment, studying for an exam, organizing course materials, contacting your instructor, collaborating with group members, and more.
Therefore, the execution of activities within a time block may change, but the purpose and intention for how that time is being spent remains consistent. Importantly, others may request our time during our scheduled activity blocks, and when this happens, we have a few options. If the demand is quick or minor (e.g., your boss calls in the middle of a block intended to complete a work project), we are usually able to accommodate and then re-engage with our task. If the demand will require more time or effort (e.g., your best friend wants to grab a coffee to get your opinion on career options during your designated homework time), we can either shift our scheduled block or we find another time to accommodate the new activity. As always, “No,” and, “Now is not a good time,” are both valid responses!
THE PRACTICE OF SCHEDULING
Block scheduling takes time, practice, reflection, and modification before we reach any level of mastery. It also demands a tremendous amount of honest self-reflection to differentiate between fantasy and reality or between what sounds sexy and what actually works.
Does our homework really only require nine hours of time per week to deliver quality work that meets the assignment criteria and deadlines, or do we need to accept that we must dedicate 15-hours per week to coursework to achieve the GPA we want?
Does that 30-minute run really take only 30 minutes? Heck no! We need to get dressed, find our watch and headphones, cue up our music, tie our shoes, and use the restroom before we even head out the door. Once we return, we need to stretch, shower, change, and eat. With this in mind, a 30-minute run will likely require at least a 60-minute block of time.
Will it really only take an afternoon to write that paper due the next day? Telling our friends that we ended up pulling an all-nighter to complete a task usually gets more attention than saying we consistently worked on a paper for 90 minutes per day for two weeks, but it comes at a steep physiological, psychological, and emotional cost.
Remember, time for personal improvement, time with family and friends, and time of self-renewal are often last to be planned and first to be lost to a poorly planned schedule. If we can accept that we are generally not that good at estimating how much time, energy, and effort any given task will take to complete and it is a skill we need to practice, we are able to create space for continued improvement, growth, and development.
At the start of the week, add all of your known appointments to your calendar; everything else gets scheduled around these blocks of non-negotiable time. Next, create a running list of everything that you hope to accomplish that week; divide this list into “needs” and “wants” to help you prioritize your time.
At the start of each day, decide which tasks from your list need to be addressed in each block of time; review your time allocation for the day and revise as needed. Be sure to include some time for strategic disengagement, too! Color coding your blocks will give you a visual representation of which tasks are getting the biggest investment of time and energy.
At the end of each day, assess your overall engagement. Were you panicked and rushed or calm and cruising? Where did you feel most productive and when did you notice you were procrastinating? Adjust your plan for the next day, if appropriate, and update your to-do list. Keep track of how much time it actually took you to complete tasks to help you gradually improve your ability to estimate.
At the end of each week, evaluate your successes and failures from the week. Was it easier to complete certain tasks at a specific time of day? Were you satisfied with your ability to balance your overall priorities (e.g., work, school, exercise, self-care) or did one category monopolize your energy for the week? Keep track of what worked and what flopped; repeat what was effective and make adjustments to the areas that need improvement. We value progress and continuous improvement than we do about perfection.
Like most skills, there is a substantial gap between intellectually knowing and practical doing. What we have shared today about scheduling is not rocket science, and we can guess that you have also probably heard it before! Regardless of the skill, the key to get from knowing well to doing well is simply to start imperfectly doing. It’s okay to be a beginner and it is okay to experience failures because that is how we learn. Planning, scheduling, and time management are investments that pay dividends in the future. We must be proactive and intentional when engaging in productive activities and disengaging from others to achieve optimal functioning, happiness, and health.