Business owners and managers are often overwhelmed by the amount of work calling for their attention—emerging tasks, unexpected calls, meetings, projects, employees, etc. It’s hard to schedule time for productive, important work if you let random tasks occupy your day.
To make time for work that is actually meaningful and crucial, you need to make a well-thought-out schedule and adopt scheduling strategies that work for you. In this post, we’ll give some suggestions to get you started. Try them out and share them with your staff!
What should be included in a good schedule?
A good schedule should have dedicated blocks of time for:
- Deep work: Work that requires full attention and focus. You should block out all interruptions and distractions during these blocks.
Examples: research, planning, writing, coding, etc.
- Obligated and shallow work: Work you have to finish, but doesn’t demand your full attention.
Examples: admin work, team meetings, brainstorming sessions, conversations, emails, paperwork, etc.
- Breaks: blocks of time to recharge your energy.
You can weave those blocks of time into your routine so you don’t have to wonder what to do next. For example, start your deep work time after a cup of coffee. That way the coffee signals that it’s your working time.
Next, let’s see how you can combine different scheduling strategies with the above time blocks to make a better schedule for your day.
6 scheduling strategies to help you make the most of your day
1. Time blocking
Time blocking is a scheduling strategy in which you assign blocks of your time for specific purposes. For example, you create a time block from 8 am to 11 am for deep work, meaning you’ll only focus on deep work during that time block.
Time blocking can be an efficient way to control your time. You can divide time blocks for deep work, shallow work, and breaks. It creates a clear structure for your day, makes sure you spend time on important work, and you’re less likely to waste time on busywork and unimportant tasks.
One of the most challenging things about time blocking is to actually follow the schedule you’ve planned. Some people think time blocking should be rigid and you have to follow the plan very strictly. But you can always adjust the schedule as your day goes.
Setting blocks of time on Google Calendar is convenient. You can copy and paste, drag and drop blocks. You can also put in blocks for meetings and conversations, then share your calendar with others so that they know when you’re available.
2. Most important task first (MIT)
It’s simple and it’s tough—doing your most important task first.
Humans have the tendency to choose easy tasks over challenging ones. But you know as long as you finish what’s important first, you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day anymore.
Besides, finishing the most impactful work first will set the tone for your day. And if you’re the chronotype who works best at the start of the day, you can make use of your most productive time.
As each person has a specific chronotype, we have different time frames when we’re most productive. So you don’t have to do MIT in the morning if you have a sharper focus at night. The general idea is to make time and space for your important task so it doesn’t float around with its nagging voice inside your head.
Make sure there are no interruptions when you’re doing your MIT. Using a website blocker or turning off phone notifications can help facilitate the process.
MIT can be combined with Time Blocking. You can schedule MIT for blocks of time when you’re most alert and productive.
The Pomodoro technique is a very popular scheduling strategy, especially for those with shorter attention spans and those struggling to take proper breaks.
In a Pomodoro session, you work for 25 minutes in intense focus and then take a 5-minute break. After 4 Pomodoro sessions, you can take a longer break (15-30 minutes). During your break time, you can drink water, walk, do quick meal prep, etc.
Some people adjust the Pomodoro technique based on their time bank, amount of work, and attention span. For instance, they work for 50 minutes and rest for 10 minutes. So you can adjust your work sessions based on your preferences.
You can also integrate Pomodoro with other scheduling strategies such as Time Blocking and Most Important Task First.
4. Day theming
Day theming can be useful for people running their own businesses—in other words, people juggling various responsibilities. Each day of the schedule is assigned a specific theme, or responsibility.
For example, you’re in charge of planning, accounting, staff management, marketing, admin work. Then on each day, you only focus on one theme/responsibility.
- Monday: planning
- Tuesday: accounting
- Wednesday: staff management
- Thursday: marketing
- Friday: admin work
Other variations of day theming include:
- A/B schedule, or context switching: If you have responsibility A and responsibility B, you spend certain days focusing on A, and other days focusing on B.
- Free–Focus–Buffer schedule:
- Free Days: get away from business and rejuvenate.
- Focus: focus on money-making business activities.
- Buffer: focus on business prep work—planning, admin, paperwork, etc.
5. Task batching
Task batching means you batch multiple similar/relevant tasks into a session/block of time. This strategy is useful for those who constantly switch between different tasks, multitask, or struggle to stay focused. Every time you switch from deep work to opening your email inbox, you lose a bit of attention. You’ll also lose some time to redirect that attention to your main task.
If you see yourself checking emails many times a day, you may need to try Task Batching. It helps you avoid context switching and spreading your attention all over the place.
Tasks you can batch together include:
- Communication: calls, emails, meetings, etc.
- Admin work: update documents, paperwork, organization, scheduling, etc.
You can combine Task Batching with Time Blocking to make the most of your day. Batch important tasks and put them into a time block where you’re most alert, productive, and focused. Batch unimportant tasks and do them when you feel lethargic—the afternoon time, for example.
6. Schedule just enough time for tasks
According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
This means if you schedule 30 minutes for a task that takes 10 minutes to complete, you’ll end up dragging the task to fill those 30 minutes.
Observe how much time you actually need to complete a task, then schedule time for them accordingly. Don’t estimate completion time based on guesswork.
By paying attention to how long each of your tasks requires to complete, you can set suitable time restraints instead of dragging your work longer than it takes.
Make good use of your time
As a business owner, your attention may scatter everywhere throughout the day. Urgent tasks and management work may stretch your working time to 12-16 hours per day. But how many hours do you actually spend on important work?
You need to control where your time goes. Decide on what truly matters and treat your time with thoughtfulness instead of going on autopilot mode and allowing insignificant stuff to occupy the majority of your time.
Learn about your flow time, circadian rhythm, and chronotype. Schedule time for the most important work. Create a schedule that has adequate time for deep work, shallow work, and breaks. If you find any of the scheduling strategies above helpful for you, encourage your team members to do the same!
Reference: Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work. Platkus Books.