Last week, I wrote about needing to make a change in my routine to jumpstart my productivity. I shifted away from my modus operandi of working through to-do lists and instead created daily schedules, with time allotments for each activity.
The idea was that I would perform as much of an activity in the scheduled time slot as I could and then move on to the next activity. There was no pressure to finish any given task. And having the schedule meant I knew what I should be doing at any point in the day.
So, the big question: Did it work?
Well, yes and no. Yes, this new routine did help increase my productivity. But no, I didn’t ultimately follow the schedules.
Here’s a recap of how the week went and some learnings.
Before I could start scheduling out my days, I needed to list the various tasks, activities and projects I was interested in taking on. Yes, this sounds like making a to-do list. However, this was NOT a list of everything I wanted to accomplish that week; it was simply a list of activities I could choose from to populate my schedule.
Making my list of activities also helped me identify those few tasks that would have to be done to completion and couldn’t just be dropped when the time slot ran out (e.g. grocery shopping).
Creating the schedule
With my list of tasks complete, I set about creating my schedule for the first day. I decided to create my schedules day-by-day — rather than for a whole week — because I didn’t know how much of any given project I’d get through that day, and if it was a high-priority task that didn’t get finished, I wanted to be able to slot it into the following day’s schedule.
I started with activities that were time-sensitive (e.g. grocery shopping), high-priority (e.g. job hunting) or a big interest to me (e.g. Hawaiian language practice).
I also wanted to test out different approaches to scheduling activities and breaks. There are various recommendations regarding how often you should take breaks and for how long. For this first day, I tried the 25-minute working & 5-minute break routine.
Following the schedule & learnings
The first day, I was able to follow the schedule pretty closely, though I had to do a little rearranging, as I found my meals took longer than I had allotted, when factoring in the food prep. I also found that I personally didn’t like the short work/break time chunks. For the other days, I scheduled longer periods of working with longer breaks.
Learning 1: Longer breaks work better for me, even if that means a longer day.
Because grocery shopping was an activity that I needed to do to completion, I scheduled a generous time slot for that task. Even with the commute, shopping and putting all the groceries away, I didn’t end up needing the full two hours. Now, I could have just taken a break for the remainder of the time slot, but instead I used the extra time to return to a task I hadn’t completed earlier in the day. And I’m glad I did — it kept my energy up and I felt satisfaction from getting more done.
Learning 2: If I finish a task in less time than allotted, I should use the extra time to take on an unfinished project.
I purposely created daily schedules that included a mix of housework, career-focused tasks, creative activities and personal development projects. There was also a balance of physical and mental work. I found that this helped prevent burn out and kept my energy and focus up.
Learning 3: Including a variety of tasks helps keep me interested and energized throughout the day.
For the most part, the idea of the schedule was to do as much of an activity as I could get through in a given time slot and then move on to the next task when the time was up. However, for some projects, especially creative ones, I found that I didn’t want to move on because inspiration had hit.
Learning 4: It’s ok to adjust the schedule to take advantage of creative inspiration or mental focus on a task.
By the end of the week, I was no longer following a strict schedule, but I did have fully productive days.
It seems that for me, working with the schedule method was a good way to reinvigorate my productivity. But once I got into the habit of a full “work day” of sorts, I no longer needed to craft specific schedules; instead, I could use my intuition to know when to move on to a different activity.
Moving forward, I’m going to do a hybrid version of the to-do list and schedule method. That is, I’ll have an idea of the top projects I want to work on every day and when it would be best to work on each activity (e.g. for me, mental tasks are better in the morning vs. the afternoon). And I’ll be mindful of trying to switch between mental and physical tasks, as well as allowing myself to have decent breaks.
And if I ever feel like I’m starting to get lackadaisical with my productivity again, I know I can always go back to a strict schedule to get me back on track.