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 trivial today, but what you do repeatedly ultimately creates the quality of your life.
Everyone’s personal routine will look different 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.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Daily Schedule and Why It's Important
- 7 Practical Tips to Create a Daily Schedule
- How to Stick to Your Schedule
- Best Scheduling Apps for You
- Final Thoughts
What Is a Daily Schedule and Why It’s Important
Humans are creatures of habit. We crave daily routine and function best when we have clear guardrails on our time.
A daily schedule puts you in control of your day. It gives you the structure and discipline you need to make the most out of the hours of a given day. When you have a plan to stick to, you get more daily work done and ultimately inch closer to your goals.
As the father of productivity, Paul J. Meyer, put it:
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort.”
What’s more, a daily schedule is predictable, so it reduces decision fatigue. You’re not wasting brain space deciding what task to do next. That means you can keep your mental energy level for the tasks that really matter.
So set your day up for success by planning your day and organizing your daily time.
7 Practical Tips to Create a Daily Schedule
Here are 7 practices to help get you started in creating a daily schedule.
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.
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 for a work life balance 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 your daily 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.
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.
But if you regularly make your bed, meditate, and eat a healthy breakfast each morning, your brain will learn to pivot from “rest mode” to “productivity mode” quickly—and you’ll probably be in a better mood.
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, that’s something that both aligns with your personal values and prepares you 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.
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. 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 level wanes.
There’s plenty of research showing that our ability to function cognitively shifts depending on the time of day. For most people, including me, peak productivity time 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.
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.
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. 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 useless 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. 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 at the end of a work block, you’ll be much more likely to muster more energy—and focus—for the tasks at hand.
6. Avoid Multitasking at all Costs
Here’s the thing: multitasking doesn’t work. Studies show that your performance suffers when you’re hopping between two tasks. Not only do you take longer, but you end up making more errors.
What does that mean for planning your daily schedule? Plan to do just one task at a time – and don’t try to squeeze in anything else.
One reason why we struggle to switch between tasks is that our brains can’t adapt that quickly to a new type of task. That’s called the ‘switching cost’: we fumble when we transition to a different skill and lose time in the process.
Avoid this by scheduling similar tasks back-to-back. For example, when planning your day, lump all your meetings into one block of the day, or devote an hour or two to responding to emails. Batch working like this means you work more efficiently, wasting less time overall.
The daily time saved is significant. One study showed that you get back around 40% productivity which, over the course of the day, can really add up.
7. Use a Daily Schedule Template
Lastly, make your life easier with a daily schedule template. Try out these free downloadable templates to help you schedule your day and help with time management:
- Daily To-Do List Template – This is a simple to-do list template for everyday use. Use this daily planner to plan your daily tasks, set priorities, and assign time periods to complete them.
- Weekly Goals Template – Try out this template for setting effective goals for your weekly schedule. Before Monday rolls around, sit down and identify what you want to achieve by the end of the week.
- Project Template – Big projects are overwhelming. The key to getting a project done is breaking it down into manageable chunks, just like this template helps you to do. Use it to track your project to its completion.
- Distraction List – This simple template helps you ward off distractions. If something pops into your head while you’re working, write it down on this sheet. By doing this, you’ll get it out of your head so you can focus on the work in front of you.
How to Stick to Your Schedule
Creating a daily schedule is only half the battle though. You’ve got to stick to it too, which has become increasingly tough in the age of distraction. Here are some tips to do that:
1. Distraction-Proof Your Work Environment
As remote work becomes the norm, the boundary between home and work life has broken down. One way you can prevent that is by designating a single space for work. Declutter that space, and avoid doing anything other than work there to keep your brain from getting distracted.
2. Be Realistic About What You Can Accomplish in a Day
If you’re too over-ambitious and cram too many tasks in, your schedule is doomed to fail right from the start.
3. Add in ‘Cushion Time’ Between Tasks
Instead of scheduling back-to-back tasks, add a buffer of 15 or 20 minutes. That way, if something ends up taking longer than you anticipated, you won’t derail your entire schedule.
Best Scheduling Apps for You
Leverage technology to help you. With tons of calendar and time scheduling apps available to help optimize your productivity time, scheduling has never been easier.
1. Google Calendar
is a great organizational tool – and it’s user-friendly. Don’t underestimate this free app: it has a surprisingly wide range of features. Add new events, set reminders, track time, and link up with colleagues. Plus it integrates seamlessly with other Google services.
If you’re looking for something with more features, Calendar is another great bet. Just like Google Calendar, the app lets you create and edit meetings on an hourly schedule, and view what’s on your plate. But it also offers a useful analytic tool: Calendar Analytics. This shows you how you’ve been spending time, so you can assess and optimize your time management to be more efficient.
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.”
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.
Featured photo credit: Eric Rothermel via unsplash.com
|||^||Forbes: This Is How Highly Successful People Plan Their Daily Routines|
|||^||Forbes: This Is How Highly Successful People Plan Their Daily Routines|
|||^||Entrepreneur: Entrepreneurs Are Scheduling Their Days Down to the Minute for Ultimate Success|
|||^||Forbes: How Millionaires Plan Their Day|
|||^||PubMed.gov: A time to think: circadian rhythms in human cognition|
|||^||The Balance Small Business: How to Organize Your Home Business Work Day|
|||^||Huffington Post: 5 Science-Backed Ways Taking a Break Boosts Our Productivity|
|||^||Cleveland Clinic: Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work|
|||^||Psychology Today: The True Cost of Multi-Tasking|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: The Daily Routines of Geniuses|