According to the bestselling leadership author, Kevin Kruse, the vast majority of successful people follow a strict schedule rather react to obligations and opportunities as they arise. This allows them to complete their responsibilities every day and predictably achieve their goals.
Effective scheduling doesn’t just mean filling your days with important tasks - you need to consider how mental and physical factors affect your productivity and use that knowledge to your advantage when you’re planning your days.
This article will walk you through seven effective scheduling strategies that will boost your performance by optimizing when you complete tasks.
1) Leverage Your Body’s Peak Performance Times
One of the key ways you can use your schedule to boost your productivity is to arrange your schedule around your biological clock. According to a study in the British Journal of Psychology, the majority of people wake up in a positive mood and get continually happier until their mood peaks around noon. This natural mood rhythm has significant impacts on your performance.
Researchers have found that people in fields ranging from finance to healthcare make more mistakes in the afternoon and evening hours.
The most effective way to combat this is to leverage your body’s peak performance times to do your most critical work. Here’s how:
- Prior to the start of every week, identify the projects and meetings that are most critical to your success and require a high level of attention to detail. These are the tasks that have significant consequences if you make mistakes while doing them.
- Schedule times in the mornings to complete those projects.
To free up your mornings for critical responsibilities, complete all non-urgent projects and meetings in the afternoons.
What if you’re a night owl?
It’s estimated that 60-80% of people are most productive in the mornings, however, if you’re a night owl, you still undergo the same rhythms - you just experience them later in the day. To leverage these tips, apply them to the time of day that you are most alert.
- Set aside time to work on your most important projects when you’re at your peak energy level. To do this, spend time prior to the start of each week evaluating what your most urgent responsibilities are.
- If possible, schedule critical meetings during your peak time as well. Doing so will enable you to make optimal decisions and avoid miscommunications.
2) Optimize Your Schedule to Avoid Decision-Fatigue
Just as your body’s energy wanes as the day goes on, so does your brain’s ability to function. Numerous studies have found that the more decisions you make throughout the day, the more impulsive your decisions become.
This is known as decision fatigue and to prevent it from causing you to make poor decisions, you to optimize your schedule to reserve energy for your most important decisions. Here’s how:
- Limit the number of trivial decisions you make. These include decisions like what to eat, what to wear, minor work decisions, low-cost purchases, and other decisions that don’t have serious consequences. To limit them, reduce the number of choices you have for each. Here are a few options:
- Choose 1-2 items that you eat every day for breakfast.
- Eat leftovers or another consistent item for lunch.
- Commit to a single type of toothpaste, detergent, shampoo and other types of household items so that you don’t waste energy deciding which ones to buy.
- Have templated answers for common, small email requests you get at work.
2) Schedule time in the first half of the day to make your most important decisions. Often, those decisions are associated with your key projects and meetings so, if you set aside time in the morning for those activities, you won’t have to take any additional actions.
Sometimes, your schedule will make it impossible to make all of your critical decisions in the morning. When that happens, eat a snack before considering your options. Researchers have found that eating carbs (including fruit and yogurt) provides a temporary - but quick - boost to your willpower by giving your brain the fuel it needs to function well.
- Limit the number of trivial decisions you make by simplifying your wardrobe, eating habits, and other non-urgent things.
- Make your most important decisions in the morning.
- Eat a snack before making major decisions in the afternoon or evening.
3) Adopt a Morning and Evening Routine
Adopting morning and evening routines is an effective way to add structure and consistency to your schedule even if your days are hectic.
Highly successful people from Arianna Huffington to Richard Branson all use morning routines to set themselves up for productive days. Evening routines also offer similar benefits by helping you end the day on a positive note.
Here are some common activities that productive people include in their morning and/or evening routines:
- Exercise - Even if you’re exhausted some days and just take a walk around your neighborhood, maintaining a habit of exercising helps you have the stamina to keep pushing toward your ambitious goals.
- Time with the people you love - If you have a family or live with your partner, eating a meal with them or engaging in another daily activity is a great way to sustain those relationships. If you don’t live with your loved ones, use this time for phone calls and messages to catch up.
- Reflection - Taking time to reflect on your achievements, challenges, and relationships helps you to stay focused on your goals and identify when you pivot your approach to various situations.
- Planning - This includes organizing your schedule so you have time for your most important activities as well as thinking deeply about specific goals and the actions you need to take to achieve them.
- Personal hobbies - To avoid burnout, you need to engage in fun, non-work-related activities. Spending twenty to thirty minutes a day on your hobbies is a great way to retain joy in your life.
This may seem like a lot of activities to fit into your daily schedule, however, they can each be completed in twenty to thirty minutes unless you want to reserve more time for them. You should also include additional tasks based on the time of day and your personal responsibilities.
For more tips on how to create an evening routine, check out our article:
- Decide whether a morning and/or evening routine works best for your schedule. Keep in mind, that to yield the benefits, you must be able to commit to it every single day.
- Choose which activities you’re going to include in your routine and what order you are going to do them in.
- Start acting on your routine. It will be challenging at first, but once a habit forms, it’ll be easy and you’ll start reaping the benefits.
4) Time-Block Your Schedule
If you’re like most people, you spend your day reacting to other people’s demands - responding to emails, attending meetings, completing miscellaneous requests that come up, etc. Spending your time this way is a huge loss of productivity because every time you switch between tasks it can up to twenty-five minutes for your brain to fully refocus.
The solution? Time-block your schedule.
Time-blocking is an effective scheduling method because it maximizes your ability to focus on your most relevant and urgent activities. Using it is easy. All you have to do is spend ten to twenty minutes every morning or evening grouping together your similar tasks and place blocks on your schedule to complete them. Schedule urgent groups of urgent tasks as early in the day as possible.
Here’s an example of a time-blocked schedule for a sales executive:
- 7:00 to 8:00 AM - Breakfast meeting with a prospect (urgent)
- 8:00 to 11:00 AM - Prospect phone calls + email follow-ups (urgent)
- 11:00 to 11:45 AM - Team meeting (semi-urgent)
- 12:15 to 1:00 PM - Lunch with an external business partner (urgent)
- 1:00 to 2:30 PM - Outreach campaigns to fill the pipeline (semi-urgent)
- 2:30 to 3:45 PM - Prospect phone calls + email follow-ups (urgent)
- 3:45 to 6:00 PM - Responding to remaining emails, updating Salesforce, filing expense reports and other miscellaneous tasks. (non-urgent)
All of the tasks are grouped based on specific types of tasks and most urgent activities are earlier in the day to improve their ability to focus.
Time-blocking may be challenging if you’re not sure how long tasks take. If that’s the case, use a time-tracking tool, such as Toogl, to find out how much time you spend on various types of projects.
- Spend 10-20 minutes every morning or evening time-blocking your day.
- If needed, use a time-tracking tool to discover how long it takes to do common types of tasks.
5) Say No to Any Request that Doesn’t Contribute to Your Goals or Values
A study from UC Berkeley found that people who struggle to say no experience higher levels of stress, burnout, and an inability to focus.
Constantly accommodating other people’s requests makes it nearly impossible to effectively manage your schedule since you spend too much time reacting to irrelevant tasks as opposed to working on the projects that drive your success.
You may be hesitant to say no because you fear damaging professional relationships, however, if you decline requests politely, the risks of negative impacts are small and well worth it.
Ask yourself these questions to decide if you should take on people’s requests:
- Does the task offer skill development, experiences, or other potential rewards that contribute to goals?
- Is it being asked by someone who plays a direct role in your ability to achieve your goals or someone who is highly important to your personal life?
- Does the request help you act on your spiritual/moral values?
Add new tasks to your schedule only if you answered yes to at least one of those questions.
6) Schedule Time for Fun and Reflection
Organizing your schedule around your brain’s peak times is an effective way to boost your productivity; however, to perform your best, you need to schedule times to engage in reflection and enjoyable, non-work activities.
Researchers from San Francisco State University found that people who pursue hobbies perform 15% to 30% better than those who don’t regularly engage in activities they enjoy. Here’s why:
- Engaging in fun activities is relaxing, thus lowering stress levels. This can improve focus and decision-making abilities.
- Most hobbies require you to think creatively and use skills that you don’t often use at work. This improves your overall cognitive abilities.
Additionally, research has found that employees who spend fifteen minutes each day reflecting on the lessons they learned perform 23% better than those who don’t. Reflecting has such a huge impact because it:
- Let’s you identify what positive actions you took and that you continue to make.
- Enables you quickly learn from the mistakes you made so you can move on from them.
- Helps you solidify your understanding of important information you gained that day.
Though it may be challenging to fit these leisurely activities into your schedule, the performance benefits outweigh the need to push back non-urgent tasks.
- Schedule 15-20 minutes every day to reflect on work and/or life. If you’re strapped for time, you can do this during your commute, while doing household chores or engaging in other activities that don’t require a lot of conscious thought.
- Schedule at least one block of time every week to do a hobby or other fun activity.
7) Think Scheduling is Too Time-Consuming?
We work with many high-powered professionals who want to have a productivity-driven calendar, but they don’t have the time to slow down and schedule their obligations effectively. If that sounds like you, you may want to consider hiring a virtual assistant.
We train our VAs to proactively manage our member’s calendars so that they can spend their days focused on value-driving activities. A Prialto virtual assistant will:
- Take care of all scheduling logistics so you can spend more time on value-driving activities.
- Schedule meetings in alignment with your time blocks to improve your ability to focus throughout the day.
- Keep your calendar free of conflicts so you’re never stuck juggling overlapping obligations.
- Tackle admin tasks, manage follow-ups, keep your systems up-to-date and take care of other tedious tasks so that you have fewer trivial decisions to make every day.
About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.