In yesterday’s post, I shared the simple formula of time management.
Time Management = Planning + Willpower
I split planning into three steps.
I explained the analysis and prioritization steps in yesterday’s post. Today’s post will be about the third step, scheduling.
What Is Scheduling?
By scheduling, I mean the planning of day-to-day activities. Technically, scheduling is assigning a date and time to an activity. Sometimes, I assign a specific time to an activity, for example, in case of an appointment.
In other times, I indicate the order of the action items, without indicating specific start and end times. This order usually matches the priority of the action item, but not necessarily so.
In some cases, I might have an appointment early in the morning and a more important task in the afternoon.
The Level of Detail
It’s up to you how much detail you want to include in your scheduling. I prefer to plan only critical and important tasks in my day-to-day schedule. Check yesterday’s post for what I mean by critical and important tasks.
By including only critical and important tasks, my daily plan doesn’t get crowded. I can quickly see the top 4-5 essential actions I have to take on that day. On some days, I go over 5, but 4-5 essential tasks seem ideal to me.
The Pitfall of To-Do List Apps
In the past, I used a to-do list app. I added every idea that crossed my mind as a to-do item to that list. As a result, I ended up with thousands of action items. The critical and important action items got lost among the “nice to-do’s” and “one day, I’ll do’s.”
I stopped mixing my casual ideas and high-priority tasks. I add my casual ideas to a separate note in Evernote.
The Tool that I Use for Scheduling
The app that I use the most is Evernote. I use it for scheduling as well.
I like the flexibility of a note. I can structure and format it any way I want. I can combine several notes together with the internal link functionality. Here are some of the features that make Evernote an excellent scheduling tool for me.
- Duplicate a note
- Checkboxes in notes
- Copy internal link to a note
- Format a note
How Do I Schedule?
The goal of scheduling is to plan predetermined activities over days. If you wonder how I identify and prioritize my activities, you can check yesterday’s post.
I make a distinction between two types of activities.
Repetitive activities repeat themselves one or multiple times every week, every month, every quarter, and every year. I use templates to plan my repetitive activities.
I have three templates.
I include the quarterly activities in the monthly template.
A template is a simple note that contains the repetitive activities to be carried out in a given time frame. For example, a yearly template includes the following items.
- Tax and insurance administration and payments
- Car maintenance
- And so on…
Those are the events and actions that happen once a year. I divide the yearly template into twelve months. The formatting functionality of Evernote is perfect for doing that. Similarly, I divide the weekly template into seven weekdays.
Creating an Actual Schedule
I create an actual schedule before the related period starts. I create a note for the next year, the next month, and next week, before they start. That is really simple with the “duplicate a note” functionality.
The “duplicate a note” functionality creates a copy of the note, in this case, our template note. Then, I adjust the title of the note to the related year, month, or week, and that’s it. For the week, I use the start and end date of the week as the title.
Once I duplicate a template note, I have the repetitive tasks in my note. Then, I add the one-off tasks to the period note.
How Long Does It Take?
Once you have the analysis, prioritization, and templates ready, it takes around 10-15 minutes to create a weekly plan.
It takes more time to prepare the analysis, prioritization, and templates. Those tasks are never complete.
As time passes, your life evolves, and your priorities change.
Your analysis, prioritization, and templates change with your priorities. You need to invest time in those activities to keep up with the priorities of your life.
How do I Create an Actual Schedule?
I work on scheduling once a week on Sunday. I complete all the scheduling work in 10-15 minutes.
- If the next year is approaching, I create a note for the next year.
- If the next month is approaching, I create a note for the next month.
- In either case, I create a note for the next week.
Once those notes are ready, I move specific action items from the year note to the month note, and from the month note to the week note. Then, I add one-off activities to the week note. After that step, my weekly schedule is complete.
I only include specific action items on my schedule. I don’t add vague plans.
For example, “bring the car to maintenance” is a specific action item. “Think about buying a new car” isn’t. Vague plans have to be analyzed, made concrete, and prioritized in the analysis and prioritization phases.
Long Term Note
In addition to my year, month, and week notes, I have a long-term note. Don’t confuse the long-term note with a long-term vision or any other abstract idea. Those ideas go to the analysis document.
The long-term note contains the action items that have a deadline that’s after the end of the next year. For example, I have to renew my password and id every five to ten years.
Putting It All Together
There aren’t many options to order notes in Evernote. As a result, you end up with a bunch of notes without any logical order. I create an index note to overcome that problem.
Every time, I create a new year, month, or week note, I add that note to my index note. This is really easy in Evernote with the “copy internal link” functionality. Then, I paste the link to the index note.
Quick Access to Important Notes
The index note and the template notes are important notes. I add a shortcut to them on the left panel.
The Order of Tasks in a Day
As I mentioned before, I don’t assign timeslots to tasks in a day. The only exception to that is the appointments with set start and end times.
I plan the tasks without set start times according to their priority. The higher priority a task has, the earlier it is scheduled.
Having a set order of tasks has several benefits.
- Minimizes the time wasted on thinking what to do next.
- Minimizes decision fatigue by avoiding deciding on what to do next.
- The tasks with higher priority get done first.
The Impact of Planning on Your Life
“Every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution.” Brian Tracy
I included the quote above because I like the idea behind it. I don’t agree with it 100%.
In some cases, planning could be a massive waste of time.
In the past, I got lost in details and kept planning. As a result, I lost a lot of time planning without getting much work done.
As the years past, I learned to focus on the most critical and important tasks and let go of the rest when planning.
Focus on the most critical and important and let go of the rest. If you do that, planning has more benefits than 10x time savings. It makes impossible possible.
Time management involves planning and willpower. Planning requires analysis, prioritization, and scheduling.
I discussed the analysis and prioritization in yesterday’s post and scheduling in today’s post.
Scheduling involves two steps.
- Having yearly, monthly, weekly templates that include repetitive tasks.
- Creating actual period schedules based on the templates by adding the one-off tasks.
When scheduling, I focus only on the most essential, specific tasks. I order my tasks according to their priorities if they don’t have set start times, like appointments.
I use Evernote to create my day-to-day schedules. It has several features that make creating and using a day-to-day plan efficient.
When it comes to scheduling, the proof is in the pudding.
You have to go through the steps explained in yesterday’s and today’s post to see what it does for you and your life. Work on setting it up for a month and use it for a month. See the effects yourself.
Most of us make the mistake of equating time management to planning. Planning is only half of the equation. The other half is willpower.
If you don’t have the willpower to follow up on your plans, no amount of planning will save you.
Stay tuned for a post on the willpower aspect of time management. That post won’t be the average motivational post shouting at you to get things done. I’ll back it up with some mind hacks that you can use right away.
Do you have any questions or feedback over the system explained in yesterday’s and today’s posts? Let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer your questions and write a follow-up post if necessary.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.