Are you one of those people that find it extremely hard, or even impossible to stay on schedule? It seems that no matter how hard you try and no matter how many pretty planners you buy and detailed lists you make, you're always ending up behind at the end of the day. It's an impossible problem, because it feels like you're just missing a punctuality gene that everyone else has. Why can't you just finish on time?
Well, the problem might not be your DNA makeup or your personality ("I'm just not a productive person,") but rather it could be the way you're building your schedules. Are you adding in buffer times between each task in case a project spills over, or are you trying to squeeze in bigger tasks into smaller slots? Are you penciling in your play time just as often as your work time to keep everything balanced?Or maybe you're just not being cognizant enough of the lists you have created. Are you keeping track of what you still have to do, or do you just use your schedule as a numbered list you blindly follow, without looking at deadlines? See — so many factors! But don't worry, we can crack this code together. Here are seven tips on how to stay on schedule, once and for all.
1. Give What You're Doing Your Undivided Attention
Do you sneak onto Facebook while you're in the middle of a project? Or do you give yourself a little Pinterest break during a busy day to "give your brain a rest." Nah, girl, none of that. A sure fire way to keep yourself neatly on schedule is to give each of your scheduled tasks your undivided attention. Craig Jarrow, author of Time Management Ninja, explained, "One of the keys to keeping a balanced schedule is to actively focus on what you are doing at any given point in time. Remember, you scheduled items into your calendar so everything wouldn’t happen at the same time!"
Does that sound a little too rigid to you? Well, it doesn't have to be. You know best how you stay productive, so if you need a coffee break, an Instagram pause, or even an hour long veg-out with Netflix, put that into the schedule. That way everything keeps cruising along.
2. Create Realistic Deadlines
Instead of taking a handful of tasks and jimmying them all into an eight hour workday, come up with realistic deadlines. If answering emails takes longer than an hour, allow yourself to schedule a bigger time slot to make sure you stay on track. Even if something takes longer than you feel it should, that doesn't mean it's wasted time — it's just you being honest on how you work.
According to lifestyle writer Scott Young at self development site Pick the Brain, "If you need to set up a new work routine, I prefer the top-down approach. The top-down approach focuses you on deciding what work needs to be done, and by what deadlines. Once you know the time limit for the work you need to do, this automatically creates the pressure to come up with a productive schedule." Stack tasks on your schedule according to their realistic deadlines, rather than breaking things into uniform time slots.
3. Train Yourself To Avoid Distractions
Letting your mind wander is a habit, and just with anything you're disciplined with, you can force yourself to break the habit with some training.
Lifestyle writer Nadia Goodman at Entrepreneur explained, "Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time. If you find your mind wandering, just return to the task at hand." If you find yourself itching to check Instagram or take a quick chocolate break, just tell yourself no and keep working. Exercise that productivity muscle!
4. Give Your Schedule Regular Glances
A great way to keep yourself focused on what still needs to be done is to do a constant check-in with your schedule. That way you won't be sidelined by a chunk of time that needs deep concentration and energy, and you'll be able to ration out your concentration correctly throughout the day.
Jarrow advised, "Get in the habit of checking your schedule for not only what is coming up in the next hour, but what is coming up in the next several hours." We usually begin to procrastinate or dabble with distractions when we begin to feel burnt out, but when you know how the whole day is supposed to look, you can psych yourself up accordingly to keep yourself running.
5. Always Add Cushion Time Between Each Task
Sometimes things take longer to finish than expected — whether it's because a task turned out particularly tricky, you fell into a slump, or dipped out on a quick coffee break. In order to make sure those unforeseen moments don't throw a wrench into your workflow, always add in time-cushions of 10 to 15 minutes between each task so you're giving yourself some wiggle room.
As Rebekah Epstein, publicist and contributor to Entrepreneur admitted, "I become anxious when meetings run late, conference calls go over the budgeted time or projects take longer than anticipated. The reality is this type of thing happens on a daily basis, and you can’t get too stressed out about it." With those cushions in between, you won't ever have to be stressed out about it.
6. For The Hard Tasks, Schedule Them Into Off-Hours
When you really need to lock yourself down and concentrate, try scheduling those tasks during off-hours where you won't run into a lot of distractions.
Epstein wrote, "Pick one of these times, when other people aren’t working, to focus on projects that require a lot of concentration. Every morning from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. is my uninterrupted time to write articles, answer emails, and work on research projects." If you know that you have a tricky task coming up the next day that'll need your undivided attention try to pencil it in during an off-hour that you'll feel your most productive. Though it's not typical, you'll get more done that way.
7. Schedule Work And Play In The Same Spot To Keep Yourself Balanced
Ever feel like you're spinning your wheels? You might have all your work planned and scheduled to a tee, but when a friend comes ringing to grab a cup of coffee or to grab a burger after work, your pretty schedule can take a hit. How do you avoid that skid? Simple: Schedule work and play in one place, so you can see how much time and room you have for each.
Epstein explained, "When I first began my public relations work, I often canceled plans with friends because projects would take longer than I expected. I didn't feel I was getting anything done. Then I started scheduling both my professional and personal commitments in one place and assigning equal importance to both. This way I can really see how much time I have for each."
If you keep all your tasks (work and play) in one spot, keep an eye on deadlines and projects multiple times a day, and allow yourself some buffer time to slack and relax, you should see a complete difference on how you stay on track!