We’re often told to schedule our tasks on the calendar, and while I don’t believe this practice is absolutely critical, it’s helpful for many, although perhaps not in the way you think.
There is a natural resistance to obligating our discretionary time, especially for tasks we don’t like to do. Most of us are fine with calendars when we have to coordinate with other people. We have no problem using the calendar to identify and reserve a time that we are all available. But when we have to decide on Monday that we’re going to pay bills on Friday morning at 10 a.m., that’s different. We don’t yet know what Friday might bring, and paying bills might not be the most important thing that needs to happen that day.
There are lots of other reasons we may be apprehensive about scheduling tasks. Estimating the amount of time something will take is often a challenge. We may not trust that we will look at our calendars. We may feel resentful and deliberately avoid doing the tasks we had scheduled. All of this undermines our faith in our ability to manage our time, so we wonder, why bother?
I get it. Yet I still think there can be value with pulling out a calendar and plunking some of our “to do items” onto it.
It’s all about the process
It can feel overwhelming to figure out how we’re going to accomplish everything we would like to do. A calendar starts to provide some structure and narrows our choices, which is a good thing.
Here’s how scheduling your tasks can help with your overall ability to plan and get things done:
- When you look at your calendar, you may see that you can’t possibly do all you had hoped, which forces you to prioritize and choose the most important things.
- As you start thinking about the options for when you can do a task, you also start mentally rehearsing it, which increases the likelihood that you will actually do it.
- Scheduling tasks allows you to break projects into small, doable work sessions. Think about scheduling just the next step, to avoid getting overwhelmed with the whole project.
- The act of writing the task on the calendar reinforces your commitment to getting it done.
- By assigning time for the task, you don’t have to worry about when you will get it done, which relieves a burden.
- When you commit to a task by writing it on the calendar, it’s more likely to stay top of mind, so that if an unexpected opportunity arises to get the task done early, you’ll be able to take advantage of it.
- The practice of calendaring things can help you learn to better estimate time.
Paralyzed by rigidity and or need for perfectionism
When I schedule my tasks on the calendar, I think of it as a suggestion, and not as a binding commitment. I have developed confidence in my ability to prioritize and make good choices, so I’m okay with leaving in some flexibility. This approach may appeal to some of you who have resistance to rigid schedules. You can also start with assigning tasks to a day, and leaving the specific time open, so you have the flexibility to choose when you will do it.
Many of you may not yet have the confidence to trust your judgement. You might want a schedule that will tell you what to do, so you don’t have to guess. But then you’re afraid the tasks you schedule may not be the best use of your time, so you’re stuck. You end up unable to commit to anything, until a deadline forces the issue. This is perfectionism rearing its ugly head.
You may also get stuck when something derails your plan. You get interrupted or external factors intervene. That happens to everyone. You don’t need to abandon your planned task, just because the time doesn’t work out exactly as you hoped. Often, you can still get a good chunk of work done, even if you have less time than you hoped. Or you may have to reschedule the task to a better time. That’s life.
Progress, not perfection
I encourage you to build your confidence through practice. This is a new skill, and in the beginning, you won’t be good at it. But practice will help. For now, give up the notion of making the “best” use of your time, and just aim for “better.”
You can start by identifying blocks of time when you can knock some items off your task list. Try scheduling a specific task, and see how it goes. If you prefer, give yourself three possible options. For instance, you can schedule an hour of “administrative” time. During that time, you can choose whether you want to work on bookkeeping, filing or writing a report.
If you truly can’t decide which tasks to schedule, then just make some random choices. Notice what happens. Use what you learn to make a few adjustments, and then try it again. Keep trying until you find something that works well more often than not. Nothing will be perfect.
Doing what’s important requires many executive function skills that may not come easy, but having a calendar and looking at the overview of how our time is obligated can provide a valuable opportunity to practice.