It’s really common to pride yourself on your ability to get things done. We live in a capitalist society, after all, where productivity and output is king. BUT, today I’m advocating for a scheduling technique that will switch from letting your to-do list dictate how you spend your time, to letting how much time you have determine which things you’ll do.
This is especially helpful if time is something that always seems to be running out on you. It’s part of a week of episodes when I’m looking at ways to be more time savvy and to improve your relationship to time in general, so that you can get out of time poverty, and start experiencing more time affluence. (And if those terms are new to you, be sure to come back tomorrow when I’m interviewing Ashley Whillans, author of a book called Time Smart, who studies those very subjects.)
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We typically think, I have to do this thing, how long will it take me?
That’s matching your time to your tasks. But the problem is that we are typically terrible at estimating how long something is going to take. And that’s before you factor in distractions, like text notifications and Twitter, which of course makes things take longer. Or things that pop up unexpectedly, which, really we should start expecting those things because they happen every day.
As a result, you tell yourself, “Oh I’m going to start and finish this thing this afternoon!” And then you don’t finish it and feel defeated like there’s just not enough time to do everything you need to do. In this way, your own expectations of how long you think something should take contribute to your sense of time poverty.
Lately, instead of planning my day according to what I need and want to do, I’ve been implementing a scheduling technique where I match those things I need and want to do to my available time.
The thing I love about this approach is that it forces you to break up bigger goals into smaller pieces, and it helps you put time first, and your to-do list second. Because nothing is more defeating than thinking you’re going to complete something from start to finish and then realizing you only got about half-way through. It makes you feel like a failure, when actually, you did two really hard, and important things: you started, and you completed a good amount of work.
So it does require you to get more comfortable with progress, but it also frees you up from feeling bad about anything less than completion.
So, for example,
Let’s say you’ve got your first meeting at 10 am. That means, if you start working at 8:30, you’ve got 90 minutes. What portion of what you need and want to do today fits into a 90 minutes slot? Or even two 40 minutes slots with a 10-minute break in between?
You could do administrative stuff for 40 minutes. Go make a second cup of coffee and stretch your legs a bit for 10 minutes, and then spend 40 minutes writing up that report that’s due tomorrow. You may not finish the report but you’ll get a running start, so that you only need maybe a 30-minute stretch later in the day to wrap it up. Better than saying, in those first 90 minutes of the day, that you’ll finish that report, only to get waylaid by your inbox, and/or a text string, and then feel defeated that you’re getting a late start, and so you decide to go get a cup of coffee first and by the time you sit down to work on it, you already feel behind. Oh that’s a hard feeling, and tough to get good work down when you’re in experiencing it.
Breaking your day up into smaller chunks of time and then matching up your to-dos to those time slots also helps you weave in more things that you like and enjoy. It’s equally important to fit more things into your day that you enjoy, that are good for you, that make you happy, because even doing those things in little bits of time add up over the long-term. 10 minutes a day of doing something like stretching or reading or planning an outing adds up to 3650 minutes in a year. That’s 60.83 hours, or a week and a half of full-time work. That’s worth it, am I right?
Scheduling Techniques to make you feel happier and more productive in 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and a couple of hours
If you have 5 minutes to kill before your next meeting starts, you could write that email to thank your Dad for sending you the video of the most recent Space X launch that you’ve been meaning to send. Maybe you can stand up and stretch. Or lie on the floor and give your back a break from sitting. Or schedule something that you’re really looking forward to. You could even go pay an invoice.
If you have 15 minutes, you can go outside and just stand there and let the sun hit your face, or walk around the block, or go make a cup of tea, or read a few pages of your book, or do a high-intensity workout (working from home makes this so easy to do). On the work front, you could schedule a couple of meetings, or send an invoice, or write a thank you, or open up a document and do some unedited free-writing on something you need to be working on–just break the seal and your stress about getting that thing done will go way down.
If you have a half-hour, you can call a friend, go on a nice walk, create an outline for something you have due, research something, or get a good head start on producing something, or complete one distinct part of a bigger project that makes you feel accomplished.
A whole morning or afternoon, or even–gasp!–a whole day
If you have a precious couple of hours or even an entire day with no meetings or appointments on the books, I recommend breaking those hours up into a couple of smaller segments. You may spend those segments all on one project, and that’s fine, but I find that when it feels like I’ve got all the time in the world, I spend a lot of that time dinking around because, hey, I’ve got all the time in the world! Better to plan a few 30-minute chunks to focus on smaller pieces of whatever you’re working, and then pack in a few enjoyable things in between them, than to dither away a big chunk of time.
There’s one caveat to this scheduling technique:
There will still be things that take way, way longer than they should, because you can’t remember your password to the store you need to order something from and then you go down this wormhole of getting that fixed, for example. I don’t have a fix for those things that go kerfluey. All I can say is, yep, they happen. Yep, they are frustrating. Yep, they suck up time. The only thing to do is just give yourself a pass and remember that the clock always resets the next day. So long as you are living, you get a do over every time you wake up.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to look at your schedule for the rest of the day. What kinds of chunks of time do you have available to you? And what things are good fits for those chunks of time? Give it a try–make time be the horse that pulls the carriage of your day instead of your tasks, and see both how much more you can do, and how much better you feel about those things.
And for a whole lot more about time poverty and time affluence, be sure to come back tomorrow!