Some People Excel At Time And Some Don’t — How I Finally Scheduled Each Day
We all suck at managing time in one way or the other. But there is a mindset and an approach that we can adopt to change that.
There are 1440 minutes (24 hours) in a day. These minutes are ticking off for everyone at the same pace.
An average person sleeps 6–8 hours (7.3 hrs. = 440 minutes) a day. Hence, one is left with 1000 minutes each day.
Now, some people are managing multiple businesses, family, friends, health, and time outside work in the same amount of time as another person sitting in bed scrolling through social media purposelessly, and complaining about how long it takes to cook a healthy meal.
The difference is the result of some individuals excelling at managing these 1000 minutes available to them daily and others having no idea about how to juggle simple tasks.
But, there’s a lot of time. Wrong!
- Time is a limited resource for all of us. (We know it and understand it very well.)
- Since we are limited by time, things we do today matter and will influence our future.
- Following fulfilled individuals, one thing is clear that meaningful and responsible things lead to a fulfilling life.
- It is worth living every minute, hour, and day when you are doing things that you would like to do and would justify your existence to yourself.
Remind yourself of a particular day, when you were very busy or blissful, 24 hours pass off as a moment. On another day, if you’re depressed and have nothing to do, the same 24 hours seem like a very long period.
Hence, time is a very relative experience. By all means, to have more meaningful and blissful days, you need to have at least a basic structure to go throughout the day that includes all important elements.
Have more meaningful and blissful days.
Consider imagining a worthwhile life and how would a day in that life look like. What activities would you like to have on the best possible day?
Of course, if you’re sensible and there is a sense of responsibility and you would like to be in better shape than you are at the beginning of the day because otherwise, it will be a just stupid day.
You have the freedom to design your day with meaningful tasks, leisure activities, work, and family time.
Let’s say that the day consists of 50 percent of responsibilities and some percent of reward. You can negotiate those percentages in contrast to your goals and your willingness to have a meaningful responsible life.
You need to seriously ask and negotiate with yourself to design a day that places you in a better position than the day before.
I ask myself this question very often to plan my days.
“What can I do today that would make me a better being by the end of the day and justify my existence as someone important?”
The significance of this question is that it erupts you with answers that you have known for long and makes you rethink of making the right choices throughout the day. Hence, shifting your focus to adding meaningful tasks throughout the day.
I would then write down things from my bed the night before that I think would be worthwhile doing the next day.
Before long, I was on a journey of creating schedules daily.
It was a total failure.
Lessons from my mistakes
I started with “to-do” lists and daily schedules.
A to-do list is a place where you define and organize what you’re going to do.
Your daily schedule is used to identify when you’re going to do those things and how much time is needed to complete them.
Just when I thought that I have it all figured out, I realized that it was almost impossible for me to stick to the schedule for even one day.
Why was it so hard to stick to a damn schedule when I knew that it will be extremely useful to me!
I always had two issues.
1. Gone with the notification
This is where most people like me miserably failed. How many times has it been that you are doing some important task and then a Facebook notification pops up on your phone “someone just liked your photo”. Just to check who gave me that little piece of attention, I always ended up scrolling 397 miles on Facebook feed, now wondering how this Turkish cook is cooking several pounds of meat at a time.
We are constantly bombarded with notifications from all different sorts of phone applications that compete for our attention. You open one notification and before you realize it, you are in the lost in a whole new labyrinth and you are not even close to finishing the task.
How to NOT go with the notification: Make sure to put your phone or any other distraction on silent or at a distance from your workplace to prime your environment with minimal distractions at least for the time when performing some important task.
2. Missing finish line
How do you know when to stop when there is no finish line? You don’t stop.
I have spent double the amount of time at the gym that I would generally require for my workout plans.
The problem was that I had my focus on all other tasks than lifting weights. I was not focused on the task at hand because I did not create any sense of urgency to finish the tasks faster or at a certain time. There was just no finish line (specific time) for my workout to end.
A workout that I could easily finish in 50 minutes was taking me a minimum of 80 minutes (30 minutes randomly wasted on checking phone and other purposeless things due to no finish line).
How to fix this issue: Make sure you specify the time you will spend on the activity so that you have a clear motive, the urgency to finish, and do not waste time doing other purposeless things during that assigned period.
I refused to give up on schedules as my initial days did give me splendid focus and productivity levels. (Now I know that was only working because of the initial motivation of a new thing in life).
I had to make scheduling sustainable in order for it to become a habit.
Over long periods of failing and trying, I finally managed to collect and bring forth to the conscious mind the perfect ingredients anybody can practically use to schedule their day.
These are sustainable, perfect ingredients for your time hacking skills:
- Prepare the night before
- Develop a pre-day routine.
- A simple notepad/ basic notes app in the phone (Keep in mind: Do Not Use Some Complicated App)
- Stack your habits (Adding new habits)
- Understand and manage your energy (Mornings, afternoons and evenings)
- “One grain at a time” (Explained later)
- Stick to the damn schedule and be proud of yourself.
“A dumb plan is better than a no plan”.
Here’s exactly how you can hack your time each day, effortlessly:
#1 Start the day, before you go to bed.
Most of us do have some vague idea of how the next day would look like, breakfast, X amount of tasks at work, and then buy groceries on the way back home.
The idea is to have this vague schedule written down somewhere (I use Apple Notes) so that you have a clearer structure of your day’s outlook rather than all flying randomly in your thoughts. Good news: it keeps anxiety at bay.
You could simply use a pen and notepad (if you’re old school) or just some “simple” notes application on your phone. The idea is to have it written down somewhere other than your mind.
#2 Keep it Simple, Stupid
Habits are things that you do in daily life that serve a purpose for you without being a burden on you.
If you would be scheduling your every day as a habit in your life, you have to make sure that it doesn’t feel like a burden every time when you are planning your current/next day. It should serve you and not the other way around.
That’s why I always suggest people keep it as simple as they can so that the integration of this habit into daily life is smooth and sustainable.
Although you are free to choose any app to write a schedule, an app that has too many factors to fill in for a single entry of task can complicate the process and make you lazy to adopt to fill in all the factors for each task in long run. Thus, you will drop the habit if not kept simple.
#3 Habit Stacking
(Credits to James and BJ Fogg. Thanks, mates)
People who have read Atomic Habits by James Clear might be familiar with this.
A small excerpt from the book Atomic Habits, “Habit stacking is a special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit. This method, which was created by BJ Fogg as part of his Tiny Habits program, can be used to design an obvious cue for nearly any habit.”
My successful experience with habit stacking led me to a different dimension of it. I realized that as I stacked tasks one next to the other (not just for new habits but also daily tasks), I was more motivated and likely to do them as I wanted to maintain the streak of tasks.
For example, my morning schedule mostly looks like this:
- While I brew my coffee, I’ll go through the schedule I created last night.
- As soon as I pour my coffee, I will head to start with task 1 for the day.
Benefit: Stacking task 1 daily after pouring my coffee gave me precise instructions on how to proceed as soon as the simple routine of pouring coffee ended. If I did not stack task 1 after pouring coffee, I might end up checking some news, social media, or just procrastinate by some means. Stacking removed the matter of choice when there were no clear instructions.
It may sound too particular to be on oneself. But believe me, once you taste the fruits of scheduling each day, you’ll never give up.
#4 Understand your energy levels
I wake up between everyday between 3:45 am — 4:15 am. Before you judge yourself on waking up at a different time, understand that I developed this habit over years of being in professional speed skating, attending early morning practice sessions, and understanding my daily energy levels.
I have understood quite a lot about my body and have concluded that I am most energetic in the hours of 5 am to 8 am. Anything I choose to do in these hours has a quality result (I choose to do the most writing in these hours before I have to deal with other priorities of the day). So I make sure that I am ready to go with the most important and tough tasks during these 3 hours.
I have also noticed that I can read challenging texts much faster before 3 pm because later during the day my energy levels are low and I am not able to focus and retain as much I’d like to.
Observe yourself with some humility and a presupposition that you don’t understand your energy levels and would like to find out.
How can one understand their energy levels?
Observe yourself carefully for 1–2 weeks and note down when you are most active during the day. Note down when you are able to read difficult things and retain, without having a need to repeat.
Once you know those hours for yourself, prioritize doing the most important task during those hours as you will get things done with efficiency and produce higher quality results.
#5 One grain at a time (Focus)
In this world where we all are competing with each other in different aspects of life, multitasking is something that is always thought to be the desired quality. (It is unfortunate.)
But what multitasking basically means is not giving full attention to one task at hand and trying to juggle many other tasks whilst compromising with quality. I know I will get a lot of criticism for this idea, but when you distribute your wealth of attention between multiple tasks at a time, you also slow down the process for all the tasks and end up losing the quality obtained during the process.
Here’s the good news! A lot of hiring managers are looking for people who can focus on one thing at a time. Companies like Pymetrics are helping other companies to shortlist candidates by asking them to participate in a series of games to test for attention or cognitive attributes etc. Focusing on the task at hand increases the efficiency and overall quality of the task. It is one of the most desired qualities at work.
A failure example of multitasking: Audiobooks are great, but audiobooks at the gym during lifting weights might not be the best option where you really should be building that muscle and mind connection.
Whereas, an audiobook while cooking could be great because you don’t compromise the quality of the food (since it is a basic task) and can give more attention to the book and retain much more.
#6 Stick to the schedule
It takes a disciplined person to stick to the plan even when he/she doesn’t want to.
I felt the best way to stick to a schedule is by imagining the end of the day where I would feel that I accomplished tasks that were needed to be taken care of, even when at times I simply didn’t want to do tasks lined up in the schedule.
This little sense of achievement, each day, will eventually loop you to become more efficient with your schedule and closer to your every-day desired purposeful days.
Change the mentality from attacking 365 days to 1 day. Consider this, sticking to a diet for 1 day or sticking to a diet for 365 days. Of course, sticking to a diet for 1 day sounds very doable. That’s exactly how you would want to attack the day. Prime your mind in ways that it works for you and not against you.
Just stick to the schedule for today and do the same tomorrow and the day after. In no time your actions will loop you up in better and desired places.
#7 Develop Routines
I cannot stress how helpful routines are. I am not talking about purposeless and random routines such as watching some Netflix series every time you eat your dinner.
I am talking about routines that you make consciously to increase productivity and time efficiency.
For example, some of my routines that help me to get in that productive zone mentally and physically.
Routine 1: Mornings
- I’ll wake up at 4 am.
- Put the coffee to brew.
- After I put the coffee to brewing, I’ll check the schedule I made last night to know what to expect during the day.
- I’ll then take 2–3 minutes to think about how I can do the things in the list most efficiently (In less than anticipated time).
- Then I’ll pour myself some coffee and start with task 1.
Benefits: I get to have the same starting point for each day, which reduces anxiety and cuts out the problem of choice.
Routine 2: At the time of cooking
- I’ll be cooking breakfast at 8 am.
- I usually stick to the same breakfast to avoid calculating calories all the time since I am trying to put on couple pounds of muscle mass, cheese egg omelet, and oats with apple, cinnamon, and honey.
- Then I’ll plug in my earphones and turn on the audiobook while I’ll cook.
(Please note: I have a list of books that I would like to listen to, this reduces the problem of choice at the moment of starting cooking. Hence, it helps me always have some book I would continue or start listening to.)
Benefits: I utilize those 30 mins to listen to some valuable audiobooks than some music. A major factor to consider here is a bit of prior planning because if you would think of deciding on the audiobook at the moment of cooking, the matter of choice will leave you confused and make you choose for a simpler way out, music. I enjoy music, there’s nothing bad about it. But if I am about to cook 5 times a week, I’ll be listening to 2.5 hrs. of music each week while cooking breakfast alone, which serves no purpose to me.
Routine 3: At the gym
- Reach the gym and change into my gym clothes.
- Put a scoop of watermelon pre-workout into the shaker.(While trying not to breathe and avoid sniffing it accidentally)
- While drinking my pre-workout, sit quietly for 3–5 minutes and think about “Why am I working out” and “How I would like to go through today’s workout”.
- Take an aerial look through the workout plan. (For which I have saved screenshots for each body part.)
- After weightlifting, I’ll finish off with some cardio for 10–30 mins while listening to an audiobook.
Benefits: By zeroing in on the “whys” and “hows” before starting the workout each time, I can reduce the time spent in the gym by increasing focus and get the task done for which I showed up.
#8 Strive for accuracy
Let’s say you schedule your next day from the bed, the night before. You would probably hit around 30–50 percent accuracy considering that you are a first-timer. The good news is that it is way better than 0 percent or a no plan at all.
A week later, since, you have continuously been hitting around 50 percent for a week while considering at least some of the points from above, you can now try aiming at 55 percent the next week or 51 percent. You will miss the target all the time, but that is the hero’s story of aiming at the best possible outcome even when things are not perfect.
Although I cannot promise you the accuracy rate, what I can promise is that with time, your knife to dissect and plan your schedule will be sharper by each day passing.
The fact that time is a limited resource for each one of us gives us a transcendent message of using it to our best. Spending time on things that justifies your existence and brings meaning to your life will lead to a fulfilling life, Period!
- Bring forth to the conscious mind a daily picture of your successful day by asking yourself this question every morning, “What can I do today that would make me a better person by the end of the day and justify my existence as someone important?”
- Write down the elements (time for family and friends, time for work, time for mental and physical health, and time for leisure) you would like to have in a day. And most importantly how much time you would like to devote to each of the elements.
- Design a day that will have micro tasks for those elements.
- Make sure to design the days that are slightly above your current level of performance and enough to be challenging. Above all, make sure that the day is not so difficult that you are likely to fail.
- Do not think of schedule as a jail. Make it your friend and let it help you smoothly get the desired life.
- Stick to the schedule and be proud of yourself.
- It’s your day. Design in such a way that you would for a person you really care about. There is no right or wrong.
- Enjoy daily wins.
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