So in my post “I just don’t have the time” I had given this simple instruction as part of the many things you can do to manage your time better: make a schedule. But writing down what you plan to do in a day planner and actually doing those things are a world apart. Over the past week, I’ve been posting my own schedule in the hopes of helping you figure out how to do it on your own; but in doing this, I got to thinking a lot about exactly how I got such an efficient schedule, which made me realize I’d never properly explained how to make one.
I wasn’t born with some sort of mystical scheduling talent. In fact, I used to waste incredibly large amounts of my time when I was younger, and I’m just glad I never did a time audit back then because I might have been ashamed of how I spent my time. And the way that I schedule my time now didn’t just suddenly happen one morning, either; I didn’t just wake up one day, make a schedule, and become a time management machine. It took years of fumbling around in the dark, and hard work, to discover the method I’m presenting to you now. So I hope it’ll be useful to you, at least to the extent that you won’t have to spend years finding out what works for you.
As promised, here is a detailed how-to guide to making a schedule that works. Making a schedule is a relatively long process, one that takes a lot more work than just writing down what you’re going to do during the day. It could take weeks to get the schedule just right, so be prepared for a long haul, but once you do that, you’re set for at least a few years, until a major life change like a new job or the arrival of a child throws everything into upheaval.
Step 1: Writing your schedule
Yeah, I know what I said. But I said it took a lot more, not that you could skip this step entirely! The very first thing you have to do is to write down your schedule. Do it in the method that you will be most likely to actually use: if you leave yourself post-it notes, write everything down on a scratch pad and are used to carrying stationary in your bag, then use a dayplanner. If, however, you’re always on your cell phone, then use that calendar, or if you spend your days and nights on your laptop, Outlook has an excellent calendar program. Same goes for your tablet. Whatever you use most, use that. You’ll be more likely to stick to it.
Step 2: Making a time audit
Figure out if you’re sticking to your schedule. This step is the hardest part. For an entire week, you’re going to be taking a hard look at the way you spend your time and whether or not you actually are sticking to your schedule. What that entails is that every fifteen minutes (and I mean every fifteen minutes!!) you write down what you did for the past fifteen minutes. Why so often? Because it’s easy to think you’re writing when you spend an entire hour refreshing your Facebook feed and you manage to type a whole sentence in your Word processor. When you do it every fifteen minutes, you have a clearer picture and you’re forced to be more honest with yourself.
Step 3: Evaluation
Once you’ve done your time audit, sit down and look at it and your schedule. Are you actually doing what’s on your schedule? Are there times of days when you accomplish the same task faster than other times? Is multitasking really helping you perform better, or do you go faster when you concentrate on just one task at a time?
Step 4: Repeat
Once you’ve done your evaluation and identified the areas which leave to be desired, make another schedule, audit yourself again, and then evaluate. How long should you be doing this? Until your schedule works, and your audit matches your schedule almost perfectly, or at least all the goals on your list (see my post “Energize” for goal setting tips) get accomplished. That list is really how you gauge how well you’re doing; if you get everything done with time to spare, congratulations! You’ve become efficient at managing your time. If you’re scrambling with no social life and half the tasks on your list don’t get done, then you need to plan your time better (or possibly examine whether or not you’re a workaholic – and I mean an actual workaholic, someone who has an addiction to work, who twitches 15 minutes into a movie with their lover because they’d rather be doing their accounting – which is a completely different problem and will get addressed in a future post).
Pay attention to that list. Like I said in the introduction, life changes, and with the big changes, you almost always need to adapt how you manage your time. So if you were doing fine and all of a sudden you notice that you can’t keep up anymore, you need to change something, re-examine how you spend your time.