Why People Who Schedule Fewer Tasks Get More Done
Have you ever been so overwhelmed by tasks at hand that you couldn’t remember your last name? Of course you have, that’s why you stopped to look around.
We all know that there is only one thing that’s worse than having nothing to do and that’s having to do all at once or in short notice.
Without a doubt, you have experienced such a rush before. How do we know?
Well for one, the modern age leaves no man behind.
It’s a fast forward century and being nose deep in to-do lists is a must these days… unless you’re a monk on a secluded island that is, but then you wouldn’t be reading this, would you?
So, in the midst of all the chaos in your head, you suddenly felt the urge to write down every single thing you need to do and every single thought so as to avoid a nervous breakdown.
You wrote down a couple of to-dos and scheduled a few meetings and you feel like a hyper-productive genius already.
You’ve called upon the powers of a to-do list to assist you in memorizing all the things you need to do before you do all those other things you need to do in order to eventually do the things you actually want to do… and tomorrow never comes.
There’s a certain dopamine rush when you write down your goals. You feel as if you’re already achieving them one by one.
Writing helps organize your mind, but people usually slip into a scribomania and misuse their schedules.
When mirrors, walls and all available surfaces are covered by sticky notes, when desktop gets stacked by memos and cellphone is full of remember-not-to-forgets and meetings, it’s time for a red alert.
It may seem you have it all under control for a while, but, after a while, you’re bound to just snap. The system becomes overflooded and crashes. You end up looking at those to-dos unable to move or think.
There comes a sudden surge of anxiety before you rip to shreds and/or delete all those notes, cancel all your meetings one by one and go your way procrastinating.
Things were going great, you were tidy, organized, orderly, productive… so what happened?
That’s right, you heard it. The schedule is supposed to help you bring order to your daily routine, but there is only that much order than human beings can stand.
There’s a limit to what you can achieve in 24 hours even if you avoid sleeping which, by the way, is the best way for you to fail at your to-do list.
That’s because willpower literally acts like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets, up to a certain point where it just snaps.
It’s a depletable, but a renewable source of energy. And how do you renew it? By sleeping.
So you need to exercise your willpower by putting off the things you enjoy and doing things you know you need to do even though you dislike them.
It’s one of the characteristics of mature adults and that’s what differentiates us from animals or small children.
The ability to restrain ourselves and put our instincts and urges on hold if needed. The ability to calculate in long-term and prioritize reason over what our instincts dictate us. The ability to dial down on our “I don’t wanna” inner voice.
Be that as it may, there’s a degree to which we can do that before the instincts get the best of us and we burst into compensating for all that we feel we’ve suppressed and/or missed in life for dedicating ourselves to rational obligations.
The more you schedule, the more willpower your actions will consume until eventually you have no more juice to do anything.
It’s not to say that you shouldn’t schedule at all because, without a certain organization in your daily routine, you’ll quickly become lost in time and space, floating around spontaneously pushed and carried by the flow of people who actually have some control over their lives.
If you don’t schedule at all, you don’t practice your willpower.
You have to strengthen it by consciously and intentionally accepting the need for doing something you don’t want to do in order to gain the opportunity of doing something that really resonates with who you are.
If you put too much weight on your will though, it will break, so mind the ratio.
The same goes for your ability to focus on tasks at hand, which we all know is the essence of efficiency.
Schedules help you memorize everything you need to do, they help you coordinate your time and they keep you focused on your obligations, but there are downsides to scheduling too.
SCHEDULING FOR DISTRACTION
When you write something down, you feel as if you’re already putting your mind to it, which would be great if you didn’t feel you’re already putting your back into it too.
Writing is not the same as doing and our minds have a habit of tricking us into thinking that we already did something just because we wrote it down.
That way, the more you schedule, the more you feel you’ve already done and the more you feel you have yet to do.
It’s a paradoxical situation that puts a strain on your willpower before you’ve even started doing anything.
That is because a piece of your mind or a fragment of your attention gets assigned to whatever you’ve scheduled for.
The more you schedule, the more fragmented your attention gets. In other words, you become more distracted thinking about the things you have yet to do.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
If you’re busy during the whole day, every day, chances are you won’t get anything done.
You need to free some space to rest after every meeting or a tackled task just like you need to free some spare time to account for the unforeseen circumstances as well.
Perhaps there’s a traffic jam or your partner is late, perhaps you get a flat tire and that slows you down.
Anything can happen really and while you can’t anticipate the exact thing, you need to free your time to deal with the unexpected as well as to let the impressions about the previous gigs settle. It’s a common mistake people make when they make a plan.
They become attached to their own ideas about the chain of events to follow.
Truth is there are always variables for which we cannot and do not account for.
While your daily routine and your business need to be structured, organized and planned, you also need to maintain some flexibility in order to avoid snapping.
If you made a plan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all bound to happen according to it. Do not become too dependent on the plans you made.
You made them, they didn’t make you. It’s not advisable to do it often, but there is a thing called rescheduling.
Sometimes, things happen and you need to improvise a little bit to get on with the flow.
MEMOS CAN MAKE YOU FORGET
Another contradiction or so it seems… The point of scheduling, planning, to-do lists, reminders, alarms, sticky notes etc. is to help us remember what we need to do, but that doesn’t always happen. If you over-schedule, you might just forget a thing or two.
It’s due to the, already mentioned, phenomena of the thinking-doing correlation.
We often mistake thinking for doing and if we write down what we need to do, it becomes that much harder to actually do it. We feel as though it’s already done, just because we wrote it down.
In the same manner, writing things down helps us memorize, but it weakens our memory.
It’s not by the capacities of our minds that we retain the information, but by the means of crutches such as sticky notes, calendars etc.
It’s often that we find ourselves thinking that once we’ve written something down, it’s impossible to forget it because pieces of paper and e-notes seem more resilient and trustworthy than our engrams.
It is exactly because we feel so sure that we will remember something once we’ve scheduled it, that we forget to even consult our schedules.
Now that we’ve summarized the calamities of over-scheduling, let’s see how do people who schedule less fare.
LESS IS MORE
First of all, people who schedule less do not have to multitask. It’s becoming more and more apparent that multitasking is ineffective.
As Time reported, multitasking can harm our decision-making abilities. It’s not a coincidence that the people who get more done rarely pile up their projects.
Instead of overpromising, overreaching and overscheduling, effective businessmen actually clear their schedules in order to focus more on their priorities.
It’s impossible to schedule without priorities and you can’t have much of those, so it’s important to know them.
Doing less and accomplishing more seems like a dream come true, but the amount of energy you put in is the same as the amount you spend just running around scheduled over your head.
It’s not just the amount of energy you spend, but the way you focus and articulate it that matters.
There is even a “syndrome” called time famine. It’s the persistent anxiety about time running out. People who experience time famine are under the impression that there’s never enough time to get it all done.
You don’t have to be a brainiac to deduce that the day lasts 24 hours for both successful and less successful people though. It may be important to stress that time famine can damage health and not just productivity.
PAUSE THE URGE TO CONTROL EVERYTHING
Too much desire to control can turn into a mania and mania is rarely a good thing when it comes to being productive.
You need energy and initiative, yes, but you also need to be articulate, otherwise you’re compromising yourself…
People used to control start identifying with the amount of control they feel they have, but our ability to control everything is a delusion.
Sooner or later the unstable identity of a control freak breaks at the seems, because not everything always goes exactly as we planned it, not unless we learn to plan along the way and improvise a bit.
Rough scheduling relates to addressing tasks at hand by priority instead of the time it takes to handle them. It requires that you become an expert at determining what’s important for you or your company and what’s a waste of effort.
It’s always better to do one thing well than three things poorly. Define the MIT (most important task) and focus directly on what leads you to specific goals.
Highly productive people also tend to plan their next day ahead and set up their goals, meetings and tasks for tomorrow before they leave the office.
That way they avoid scheduling too soon because if you schedule for a month or so, obstructive factors that you can’t anticipate multiply.
Sometimes, of course, you have to schedule earlier, but whenever you can maneuver to plan something one day ahead, be sure to do it.
LEARN HOW TO SAY “NO!”
The ultimate way of clearing a schedule is not filling it up in the first place. If you tend to meet up with everyone, help everyone or maintain all of your connections on a weekly or even monthly basis, you’re bound to end up as a wreck.
You need to preserve your “yourself time.”
Be careful not to work too much in the niche and too little on it. End the streak of late nights, full lates etc. It is not only for sanity’s sake but also in the name of productivity that dialing down is often advised.
You’re not under any obligation to meet everyone’s expectations so train yourself not to be a “yes” man.
Mechanically saying “yes” to others just to keep the connection puts you in a tight spot where everyone but yourself can manipulate your schedule.
You need to know your priorities and if someone or something tends to compromise them, do try politely saying “no” to the situation.
Not everything can be done or savored in a day. Don’t overestimate your capacities of handling business and don’t over-schedule.
NULLA DIES SINE LINEA
This phrase in Latin means not a day without the line drawn. In other words, there’s no time to waste. The more ambitious you are, the shorter your day is, so make sure it counts.
For highly productive people, every activity must contribute to the goal and the day doesn’t end at a specific time. It ends when all the goals for the day are finished.
As the saying goes, time is money.
Now it doesn’t have to be money you’re specifically interested in, but the productivity in general, but you need to address your time as a currency and mind how you spend it.
It’s not to say that you should be uptight about it, just train yourself to sometimes question the purpose of what you’re doing at the moment.
From time to time, ask yourself about what you really hope to achieve with the given action and do you really need it. Ask yourself if what you’re doing is the best use of your time at the moment.
It’s a great wake up call and it helps you snap out of procrastination which is the biggest enemy of productivity.
SCHEDULE FOR PRODUCTIVE HABITS
Our daily thoughts impact our choices, our choices form our habits and our habits form our characters. Our characters imply a way of thinking so it’s a vicious circle we get trapped in.
Mind your thoughts and choices for what you mind’s that matters.
Action repeated becomes action adopted. You need to schedule for your personal development, not just business meetings.
Productive people make sure to program their behaviour in a way that increases their efficiency.
Every single productive and healthy habit carves your way to another one because health and wealth correspond in the same way the vice and decadence do.
That’s why highly productive people, not only schedule less but schedule differently. They make sure their tasks are minuscule but important.
E.g. something trivial like making your bed every morning can be very important. It’s tackling the small tasks that strengthens your willpower and provides you with the motivational feedback.
You feel useful and tidy so you tend to fit your other actions into a pattern. If you start your day sloppy, chances are that’s how it will end too.
Productive people never underestimate the power of autosuggestion and always free their time for stacking productive habits.
That’s why it sometimes seems they scheduled less. It’s not less it’s just consciously taking time for the things people generally overlook.
Another example is scheduling the gym, yoga, swimming etc.
You need to exercise often as it not only strengthens the body and willpower but gives you that healthy dopamine rush that motivates you through the day and gives you the fix of positivity we need to keep at it.
The goal is not just to schedule less but schedule smarter.
We’ve already mentioned the importance of biorhythm or sleeping patterns. What we didn’t mention is that the most productive sleep occurs between 21h and 00h.
Our bodies are biologically designed to reach the optimal hormonal production at the mentioned time.
Lack of sleep in these hours can’t be compensated for by sleeping through the day etc.
It’s also important to wake up early as oversleeping numbs your cognitive faculties, besides, waking up early has its way of prolonging the day and giving you enough time to tackle those goals.
It’s a myth that productive people tend not to sleep at night.
Perhaps in some examples that is so, but those people would be even more productive if they programmed their biorhythms accordingly.
SCHEDULING FEWER TASKS MAKES YOU MORE MINDFUL
Mindfulness means paying attention to what you’re doing at the moment. Snapping out of unconscious mechanical processes and turning that autopilot off.
When you schedule fewer tasks, it’s easier to focus on them and become fully aware of what you’re doing.
Our minds tend to wander around which really kills productivity.
How many times have you done something “insignificant” unconsciously like locking your door?
A couple of minutes later, you can’t remember if you even did it so you have to go back and check.
Doing things unconsciously seems to save our time and energy, but it’s often the other way around.
When you over-schedule, your mind is always elsewhere, stressed by the mere quantity of tasks you’re about to tackle.
That’s why you mess up the task you’re tackling at the moment. You’re not focused, you’re not there.
Well, productive people plan less, but do more, because their focus is not disrupted by thinking about the future.
They are relaxed and confident, knowing that they have enough time for everything so they dedicate themselves fully to what they are doing each moment. They become aware of the moment itself.
It’s important to get the immediate feedback out of what you’re doing so as to motivate yourself to continue the action.
When we schedule and plan to far ahead, we miss out on that feedback and start wondering if what we’re doing is fruitful. Needless to say – it’s detrimental to the operation.
Enter chunking. Chunking means dividing your goals, activities and expectations into smaller parts.
It really helps beat procrastination. If you’re too stressed out by your plans to do 100 push-ups or attend 5 meetings for the day, deceive yourself by focusing on only one push up or one meeting.
Then when you do the one, do the other, but keep lying to yourself it’s still just one. It’s said that the biggest journeys start with one step.
It’s practically impossible to start with two, right?
So take those baby steps and revel in the immediate feedback that will motivate you to continue.
The trick is you already feel productive after a first couple of steps and that makes you wanna step more.
If you have too many meetings, try to reschedule. One thing at a time. If you have one thing at a day, you’re a total wreck if you mess it up, right?
Even if you do, it’s a wake-up call to change something. Read the article again to revise on all the things you can change to master your schedule and get more done.
Too much time can be lost to uncertainty and scheduling is a necessity in the modern society, however, it can be detrimental if you overreach at it.
Just like with everything else, scheduling has to be moderate. Respects have to be paid to the things we can’t control or foresee and leisure is not a luxury but a bare necessity.
Sometimes the best way to schedule for leisure is not to schedule at all.
With that in mind, it’s best to include a free-zone in your schedule and free some part of your day for spontaneity.
You can’t be at two places at the same time so take it easy with the to-do lists, calendars, sticky notes, memos and reminders.
To revise, if you want to get more done, schedule just a bit less, focus, avoid multitasking, be mindful and don’t go all mechanic on the tasks at hand.
Also, make sure to do reality checks and ask yourself if what you’re doing really needs to be done, are you the only person who can do it and how important or urgent it really is it.