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Published on February 24, 2021

How To Create A Daily Schedule To Organize Your Day

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How To Create A Daily Schedule To Organize Your Day

When I was young, I had a pink piggy bank on my dresser—and a very important goal to buy a shiny, red bike. Each time I earned money on chores, I ran to the piggy bank. Over time, thanks to my small, consistent habit, my coin collection wasn’t just spare change any more. I finally came up with enough money to buy the bike.

What my piggy bank was then to me, my daily schedule is today.

We all have a vision for the future, and it can feel overwhelming to stare it down from afar, especially without a plan. The best way to accomplish goals is to break them down into smaller, daily habits. That handful of coins might seem inconsequential today, but what you do repeatedly ultimately creates the quality of your life.[1]

Everyone’s personal routine will look different and are based on their individual goals and values. But applying a few general principles to your daily schedule can help maximize your effectiveness and productivity and, over time, help you accomplish your goals.

Here are five practices to help get you started in creating a daily schedule.

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1. Prioritize Your Values

“Success” is as unique as the person pursuing it. But all successful people have one important thing in common: They strategically design their lives to align with the things they care about the most.[2]

Practically, that means before you can create a daily schedule that helps you accomplish your goals and live the life you want to live, you have to define what you value. An understanding of these things will help you pinpoint priorities that make sense and, ultimately, organize your day accordingly.

As a first step, carve out some time to think about what’s important to you. Make a list, in order. Then, find ways to incorporate those things in your daily and weekly routines in time blocks that honor how important each value is.

For example, if your biggest goal is health and fitness, then you should prioritize working out and healthy eating before other, less important hobbies. If your top priority is family or friends, then you’ll want to make sure you carve out time each day to connect with people you love before you jump into work.

Defining your personal priorities prevents the things you value from slipping off your to-do list and into the margins. It also allows you to delegate and outsource the tasks that aren’t in accordance with your values.[3]

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2. Include a Morning Routine

It’s not uncommon for productivity gurus to boast of their 4 AM wake-up calls and elaborate pre-sunset routines. But there’s no perfect time to rise and grind—your morning alarm will depend on your own, individual rhythm. No matter when you start your day, though, there’s something to be said about including a morning ritual in your daily schedule.

Why is morning so important? The first thing you do after getting up ultimately sets the tone for the rest of your day. If you roll out of bed, half-awake, and jump right into your email, you’ll likely struggle to focus and engage, and you’ll run out of steam before too long.

If, on the other hand, you habitually make your bed, meditate, and eat a healthy breakfast each morning, your brain will learn to pivot from “rest mode” to “productivity mode” more seamlessly—and you’ll probably be in a better mood, too.

It’s up to you what you do in the morning. The goal is to kick off your day by doing the same thing—ideally, something that both aligns with your personal values and clears your mind and prepares your body for the tasks ahead.

3. Designate a “Most Important Task”

Your day will inevitably include essential tasks that don’t propel you toward your goals—taking phone calls, hopping into meetings, answering emails. To make sure these things don’t derail you, always define what you absolutely need to accomplish every day and incorporate them into your daily schedule.

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Every week, when you plan your schedule, consider your goals. What needs to get done to keep you on track? Then, choose an MIT (most important task) for each day.[4] When you know what you need to accomplish to stay on track, you’ll waste less time on non-essential work.

It helps me to schedule my most important tasks during the times I’m most focused and productive and focus on tasks that don’t require as much brain power when my energy wanes.

There’s plenty of research showing that our ability to function cognitively shifts throughout the day.[5] For most people, including me, peak productivity occurs between 9 and 11 AM, which is why I always reserve that block of time for MITs rather than less-demanding busy work like answering emails.

If your productivity levels heighten later on in the day, you can take the opposite approach. Either way, make an effort to understand your peak work times and schedule your MITs accordingly.[6]

4. Schedule Time for Things That Normally Distract You

If you’re anything like me, you end up in your inbox or on Twitter several times throughout the day (and end up staying there for far too long). There’s nothing wrong with taking breaks to check social media, and we all need to respond to emails to do our work. But these things can also be a significant distraction from the most important tasks.

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Instead of allowing yourself to mindlessly scroll, take a proactive approach by building blocks of time to engage with potential distractions. For example, your daily schedule could include time frames where you can “process” your email or social media accounts two or three times a day—once in the morning, again before lunch, and once more at the end of the day. The important thing is to treat these items like any other task—just another line item on your daily schedule—rather than allowing them to infiltrate your day.

5. Include Breaks

Every day, I schedule an hour-long lunch break and several 10 to 15-minute breaks to meditate or go for a walk. It might seem counterproductive to plan out time in your day when you’re not working, but remember that nobody has endless capacity to work at full steam, constantly. And if you try, you won’t be as productive as you want to be.

There’s scientific evidence that the occasional pause can actually enhance productivity.[7] For one thing, pausing from time to time can boost your ability to think creatively and strategically. Sometimes, the brain needs a change of scenery (and a break from constantly thinking) to come up with fresh ideas.

Scheduling breaks throughout your day also provides something to look forward to—an end in sight. When you know you’ll have a chance to rest or do something you enjoy at the end of a work block, even if only for five minutes, you’ll be much more likely to muster more energy—and focus—for the tasks at hand.

Final Thoughts

As author Mason Currey writes in her book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, a routine “fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”[8]

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Even the most successful people can fall prey to getting off track. Designing your ideal daily schedule ahead of time is an essential practice for preventing distraction and prioritizing what’s most important to you. Think of your schedule as an investment in your future. It may take some time to “save up” for the life you want, but little by little, you’ll see your goals come to life.

More Tips on Organizing Your Daily Schedule

Featured photo credit: Eric Rothermel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aytekin Tank

Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

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Published on October 22, 2021

The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

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The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

Today, there are countless productivity techniques that claim to help you work at peak efficiency. Among them, few are more widely known and widely used than the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management system that suggests that you break down your work tasks into 25-minute chunks and take breaks in between them.

The idea revolves around the notion that most people begin to lose focus after 25 minutes of continuous work and will need a reset to remain productive. But there’s a problem with that idea: no two tasks are the same. And for that matter, neither are any two people! That means a one-size-fits-all productivity system can’t possibly be the best fit for everyone.

But there’s an alternative that provides more flexibility and allows you to customize it for your specific use cases. It’s called the Flowtime Technique, and here’s everything you need to know to use it and start getting more done.

What Is the Flowtime Technique?

The Flowtime Technique, while not as well-known as the Pomodoro Technique, has been around for some time. In many ways, it’s a direct descendent of Pomodoro. It’s the brainchild of Zoe Read-Bivens, and she thought it up as a means of dealing with some of the shortcomings she experienced while using the Pomodoro technique.[1]

She found that sticking to 25-minute work segments often interrupted her flow—the feeling of being immersed in a particular task—and ended up harming her productivity rather than enhancing it. To fix the problem, she sought to create a system that retained the beneficial aspects of the Pomodoro Technique while allowing her to get into a positive flow and stay there.

The Basics of the Flowtime Technique

To start using the Flowtime Technique, the first thing you’ll need to do is create a timesheet to help you manage your daily activities. You can do this with a spreadsheet or by hand, whichever you find most convenient. At the heading of your timesheet, include the following column headings:

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  • Task Name
  • Start Time
  • End Time
  • Interruptions
  • Work Time
  • Break Time

Your timesheet will be the primary way you track your daily tasks and establish a flow that works best for you. Once you have it set up, here’s how to use it:

1. Choose a Task

To get started, choose a task you wish to get done. It should be specific, and something you can reasonably complete in the amount of time you have. In other words, don’t choose a task like “paint my house.” Choose something like “paint the front door of my house.” If you select a task that’s too broad, you’ll have difficulty sticking with the work. So, try and break down what you’re doing into the smallest manageable pieces.

2. Begin Working on Your Task

The next step is to start working on your task. Begin by listing the task you’re going to work on in the appropriate field of your timesheet. Then, list the time you’re starting work. Once you’ve gotten started on your task, the only rule you must observe is that there is no multitasking allowed. This will help you to focus on what you need to get done and minimize any self-imposed distractions.

3. Work Until You Need a Break

You may then keep working on your listed task for as long as you like. If you feel yourself getting fatigued after 15 minutes, take a break. If you get into a productive groove, lose track of the time, and end up working for an hour straight, that’s fine, too.

The idea is to get to know your own patterns and work in segments that fit you best. If you don’t focus well on certain tasks, work on them for shorter durations. If you get absorbed in other types of tasks, maximize your output by working for as long as you feel capable of staying focused.

You’ll likely find that the longest period you’ll be able to sustain is around 90 minutes or so. This corresponds to your Ultradian Rhythm, which are the alternating periods of alertness and rest that our brains experience throughout the day.[2]

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There are plenty of case studies that demonstrate how taking regular breaks improves productivity. It’s one of the reasons that mandatory breaks are a part of the Pomodoro Technique. But there’s evidence that the less-structured Flowtime approach to breaks works just as well. One technology company that recently directed its employees to take breaks every hour as they saw fit saw productivity levels rise by 23%—with no mandate required.[3]

4. Take an Appropriate-Length Break

When you decide you need to take a break, go ahead and do so. Just make sure to write down your stop time on your timesheet in the right place. You can take a break that’s as long or short as you like, but don’t abuse the privilege. Otherwise, it won’t be long until your breaks eat up the majority of your time.

As a general rule of thumb, try taking a five-minute break for each 25-minute work period, and increase your break time proportionally for longer work periods. You should use a timer to make sure you get back to your task in the right amount of time. And when your break ends, don’t forget to record the time you’ve resumed work and list the length of the break you took.

5. Record Distractions as They Happen

While you’re working, there are always going to be times when you’ll get distracted. It may come in the form of a phone call, an urgent email, or even the urge to use the bathroom. When these things happen, record the occurrence in the interruption column on your timesheet. Do your best to keep distractions short, but don’t try and block them out.

The reason is that you’re unlikely to succeed and sometimes, the things that distract you will be a higher priority than what you’re working on. So, it’s important to deal with distractions as you see fit instead of trying to simply work through them.

6. Repeat Until Your Work Is Complete

All you have to do next is to repeat the steps above until the tasks you’re working on are complete. As you complete each task, be sure to record your final stop time. If you wish, you can calculate your total work time (and fill it in) when you finish a task, or you can do all of the math at once at the end of the day.

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All that matters is that you don’t leave any gaps in your time tracking. Your timesheets, once complete, will become an asset that improves your ability to create a work schedule that maximizes your daily output.

What to Do With Your Timesheets

Although the act of recording your work periods and break times will help you remain on-task each day, there’s another important reason you’re doing it. It’s that your timesheets will gradually begin to reveal to you how to craft an ideal daily schedule for yourself.

So, at the end of each week, take some time to compare your timesheets. You may see that certain patterns begin to emerge. For example, you might notice that your longest work periods typically occur before lunch or that there are specific parts of your day that tend to be filled with distractions. You can use this information to plan subsequent days more effectively.

In general, you’ll want to cluster your most important tasks at your most productive times. So, if you are reviewing detailed property records, for example, you can set aside time to do it when you know you’ll be able to focus without interruption.

Conversely, you should schedule less critical work at the times when you’re most likely to be interrupted while working. So if you need time to respond to emails or return phone calls, you’ll know just when to do it. This will not only make you more productive but will also eliminate mistakes in your work.

Key Similarities Between Flowtime and Pomodoro

If you’re familiar with how the Pomodoro Technique works, you may have noticed some similarities with the Flowtime Technique. As we’ve discussed earlier, this is intentional. The Flowtime Technique is specifically designed to retain three critical features of the Pomodoro Technique, which are:

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1. Precise Time Tracking

One of the reasons that the Pomodoro Technique is so effective for many people is that it creates a rigid system to facilitate time tracking. By having to split your work tasks into 25-minute segments, you become acutely aware of the tasks you have in front of you and how you’re using your time. That alone helps you to avoid wasting precious work time because you have to account for every minute. The Flowtime Technique provides this benefit, too.

2. Eliminating Multitasking

With the Pomodoro Technique, you have to choose a task to work on and use a 25-minute timer to measure each work period. This does an excellent job of keeping you on-task because you know from the moment you set the timer what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’re therefore not likely to stray onto another task.

Even though you don’t need to use a timer with the Flowtime Technique, the very act of writing down your task accomplishes the same task. Because you know you’ll be tracking your time spent working on a particular thing, you’ll tend to stick with your task until it’s complete or time for a break.

3. Facilitating Breaks

One of the biggest killers of productivity is exhaustion, and there’s plenty of data to prove that taking breaks is essential to maintaining peak work performance. That’s the real secret to the Pomodoro Technique’s successful reputation—it makes breaks mandatory and unavoidable.

The Flowtime Technique, by comparison, also insists you take breaks. It just doesn’t force them upon you until you’re ready to take one. In that way, some additional self-discipline is required to succeed using the Flowtime Technique. But if you can obey a timer, there’s no reason you can’t learn to obey the signals your body sends you when it needs a time out.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, you may find success using the Pomodoro Technique. There’s a reason it’s so popular, after all. But if you’ve been using it for some time and find yourself straining against its rigid structures, you’re not alone. So, consider giving the Flowtime Technique a try for at least a week or two. You may find it’s a much better fit for your work style and that you get even more done than you ever have before.

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Featured photo credit: Fakurian Design via unsplash.com

Reference

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