“I’ve gotten very good at scheduling my life, scheduling the scene and preparing myself for knowing, saving the energy, consuming the energy, knowing when to go for it and having the available reserves to be able to do that. You have to think about that, because it’s endurance.” – Tom Cruise
I’m writing this on a relaxing, breezy Sunday afternoon, because that’s the slot I have scheduled for it. I’ve got a cycling trip in 2 hours, and my alarm’s gonna buzz me later in the evening reminding me to check out a book I’ve been meaning to purchase. I’ve become one of those weirdos who schedules almost all aspects of life, and I’m proud of it.
Any productivity book will tell you to schedule your tasks, yet very few people actually follow it. They’ll say things like “My day is too unpredictable to follow a schedule!” or “Life should be spontaneous – why be so rigid?” A lot of people are freakin’ terrified about becoming that guy – that guy who cuts off his lunch conversation halfway because his schedule says he needs to be back at his desk by 12.45pm.
Those fears are unfounded. Allow me to explain.
Scheduling for Work
A good schedule doesn’t force you to conform to a fixed, rigid structure, but it takes away much of the decision-making on what to do right now.
If interruptions to your schedule crop up or your lunch conversation stretches longer than usual, it’s easy to make adjustments. But the bigger problem with most people is that they’re constantly making thousands of tiny decisions: what to eat, what to wear, what they should be working on, how to avoid the boss in the elevator, etc. This results in “decision fatigue” – when your mind is just so overworked that it can’t focus on the most important parts of your career.
If you ever want to find the time to do focused work, not get overwhelmed trying to fight fires all day, and leave the office on time, then scheduling is critical. You can schedule a fixed slot for emails, a huge chunk of time for important projects, and an hour or so a day for admin. That way, you can spend more time taking action instead of agonizing about whether you’re working on the “right” things or not.
My girlfriend says I have the memory of an goldfish. I don’t know where that expression comes from because it’s not as if someone is running around giving memory tests to goldfish or whatever, but it’s true. I can’t remember what I had for dinner at that expensive restaurant last week. I can’t remember conversations that I had two hours ago. Hell, I can’t even remember when my own birthday is.
Luckily, I can schedule everything I need to remember. Google reminds me whenever it’s someone’s birthday so that I remember to wish them Happy Birthday. I never forget to check my credit card statements and phone bills because an alert pops up 5 days before they’re due. I schedule monthly “check-ins” with myself so I know my how I’m doing with my goals.
I no longer have to keep dozens of mental to-dos in my head anymore – Google now reminds me to buy groceries, negotiate my annual credit card fee waivers, make appointments, or Wiki something I was curious about. (Did you know that pandan leaves are an excellent cockroach repellent?) Without all these random thoughts floating through my head, I can now totally ace that elephant memory test if they had one. Woot!
If you’re a busy executive, it’s pretty easy for work to creep into your personal life – You start by staying late for an hour or two, and pretty soon you’re clocking all-nighters and working on weekends.
In this case, scheduling fun is the only way you’re going to have any. Block off some chunks of time for leisurely brunches or spending time with your loved ones. Unless something is really urgent, don’t even allow yourself to check email.
As James Altucher likes to say, too many of us “time travel”: Instead of focusing on the present, we worry too much about what we’re going to do in the future. It’s not fair to you or your loved ones if you’re constantly thinking about work or when you’re supposed to be spending quality time with them, so leave that icky work stuff to its scheduled timeslot.
Scheduling isn’t just about productivity. It’s about being fully present in whatever you’re doing, and maybe even having some fun while you’re at it. Now if you’ll excuse me, my schedule says that my blogging slot is over and it’s time for me to go cycling. 🙂
Image credit: neonbubble