Effective Scheduling

Planning to Make the Best Use of Your Time

Allocate the time available to
you according to your goals.

© iStockphoto/traveler1116

So far, in this section of Mind Tools, we have looked at your priorities and your goals – these define what you aspire to do with your time. Scheduling is where these aspirations meet the reality of the time you have available.

Scheduling is the process by which you look at the time available to you, and plan how you will use it to achieve the goals you have identified. By using a schedule properly, you can:

  • Understand what you can realisticaly achieve with your time.
  • Plan to make the best use of the time available.
  • Leave enough time for things you absolutely must do.
  • Preserve contingency time to handle 'the unexpected'.
  • Minimize stress by avoiding over-commitment to yourself and others.

How to Use the Tool

There are many good scheduling tools available, including diaries, calendars, paper-based organizers, PDAs and integrated software suites like MS Outlook or GoalPro 6. The scheduling tool that is best for you depends on your situation, the current structure of your job, your taste and your budget: The key things are to be able to enter data easily, and to be able to view an appropriate span of time in the correct level of detail.

Scheduling is best done on a regular basis, for example at the start of every week or month. Go through the following steps in preparing your schedule:

  1. Start by identifying the time you want to make available for your work. This will depend on the design of your job and on your personal goals in life.
  2. Next, block in the actions you absolutely must take to do a good job. These will often be the things you are assessed against.

    For example, if you manage people, then you must make time available for dealing with issues that arise, coaching, and supervision. Similarly, you must allow time to communicate with your boss and key people around you. While people may let you get away with 'neglecting them' in the short-term, your best time management efforts will surely be derailed if you do not set aside time for those who are important in your life.

  3. Review your To Do List  , and schedule in the high-priority urgent activities, as well as the essential maintenance tasks that cannot be delegated and cannot be avoided.
  4. Next, block in appropriate contingency time. You will learn how much of this you need by experience. Normally, the more unpredictable your job, the more contingency time you need. The reality of many people's work is of constant interruption: Studies show some managers getting an average of as little as six minutes uninterrupted work done at a time.

    Obviously, you cannot tell when interruptions will occur. However, by leaving space in your schedule, you give yourself the flexibility to rearrange your schedule to react effectively to issues as they arise.

  5. What you now have left is your "discretionary time": the time available to deliver your priorities and achieve your goals. Review your Prioritized To Do List and personal goals  , evaluate the time needed to achieve these actions, and schedule these in.

By the time you reach step 5, you may find that you have little or no discretionary time available. If this is the case, then revisit the assumptions you used in the first four steps. Question whether things are absolutely necessary, whether they can be delegated, or whether they can be done in an abbreviated way. Remember that one of the most important ways people learn to achieve success is by maximizing the 'leverage' they can achieve with their time. They increase the amount of work they can manage by delegating work to other people, spend money outsourcing key tasks, or use technology to automate as much of their work as possible. This frees them up to achieve their goals.

Also, use this as an opportunity to review your To Do List   and Personal Goals  . Have you set goals that just aren't achievable with the time you have available? Are you taking on too many additional duties? Or are you treating things as being more important than they really are?

If your discretionary time is still limited, then you may need to renegotiate your workload. With a well-thought through schedule as evidence, you may find this surprisingly easy.

Key Points

Scheduling is the process by which you plan your use of time. By scheduling effectively, you can both reduce stress and maximize your effectiveness.

Before you can schedule efficiently, you need an effective scheduling system. This can be a diary, calendar, paper-based organizer, PDA or a software package like MS Outlook or GoalPro 6. The best solution depends entirely on your circumstances.

Scheduling is then a five-step process:

  1. Identify the time you have available.
  2. Block in the essential tasks you must carry out to succeed in your job.
  3. Schedule in high priority urgent tasks and vital "house-keeping" activities.
  4. Block in appropriate contingency time to handle unpredictable interruptions.
  5. In the time that remains, schedule the activities that address your priorities and personal goals.

If you have little or no discretionary time left by the time you reach step five, then revisit the assumptions you have made in steps one to four.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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