This is an unusually concrete post for this website.

During periods of work, I have found benefit in scheduling all of my activities into my calendar.

I have been scheduling my life like this for a full year; I started because I observed that unless I have something specific to do at a given time, I will squander my time. But I have also found many other benefits.

Benefits

  • Scheduling creates the equivalent of at least an hour per day of extra time for me.
    • Because of the schedule, I almost always know what is most important for me to work on at any given moment, so I don’t waste nearly as much time by not knowing what I should do next.
    • I can optimize for working in larger and more focused blocks of uninterrupted time.
    • I can plan to do tasks at a time when they will take less time to do. For example, sometimes completing tasks too late causes them to take longer than if they were completed earlier, but it is now easy for me to plan for this.
    • I can easily bundle errands together to spend less time running around.
  • I can optimize my schedule to be consistent and sustainable such that I can fulfill my needs (e.g. time to be in solitude, time to be social, time to be outside, etc.) everyday. I have found it easy to have helpful habits when all I need to do is follow my schedule.
    • I can also optimize my schedule around how my energy levels vary throughout the day and in response to different activities. I can avoid low-energy states.
  • I can proactively eliminate almost all times of feeling ‘crunched’. I work on a lot of projects (not shown in the screenshot at the top of this page), but I very rarely need to, for example, stay up late to finish everything that I want to finish— I can see crunches coming several days in advance, and I can adjust accordingly.
  • My mind is clearer.
    • I don’t have to worry about when I will get to a task done because I have proof in my schedule.
      • I can for example, without much guesswork, answer the question of “When will I be able to complete this task by?”
    • There’s significantly less overhead in thinking about what I need to do next.
      • No matter what I eventually have to choose what I will do in every moment anyway, so either I can choose to do it deliberately in my calendar in advance, or haphazardly and clumsily in my mind later.
      • For example, when I find a new one-off task that I need to do, I immediately put it in my calendar so that I don’t have to think about the task again until I arrive at its scheduled time.
  • Overall, scheduling allows me to handle greater complexity to take on more responsibilities at once and do more of what I want to do.
  • (Another benefit: My girlfriend now schedules her time too, and when we are together we plan our schedules in sync so that we can spend more time together than we otherwise could have without scheduling.)

Common objections

  • "I can't work all day; I can't make my schedule that efficient!"
    • Me neither, so I schedule my free time— when I write, cook, go on walks, talk to my girlfriend, and write in my journal. I schedule everything I need to do anyway.
  • "But I won't be able to follow my schedule."
    • The calendar is supposed to reflect reality; it is supposed to be an accurate prediction— it is not supposed to represent an ideal day.
      • Never adjust the length of a task just because it would be more convenient if it were completed quicker.
    • When first starting scheduling, allocate 50% more time to each task than initially expected. Scheduling too little time for a task is costlier than scheduling too much time for a task.
    • Schedule in 1 - 2 hours daily for unforeseen responsibilities that will pop up. Even if you don’t know what they will be, you can still plan time for them.
  • "But my schedule would change too often."
    • Changing the schedule is okay. Having any schedule is better than not having one. I usually modify my schedule several times a day and I still find it helpful.
  • "I can't schedule my time that precisely."
    • The level of precision I use may not be best for you. For example, my girlfriend schedules her time too, but she does so only much more roughly than I do.
  • "Scheduling like this would take too much time."
    • I estimate that scheduling saves me at least an hour per day, probably more. I spend less time running around, less time in low-energy liminal states, and more time focused.
    • Besides, most of my schedule is created by events that automatically repeat at a particular time each week.

Adapt the system so that it is most helpful for your needs.

  • Recommendations for how to start.

    Prerequisites:

    • Note I have only had success with scheduling when I am not traveling, and when I am not living with my family.
    • I doubt I would’ve had success with scheduling if the rest of my life wasn’t ordered or my emotional well-being wasn’t stable. I would expect that scheduling as I describe is a relatively minor optimization compared to resolving these other issues.

    Here’s what I’ve learned from a year of scheduling:

    • Use a simple calendar app. I use Apple Calendar and it reliably does everything that is essential.
    • Set recurring events for everything that can be recurring. Even if you don’t plan on doing a task or activity at the exact time it’s scheduled for, it is valuable just to have that space filled on your calendar so you can easily tell how busy that day is.
      • In general, allocating space on your calendar for an activity is more important than choosing the optimal time to do it.
    • Schedule recurring blocks to work on common projects, even if you don’t yet know what specifically you will be working on.
    • Make use of different event colors, e.g.:
      • one color for time-sensitive appointments and tasks
      • another color for tasks that have no specific time and can be moved with ease
        • I also use a different color for recurring tasks than I do for one-off tasks
      • (Note that I have not found using different colors for different projects to be helpful.)
    • When you start scheduling, do not also start tracking how you spend your time. This will likely result in stopping scheduling all together. Do not add unnecessary complexity; start simply.
    • Always have your calendar open; develop a habit of checking it often.
    • Each night, take some time to refine your schedule for the next few days.
    • Instead of adding soon-to-do tasks to a to-do list, add them directly to your calendar.
    • Note that this took me a few months to figure out how to do well, and I still occasionally make significant improvements to my process. Adapt the system so that it is most helpful for your needs.

    But maybe this won’t work for you even if it works for me. Besides, I know plenty of productive people who don’t do this.


Drawing © Ariana Dyer.