There are days when you have a long list of tasks for work, but at the end of the day—despite your best intentions—nothing gets done. Although distractions, interruptions, and the desire to procrastinate are unavoidable, you can maximize your time and energy by planning your day. Planning makes you aware of what you can realistically accomplish, and it also keeps you focused on your tasks. The result is peak productivity, as well as more free time to relax after work.
Many business owners, working students, and people juggling two jobs may have intense workloads, but they can keep up with it through good planning and scheduling. Because arranging your workday isn’t all that straightforward, we’ve prepared ways for you to come up with the perfect schedule:
Write It Down
Yes, you need to plan daily. And yes, you have to write it down. Your phone and computer are easily available, with hundreds of apps out there for this purpose, but writing on paper has the advantage of being flexible enough to allow doodles, scribbles, and diagrams, in case you have to modify your schedule later on. When you write down your schedule rather than keeping it all in your head, you’re actually freeing up more space in your brain, and you’ll be more inclined to follow the plan. It also lowers the risk of feeling overwhelmed—in the face of too many tasks, you can shut down and become indecisive about what to do next, but with a written plan, all of your attention can be comfortably channeled onto your current task.
Some tasks are much more important than the rest. One tried-and-tested suggestion is to identify what your most significant tasks are for the day and make sure you complete them. You can pick these based on impact, urgency, or level of difficulty. These tasks should take the highest priority, and you should get started with them early in the day before distractions set in. At the very least, if you accomplish them but nothing else after, it’s still a productive day. By committing to this consistently, you’ll be focusing on the essentials, and you’ll be making so much progress even after only a week!
Mind Your Biorhythm
Biologically, we don’t have the same energy level throughout the day. Some people are naturally early birds who are happy with waking up at 5 AM, while others have a slightly different body clock, preferring to start right before noon. But regardless of when your energy peaks, you’re likely to experience a slump by mid-afternoon, around eight hours after you wake up. According to studies, 2:53 PM is the least productive time of the day—you’re dozing off, and you can’t concentrate. Instead of fighting through it, schedule meetings and emails in the afternoon, reserving the most cognitively demanding tasks for early on instead. To figure out your exact biorhythm, track your energy for a week and notice when it waxes and wanes.
To organize your schedule, you can practice time-blocking, which is advocated by Cal Newport as well as Bill Gates. List down all of the activities that you need to do for the day. Keeping in mind your personal biorhythm and your highest-priority tasks, give them specific time slots. You can designate buffer periods in between activities to account for unexpected delays—the more unpredictable your work is, the more time you’ll have to allot for this. For efficiency, group similar tasks together, although don’t overwhelm yourself with too many of them in a row. We recommend writing this down on paper, with a column for your time slots and another for the corresponding activities. Some people even print custom stickers to signify certain activities, such as a car sticker for transportation, or use highlighters of various colors.
Stick with It
Now that you’ve created your schedule, all you have to do is follow it! That’s easier said than done, but you can reduce the risk of procrastination by taking small breaks every now and then. Although you may be tempted to power through your work for hours at a time, your brain functions better when it’s allowed to rest periodically. Many swear by the Pomodoro technique, where you work for intense 25-minute bursts and rest for 5 minutes after, with longer breaks of 15-30 mins after four cycles. Taking so many breaks may seem counterproductive, but the results might surprise you! You can also try a 52:17 or 90:20 work-rest ratio.
Don’t throw away your schedule just yet at the end of the day! Take a few minutes to reflect on how well you followed your schedule: did you find it practical and realistic, and were you able to finish all of your most important tasks? Common mistakes in planning are underestimating how long it’ll take you to a task or not leaving enough buffer time. In any case, give yourself a pat on the back for what you did accomplish. By reviewing how your schedule performed, you can be better informed when you create your plan for the next day.
When you’re aware of how to allocate your time, working through your tasks becomes much more doable. A well-planned schedule ensures that you’re making the most of your working day—and it’ll show in your results right away!