I scheduled every minute of my work week for the past two weeks and am blown away at the impact of doing so.
My decision to try this was inspired by a fantastic Nir Eyal talk I featured in a recent edition of my For The Interested newsletter.
In particular, this bit jumped out at me:
“You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from…If you don’t schedule your day, someone else will. So we can use a technique that psychologists call implementation intentions — which is a fancy way of saying planning out what we will do and when we will do it — to make sure that we become more likely to do the things we really want to do.”
I typically only put meetings in my calendar, but those words resonated with me and I was curious to see what would happen if I scheduled all of my time so I gave it a shot.
Here’s What I Did…
Each night I took 10 minutes to plot out my schedule for the next day.
In addition to whatever meetings or commitments I already had on my calendar for the day, I accounted for every other minute of the day with other work I wanted to do or things I hoped to accomplish.
To do this, I went through my To Do list, decided what was most important to get done the following day, and slotted those items into specific times during the day when I would work on them.
I also scheduled specific times to check email, make phone calls, eat lunch, and even take breaks.
It wasn’t difficult to do and took less than 10 minutes most nights.
The next day I didn’t even look at my To Do list — I simply followed the schedule I created and worked accordingly.
I was shocked that from the first day I did it, I discovered the following things:
I Got More Done
No matter how hard you work or how productive you think you may be, I guarantee you waste time during your day.
You don’t need to work every second of the day — breaks are not “wasted” time — but you waste time multitasking, working on projects that are less important than others, and meandering around your work instead of being focused on getting it done.
Scheduling every minute of your day prevents that from happening.
You don’t have to spend time figuring out what to work on, you don’t have to arbitrarily decide when it’s time to stop working on one project and move on to the next, and you don’t have to worry whether your efforts are focused on the most important priorities or not.
By removing the decisions about what to do from your day, you enable yourself to get more done.
I Felt Less Stressed And More In Control
When you schedule your time, you take control of how you spend it.
This prevents you from being overly reactive to emails, phone calls, and work that isn’t actually a priority for you.
Scheduling your day in advance also frees you from repeatedly staring at your To Do list which has a huge impact.
It’s a little thing, but removing the constant reminder of what you haven’t done from your work day helps you feel better about what you get done.
Speaking of which, it’s also why I’m such a fan of a Done List.
I Did Work I’d Avoided
A bunch of stuff on my To Do list had taken up permanent residence there because it was work I don’t enjoy doing.
As a creative entrepreneur, dealing with accounting issues will never be my first choice of work to do in a given moment so it inevitable gets put off for a long time.
But it still needs to get done.
So I put it on the next day’s schedule at a specific time and when that time came I noticed something surprising.
I still wasn’t excited to do the work, but staring at it in my schedule and knowing I had chosen to put it there at that specific time because it was important to get done, I realized I had to do it — and it finally got done.
When you schedule something at a specific time, it becomes harder to avoid doing because you no longer can simply choose something else from your To Do list in that moment.
Avoiding it at this point would be directly disobeying your own orders without any real excuse to justify it.
When you decided it was important enough to schedule, you put pressure on yourself to follow through. And that pressure works.
This happened with multiple projects over the course of my two-week experiment and I discovered this simple mindset shift led to a lot of previously avoided projects getting done.
I Got More Focused
I’ve shared a lot of tips about how to improve your focus, but I’m not sure any have been as effective as this one.
When you schedule a specific time to do specific work, you free yourself from thinking about anything else during that time.
If you set aside a time to write, you can focus on that and know your other work is accounted for in other scheduled time blocks.
You don’t have to feel guilty about what you may neglect during your writing time because you’re not neglecting anything — you’ve scheduled it all.
This freedom to focus on one task at a time makes your work easier, quicker, and better.
I Took More Breaks
Scheduling every minute of your day doesn’t mean you work every minute of your work day — quite the opposite.
Scheduling your whole day actually ensures you take breaks, eat lunch, and achieve better work-life balance.
When you schedule meals and breaks, you’re more likely to take them than when you don’t.
Excuses like, “I didn’t have time to eat” or “The day just got away from me” go out the window they’re baked into the plan of your day.
I Maintained Flexibility — A Schedule Is Not A Trap
As I’ve shared my experience with scheduling every minute of a work day with people, I keep getting the same two reactions from people:
- “Oh my god, that sounds amazing — I want to try it!”
- “But what if stuff comes up that isn’t on my schedule that I have to deal with?”
My answer to those comments is two-fold. First, you’re right, it’s amazing and you should try it.
Second, just because you schedule your whole day doesn’t mean you can’t adapt that schedule as needed.
Stuff happens. Work will appear you didn’t foresee and need to address in a timely fashion.
When that happens, the first thing to do is compare that new work to what’s already on your schedule and determine if the new work is worthy of priority over something you already scheduled to do.
Remember: Urgent isn’t the same as important.
A schedule allows you to do a quick check and compare new work to what else you have to do as opposed to just being reactive and working on whatever comes from the person who yells loudest.
If the new work is a true priority, then adapt your schedule and slot it in to replace other scheduled work you have that day.
For example, if I find out at 11 am that an hour’s worth of new work needs to get done by 4 pm, I can look at my schedule and figure out where to place it.
I don’t have to drop everything and do it immediately — I may decide to replace my pre-planned 2 pm work with this new project, knowing it will give me plenty of time to get it done.
Then I can go about the rest of my schedule as usual.
I Discovered How I Spend My Time
In addition to making you more productive, reducing stress, and improving time management, there’s one more huge benefit of scheduling your days.
It allows you to see exactly how you spend your time.
Most of us have no clue how we spend our time because we don’t track or plan it in any real way. Without access to that data, we can’t optimize it.
We don’t know how much time we spend on email. We don’t know how much time we spend in meetings. We don’t know how much time we spend doing work that isn’t important.
As a result, we don’t know why we don’t have “enough” time to get things done.
Scheduling every minute of your work week counters all of that.
It will help you in a bunch of different ways, but if nothing else it will help you discover how you spend your time.
You just may be surprised what you find.