In our century everything is about being and having more. We must work more, earn more, see more, fuck more, experience more, tweet more, lift more, travel more… As Mark Manson demonstrated, media tells us to give more fucks, especially about the things mentioned above. But we have got only so much attention, time and willpower to spend. Therefore we need to decide what really matters to us and ignore the whole rest. So why should productivity be on your small list of priorities? Because if we use productivity the right way, we get things done faster and carve out more time for things we want to give a fuck about. In other words: it allows you to get your assignments done faster, allowing you to spend more time going out wasting yourself, spend time with your family or just binge watch Netflix. In this article I’m going to show you how to schedule your day to increase your productivity. Therefore, I provide 3 steps, which will be presented in the following structure:

What to do to get more productive?

Step 1 – Conduct a planning session

1. Map out what you need to get done

2.Estimate how long it will take   

3. Create time blocks

To illustrate the entire process, I will walk you through my own planning routine. I suggest setting aside at least 15 minutes, around the same time every day. Therefore, you need a calendar and a sheet of paper. The front side of the sheet will become the schedule. The backside is for jotting down appointments that come up during your day. The calendar serves the function – to be a calendar (surprise surprise). 1. At the beginning of each planning session, transfer the items, which you noted on the back of your schedule, into your calendar. Additionally, you can check your social media messages or clear out your e-mail inboxes. I recommend reviewing those message services at the end of your planning session or under time pressure. This way facebook, e-mail and what so ever, can´t steal time by distracting you.

1. At the beginning of each planning session, transfer the items, which you noted on the back of your schedule, into your calendar. Additionally, you can check your social media messages or clear out your e-mail inboxes. I recommend reviewing those message services at the end of your planning session or under time pressure. This way facebook, e-mail and what so ever, can´t steal time by distracting you.

Here I create a fictional schedule for Tuesday. In the first five minutes I transfer any appointments, events or thoughts that came up during the day. They are noted on the backside of the schedule of the current day.

2. When you have gathered all demands and to do´s that came in this day, you can start with your schedule. Gauge for every task how long it will take and create a time block. When it comes to small errands (making a phone call, fill out a short document, laundry), chunk them together in one to-do time block. You can go even further and schedule all of those small tasks onto one day per week. Such a To-do-day can save you even more time. [1]

You see there are categories for a morning procedure, work, breaks, leisure and an evening ritual. Important is that I set myself a time limit for work to create external pressure. This forces me to stay focused on each task. 

So how long should one time-block be? A caveat on this: Plan for each task 1/3 more time than you would expect it to take. Just believe me, there will be always something that interrupts you. (#Murphyslaw) Moreover, we always plan the best-case scenario. Don´t do this unless you want to be busy, disappointed and not able to help someone out/ chat with a valuable person. Reality is: things will come up.

Why planning increases your productivity

The most important thing about becoming more productive is getting aware of how long things actually take and there are a few reasons to this. First, you won´t forget any relevant date´s, events or appointments. This prevents that a surprising deadline shows up out of nowhere and creates pressure. Back in our schooldays we all knew this situation. Suddenly, our friend asked us, “Hey, how much have you already learned for the exam this week?,” when we have entirely forgotten about the test. Second point for having a schedule: If people plan out what they are going to do and how they are going to do it, they are much more likely to stick to it. I´ve already touched on this in an article about procrastination. Thirdly, it reveals time blocks that can be used for work instead of getting filled with random tasks. By putting it on paper I had to confess that in my work day were numerous chunks of times that haven´t served a purpose. Now I had to face the decision whether I would waste the time on “engaging” in gossip with other students or make the most out of those chunks. It surprised me how free my evenings where as I started to utilize those minutes with intention. What´s the opposite scene? Most students in their free hours between classes. Partly talking to a “sort of” friend, partly tapping on their phone and partly rereading a lecture. (By the way, even undistracted rote review is a terrible learning technique) Last and most important, through planning you can distribute your workload evenly across the week. You know what I mean: “Probably, it hadn´t been that stressful if I would have started earlier,” “next time I definitely begin sooner.” Yeah, we all know how this intent goes… But by planning ahead you do yourself a favor and make that reality. Well, that’s the basic recipe. If you want to refine scheduling further, continue reading. The following steps have proven themselves as tremendously useful.

Step 2 – Work with your inner clock

1. Find out when you´re cognitive functioning is highest (through self-monitoring or a chronotype quiz)

2. Schedule your important tasks into those high alertness hours.

You probably have noticed that your energy levels change over the course of each day. Wouldn´t it be useful to know when your attention spikes and schedule your most demanding tasks into this timespan? Luckily, there is a science behind it, because those fluctuations follow a repeating pattern. Simplified, this pattern is part of your chronotype. To find out your chronotype, there are two different ways. The first one is the most accurate but requires you to track your energy levels for one entire week, every hour in the day. Chris Beardsley who came up with this idea, calls those spikes in energy levels your Biological-Prime-Time. He suggests tackling difficult tasks in those timespans of peaking energy, to increase productivity.

The second method is much more convenient and still very accurate. Therefore, you take a quiz on which chronotype you are. In his book, “The Power of When”, Dr. Breus categorizes into four different chronotypes: Early, normal and late risers. The fourth type are people with an inherent sleeping disorder. Moreover, he provides detailed information when each chronotype should engage in all kinds of activities. A normal riser (50% of the population) for example, should work on analytical/ logical tasks, like writing business memos, between 10am and 2 pm because that’s when their brainpower is highest.

-Peak alertness hours for a normal riser (also called bears or hummingbird): 10am-2pm

-Peak alertness hours for a late riser (also called wolfs or night owls): 7pm-12pm

-Peak alertness hours for an early riser (also called lions ore early birds): 4pm-7pm

Either you collect this data yourself by keeping an energy log as described above, or you just take a quiz on your chronotype, like this one. Now you know when you are most productive and concentrated on a normal day. Use this knowledge and schedule core working tasks into those timespans. Nevertheless, keep in mind that those are rough numbers and need to be individualized. For instance, when I have to edit or write a logical based text, I work on it between 9 am and 1 pm. This allows me to work better, faster and to enjoy it.

Why should you align your workday with your inner clock?

This one makes sense intuitively. Work on your most impactful tasks, when you have the most concentration, energy, willpower, alertness…. Therefore you`ll get things done faster and with higher quality. Moreover, this is a kind of gamification, because you are matching the difficulty of your work with your own abilities. This way you avoid feeling overwhelmed by your work challenges and increase the likelihood of coming into a flow state.

Step 3 – Plan proactively.

1. Ask yourself what might interfere with your schedule

2. Ask yourself how you could prevent that from happening

3. Refine your plan

The next step is inspired by the sprint project. Ask yourself what might interfere with your plan. For example, you want to work on a personal project for two hours. One possible problem would be that someone will interrupt or distract you. Continue with thinking of strategies that prevent that problems from happening. In the prior case, a solution is isolating yourself before beginning to work on the project (maybe a secret spot in nature or a café).

Why should you plan proactively?

In the most cases you can predict what´s going to interfere with your intentions yourself. That´s because most of the time the problem is a bad habit of yours. Example: You are planning to go to the gym on Wednesday. What´s the most likely thing that could interfere with that? – You are too tired to get your ass up. What might you do? – go the gym directly before/after work. So why would you want to make the negative experience of failing, when you already know what could go wrong and counteract failing in the first place? In essence: it forces you to rethink your plan and increase the probability to carry out what you intended to. Yeah it´s annoying to work over your schedule, once you are basically finished but it will pay off. As Abe Lincolns said, ”Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

A final thought –  

– isn´t scheduling everything too obsessive?

Some will argue that having a schedule for every day makes them feel uncomfortable. However, I´m not going into debate the pro´s and con´s of mapping out each day. The discussion simply isn´t necessary. For instance, you only need to plan out the things that you need to get done, not how you are going to spend your free time. Moreover, it´s not about sticking to your schedule, it´s about having one up your sleeve. The thing is that there will be days you can´t carry out the plan anyway and that’s fine. Having a schedule should only prevent that you waste time, which freed up unexpectedly.

To sum this up, by now you have the knowledge to create an effective schedule that is aligned to your own energy levels and deals with interruptions in advance. This planning routine should serve you as a tool for carving out more valuable time. Valuable time you can use for those things you really give a fuck about.Recources

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