STEP #1 — SCHEDULE YOUR ‘BIG ROCKS’ FIRST
To create a schedule you’ll actually stick to and get more done, schedule your ‘big rocks’ first. I love this concept, which I first heard about from Stephen Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.
Imagine filling an empty jar with large rocks until they reach the top, so the jar is completely full. Then, you add smaller pebbles and sand to the same jar to fill all remaining space between the big rocks. The jar is now well and truly full!
However, what would happen if you tried to complete this process the other way around? You fill the same jar with pebbles and sand, before trying to fit the rocks on top. With this approach, it’s impossible to fit all of the ‘big rocks’ into the same jar!
In this analogy, the larger rocks are a metaphor for all important goals and priorities in your work and life. The pebbles and sand represent less important goals and low-level tasks that often take up a lot of our time.
By taking the time to determine what your ‘big rocks’ are and scheduling them first, all insignificant, secondary tasks will fit around them. And they’ll still get done! Conversely, if you become stuck in the to-do’s and details, you’ll end up filling your day with unimportant tasks and won’t have time to dedicate to your big priorities.
So, start by outlining your personal commitments and important priorities. Then, block out this time in your calendar before you schedule anything else!
Whether it’s a weekly fitness class, meeting a friend for lunch, school pick-ups or not working weekends — schedule your personal commitments first. Then, block out time to work on important projects and schedule your holidays in advance!
STEP #2 — IDENTIFY THE HOURS YOU WANT TO WORK
To create an effective work routine and achieve more in less time, you need to put boundaries around work hours. Start by identifying the hours you want to work. Then, put them on your calendar.
If you’re a business owner, this step will be easier simply because you have the ability to set your own hours. If you’re yet to make the leap into your own business or are an employee, this can be trickier. In this case, consider how you can adapt your workday to meet your requirements or look into alternative working arrangements.
Regardless of the flexibility we have to choose our own hours, we all struggle to stick to them at times! For a business owner, this might look like procrastinating until lunch time, working weekends or until midnight. As a professional employee, it could be consistently working overtime and outside your set hours.
Commit to regular start and finish times, set boundaries and put a hard stop on overtime!
STEP #3 — LIST OUT YOUR WORK TASKS
To design an effective daily schedule, you need to know exactly what your work tasks are! List everything you do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to build your business and/or perform your role.
Struggling with this task? Here’s an exercise for you.
Over the course of one week, keep an inventory of how you spend your time. Note down everything you do — every minute, of every workday. By the end of the week, you should have a clear list of work tasks.
Not only is a great practice for clarifying what your tasks are, it’s also very telling about how you spend your time. You’ll certainly know if and where you’re wasting any time!
Once you’ve got a completed list, you’re ready to move onto the next step.
STEP #4 — DESIGN YOUR WEEKLY SCHEDULE
At this stage, you’re going to create a weekly work schedule by blocking out your work commitments and time to work on each task.
To start, separate your work tasks into categories. For example, marketing activities would include:
- consults with prospective clients
- coffee catch-ups
- attending networking events, or
- interacting with people on LinkedIn.
Categories may include client work (delivering your paid service), marketing, administration, business building activities, people management, or project work.
Next, design your work schedule. Think about batching similar tasks, how you like to work and what tasks you perform best throughout the day.
- Are you at your most creative early in the morning? Schedule your client work and priority projects then and leave your admin and routine tasks until later.
- Not a morning person (yes, guilty!)? Book your important meetings from mid-morning when you know you perform your best. It took many years of trying to keep up with the early-birds before I finally started skipping the 7am meetings!
Then, check to see if everything fits. Are you trying to fit too much into the hours you want to work? Be realistic about what you can achieve in a typical working day or week.
Lastly, finalise your work schedule. A note to my perfectionists — at this stage, it doesn’t need to be perfect! You’ll have plenty of time to test and tweak later.
STEP #5 — SCHEDULE IT!
Now you’ve created your work schedule, it’s time to block out the time in your calendar. Before you begin to panic, this isn’t about allocating tasks to every single minute in the day!
Instead, we use the concept of time blocking. This involves dividing your day into blocks of time (usually 1-2 hours or more) where you focus on one specific task or group of tasks.
“If you don’t schedule it, it’s not real” — Marie Forleo
If you’re more ‘J’ than ‘P’ on the Myers-Briggs scale and love planning and structure, this step will be easy. But what if you’re more spontaneous and prefer to keep your options open? In a recent discussion with individuals who take a more relaxed approach to planning, they shared even 3-4 hour time blocks felt constricting!
If this is you, here are some suggestions to create a schedule with plenty of space and flexibility:
- First, do time block but allow space for thinking time, creativity and some unplanned activities
- Second, allow yourself extra time to complete tasks
- Third, give yourself lots of space between tasks
- Finally, schedule some free time outside work hours for exercise, self-care and (unplanned) fun!
STEP #6 — COMMIT TO YOUR SCHEDULE
Once you’ve created your work schedule and blocked out time on your calendar, the next step is to commit!
Challenge yourself to stick with this routine for at least a month before you change anything, quit or decide it’s not working. This schedule is designed to be flexible. So if something comes up that stops you getting to your Monday afternoon tasks, simply move that time block to later in the week.
Learn to work with it until it becomes second nature. I guarantee you’ll get more done at work, will achieve your important goals and will actually have time to enjoy life!
STEP #7 — REVIEW
After committing to your new work schedule for 30 days, you’ll have plenty of data to assess what is and isn’t working. The final step is to tweak anything that isn’t working and keep everything that is!
- Need more time to complete certain tasks? Build that into your schedule.
- Finding your schedule too restrictive? Consider breaking your day into two halves rather than hourly increments. Then test it out again for another month.
- Struggling to get your important projects completed? Dedicate your first 3 hours of the day to this work. Try it for the next 30 days and see how it goes.
The key to time management and creating a schedule you’ll actually stick to long term? Constantly reviewing what works and changing anything that doesn’t!
Creating an effective work schedule, putting it in the calendar and committing to it is the sure-fire way to get more of the important things done, in less time. This system has successfully supported me and many of my clients. I hope it helps you too!