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How to Schedule Your Time Effectively

How to Schedule Your Time Effectively

If our time is our true currency, what would our expense statements look like?

The sad thing about time and energy is that, even when we recognize it as invaluable, we’re unable to save it for a better situation or pile it up for when we need more. Spend a morning checking social media and suddenly you’re at lunch, wondering how the hell it got to be noon already. Spend a day putting out small fires and suddenly you’re in bed, wondering why you didn’t do a single productive thing in the last twenty-four hours. Spend a life not paying attention to what you’re doing, and suddenly you’re past your prime and having a midlife crisis because you were too busy checking social media and putting out small fires to do what you really wanted.

Make good “purchases” with your time

Do you want that to happen to you? I certainly don’t. The thought that my time here may pass by without me squeezing every last drop of knowledge, experience, joy, and love of it is absolutely terrifying.

The good news is that big things build up from small things. You won’t die with a life unfulfilled or go through an awful midlife crisis if you’re paying attention to what you’re doing with your time and energy. You’ll start paying attention to your time and energy if you’re aware of what you want. [1]

Spend the majority of your time on your goals, or on tasks that get you to a point where you can spend the majority of your time on your goals (for example, if your goal is to become an actress but you’re not there yet, tasks may be to work a side job until you land a part you want). Then spend time with people who are important to you. Then spend time on hobbies and activities that make you smile and give you energy. Literally say “bye, Felicia” to everything else, because … if you think about it, what’s left? Mindless idling, time spent doing pointless shit that drains you, and unnecessary tasks. All of those can go! Byyyyeeeee! –Waves obnoxiously-

Getting the right estimates

A few weeks ago, I started getting up early in the morning to write blog posts, and it felt so good that I want to structure the rest of my days in a similar way that allows me to be hyper-efficient and super productive. I will refer to this as “living a life by design” (a term taken from my favorite motivational writer, Benjamin P. Hardy).

Recently, I started tracking everything I did, and it was mind-blowing to see how much time certain tasks actually took. Last night, I created Pinterest pins for every article in the URBN Intern-View blog series and timed each creation with the stopwatch app on my iPhone. I thought that they’d take around ten minutes each, tops. Here’s how it actually broke down:

Pin #1 – 20:45:51

Pin #2/#3 – 18:36:70

Pin #4 – 10:15:90

Pin #5 – 5:06:20

Pin #6 – 7:00:30

Oh my God! The first pin took twenty whole goddamn minutes to make. When I looked at my stopwatch at that time, my mouth literally dropped open. It took an entire third of an hour to create a simple graphic?! Then I thought about it, and realized that I’d had to find the photos, come up with an original design, and play around with fonts and colors until I was happy with the final version. Twenty minutes for all that wasn’t too bad.

Fortunately, the pins were all of a similar style, so once I had the initial design going, it was just a matter of swapping out photos, colors, and text to make the other pins. The time it took to make them more or less dropped as I went on.

From this data, I know that if I’m making a batch of pins that all look pretty much the same, I can budget around 20 minutes for the first one, and around 10 minutes for each one thereafter. This will allow me to make more accurate time estimates, which leads to work being done on schedule.

I’m going to continue timing myself so that my estimates get better and better, to the point where I know exactly how long it’ll take me to complete a basic task.  

Schedule based on your body’s natural energy cycles

“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent return on energy.”

– Brian Tracy

At the core of living my life by design is to schedule everything the right way. I’ve always loved structure and scheduling my days, but much like a first-time project manager, I didn’t get good at time estimates until I started paying attention to what I was actually spending my time on.

The key to proper scheduling is to know yourself. It can be tempting to fill up your schedule end-to-end and budget three hours for a big task, but if you do that, you’ll likely get burnt out halfway through and spend the rest of your time scrolling through social media, like I did during my first three years of college.

Here’s a cool fact: while awake, the human body goes through cycles of productivity, where ~90-minute periods of focus and alertness (what I call being in “the Zone”) are followed by natural ~20-minute periods of low energy. These cycles are known as our Ultradian rhythms, and they’re totally a thing. I can recall too many instances of being really deep in a project, only to come out of it feeling like I really needed a break. This was frustrating; I didn’t want a break, but it seemed that my body and brain literally wouldn’t let me work until I took a walk or talked to a friend.

Since finding out about Ultradian rhythms, I’ve actually begun to take advantage of these cycles. I build “zone time” right into my schedule, and in my twenty-minute break periods, I catch up with friends, take walks, meditate, or check social media. Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t be near a screen at all during breaks. I think screens and social media are okay, but I make it a point to leave the spot I was working in. I’ll move to a different seat at the table or walk to a different location — that way, when I return to my workstation, my brain immediately knows that it’s time for work, and I feel totally refreshed and ready to get back into the Zone.

Stay flexible

I have three main tasks for today: Properly set up Google Analytics for the blog (I’ve been slacking off and using the WordPress plug-in version since I started), change my About page, and re-categorize every post on the site. I don’t count things I do every day, such as going to my day job, writing the daily blog post, or attending Pure Barre.  

Here’s my schedule for today (getting up at 8 AM rather than 6 AM because it’s a weekend):

8 AM – Wake up

9:00 AM – Oatmeal breakfast (good for not dying at Pure Barre!)

9:30 AM – Start writing blog post

10:16 AM – Leave the house

10:30 AM – Pure Barre

11:45 AM – Lunch/chill out

12:30 AM – Walk to coffee shop

12:45 PM – Order coffee

1:00 PM – Task #1 zone time

2:30 PM – Break

2:50 PM – Task #2 zone time

4:10 PM – Leave coffee shop

4:30 PM – Task #3 zone time

6:00 PM – Dinner

7:00 PM – 52 Weeks of Momentum (write daily post, interact with members of the group on Facebook and Slack)

8:00 PM – Work on overarching blog strategy

9:30 PM – Break

9:50 PM – Create Pinterest pins for new blog posts

11:00 PM – Shower/wind down

11:30 PM – Bed

I treat my schedule as a daily budget for my time. I like to write the next day’s approximate agenda out, by hand, right before I go to bed. When I do this, I go through the day ahead of me in my mind and write in exactly how long I think it’ll actually take me to get stuff done. I know it’ll take me about 15 minutes to walk to a coffee shop close by, for example, and another 15 to actually get that cup of coffee. Things always take longer than I think they will, and I’d rather schedule them in accurately than be frustrated at always being late.

Being late is inevitable sometimes. I wrote that agenda out last night, but today I woke up at 8:30 AM and decided to eat breakfast right away. I was only able to get half of my article written before Pure Barre. After class, I was hungrier than I thought I would be, and lunch took more time than usual. It’s 12:45 PM now, and rather than being in the coffee-shop line, I’m at home finishing up writing. I go to the library or just stay home to do my research instead.

That’s totally okay! Life happens, and the smallest thing can “break” the schedule you meticulously set. It’s important to stay flexible — as long as you’re still pretty much adhering to the timeframe and sequence of events that you set, you’re still getting the maximum amount of stuff done.

Living a life by design starts with knowing yourself, being aware of Ultradian rhythms, and making correct time estimates. Once you have your estimates down, create a schedule that works for you, and stick to it the best you can. Over time, you’ll fall into this new routine and be able to get so much more important work done that you’ll easily reach your goals, and you’ll easily avoid the dreadfulness of life passing you by.

Now, go out there and kill it with your newfound productivity! ♚


[1] If you’re not aware of what you want, the first step is to figure that out! The key is to not let that stop you from getting stuff done — often, it’s by doing stuff that we don’t want to do that we figure out what we’d rather be doing. For example, I went through two years of being an economics major before I took a Python class and realized that I was actually meant to be a software engineer.

View Comments (2)
  • I love this post! I’m always timing myself in an attempt to squeeze in as much as possible into my schedule. Great info about Ultradian rhythms.

  • I’m so glad that you found the post helpful! I’ve been creating my daily schedule around my Ultradian rhythms this entire weekend and have been able to get three times as much work done — it’s an amazing discovery.

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