A little while back, before I sat down and figured out how to build a schedule, in the late evening of a rather balmy spring day, a friend asked me if I’d gotten much done that day.
“Yes,” I said. “I was working all day, from about 9 AM until 11 PM or so. It was a busy day.”
“What did you do?” my friend asked.
I paused. What had I done?
Well, let’s see, I thought… I responded to some emails. I got a little writing done. And… what else did I do?
I couldn’t answer. I’d spent the whole day working, I knew – 14 hours almost. I hadn’t surfed the Internet, I hadn’t taken any breaks, and it’d been a solitary day – I hadn’t spoken to another soul all day. And yet, I couldn’t account for my time at all.
It was strange.
And I realized, I wasn’t getting done as much as I wanted to get done, or as much as I felt I should get done.
And then I realized… I needed to change that.
A Normal Workday
In a normal job, people are slated to work anywhere from 7 to 9 hours a day. Let’s say 8 – 8 hours a day. 9 to 5.
How many of those hours spent at work are actually spent working?
Well, don’t forget, you’ve got:
- Coffee breaks
- Internet breaks
- Catching up on the news
- That drowsy period after lunch when you don’t want to do anything
- The afternoon that drags on forever where you work more slowly
I heard something sometime back stating that the average worker only worked 2 out of his 8 hours in the office each day. I couldn’t find any actual studies citing this as the case, but I did find a farcical post entitled “The Two-Hour Rule,” which I think will ring true for anyone who’s ever worked in an office environment.
But let’s be generous and say the average office worker spends a cumulative 4 of his 8 hours at work doing actual work. That’s 20 hours of work a week.
That’s still not that much productive work.
If you’re doing freelance work, contracting, consulting, rainmaking, and running startups like I am though, you need to hold yourself to a far higher degree of productivity. Something closer to 8 hours a day, 5 to 6 days a week, of solid, productive, effective, work.
And yet, not long ago, I’d begun becoming less productive. It was in part because I was, at the time, dealing with stress and distraction, but that wasn’t an excuse – everybody’s dealing with those things. My problem was that they were getting to me more than usual.
I was also trying too hard to juggle too many plays without a play-calling card. You know, that’s the card that the football coach (American football, for my non-US readers) keeps with his list of all the different plays he can call out to have his team run on every down. He’s often got over a hundred of them… and there’s no way he’s going to remember them all, or be able to juggle them all, there, in the moment, when he most needs them, entirely on his own.
He needs something to keep him on track.
How to Build a Schedule to Change Your Life
I sat down one day and said to myself, “I’m not getting the things done I want to get done. Letting myself work on whatever I feel like working on isn’t working.”
I needed structure. I needed something to keep me on track and keep me moving.
I needed to build a schedule.
So I did.
I started with these things in mind:
- Maintenance needs to be minimized. What I consider “maintenance” is the stuff most people consider the lifeblood of their days. That’s things like email, phone calls, finance, checking the news, and things like that. It’s stuff that there’s always more of to do and the more you focus on it the bigger it gets. Don’t believe it? Trying responding to everyone in your email inbox who’s emailed you. Bet you most of them write back to you and now you’ve got more emails to write.
- The schedule needs to be diverse enough to hold my interest. There needed to be enough variety on it that I’d be able to keep moving and not feel bored. If my schedule looked like this: “Tuesday: 4 hours of writing. 3 hours of collaborating. 1 hour of maintenance” it’d be too much. Who wants to write for four hours? Who wants to collaborate for 3? The longer you give yourself to do stuff, the more disorganized it tends to be and the less you want to do it as time progresses because you know it’s going to take long.
- The schedule needs to structure in things that I need to do but often forget to do. For instance, when you’re running startup businesses, marketing is one of the most important parts of that. You don’t market, you don’t eat, because nobody knows who you are. Yet, I’d been consistently forgetting to do marketing for the businesses I’m working on. Marketing in my new schedule gets an hour smack in the middle of the afternoon, every day of the week – and now, it gets done.
- There need to be enough breaks included in the schedule that I won’t get tired or run down. Sometimes after lunch, I’m a little out of it. So, I scheduled time for lunch – and then time for a break, immediately after. As it’s worked out, I usually dive right into writing after lunch, ahead of schedule – but then, I know I’m getting a bonus amount of work done, and when I really need the break, it’s already scheduled in and I don’t have to break my schedule.
- Sleep needs to be an important part of the schedule. What’s one of the leading causes of stress, fatigue, anger, frustration, and low levels of productivity? Lack of sleep. Sleep is a huge, major, gigantic, vital factor in staying productive. Don’t sleep, and you don’t produce at a high level for very long. You drag all day and get less done, and what you get done is sloppier and of lower quality. Therefore, I made it a point to put sleep on my schedule too – it’s blocked out, and no one can use it. It’s there for one thing, and one thing only: sleeping.
- Free time needs to be scheduled in. I’ve had various partners, friends, and employees at various times who’ve, with all the best intentions, taken up large blocks of my “time off” time and driven it towards work that wasn’t essential for me or the business but maybe seemed essential to them at the time. By scheduling in free time every night and on the weekend, I instantly made it very easy to say to people, “Sorry, I can’t meet then, that’s my day off. Let’s pick an hour on Monday to discuss this.”
- Time to get focused needs to be scheduled in. I started doing meditation and visualization a few years back to get myself zeroed in with laser precision on everything I wanted to accomplish. I picked this up again, after about four or five years off from it, after listening to Napoleon Hill’s The Law of Success on audio and hearing him discuss how a number of the men who went on to be the most successful in their fields either prayed for or meditated on achieving the things they wanted to achieve. I’ll do a post on this specifically soon, but so far I’ve found it to be incredible not only for motivating myself and getting tons of great ideas for rapid business building on everything I’m engaged on, but also for de-stressing before the start of a day and at the end of a day before I go to sleep. The time I spend on it (maybe 45 minutes or so, twice a day) sounds like a lot, but the productivity boosts (and overall mood and wellbeing improvements) are immense.
Here’s what my completed schedule looks like:
Now let me tell you why this schedule is different from most of the ones you’ll see, and why this has been good.
A Time for Everything
Ever pay attention to how much time you spend on email?
It’s a colossal time waster. When I talk with friends about this, I hear frequent protests: “No! I have to be on email, 24/7! The company will go up in flames if I’m not!”
If you can’t move past this mindset, I honestly can’t help you learn how to build a schedule that transforms your productivity from mediocre to meteoric. So let’s tackle this one first.
Email is maintenance. It’s treading water. It’s staying where you’re already at.
Don’t believe me? Okay, answer me these questions then:
- How many great companies have been built… over email?
- How many great leaders have come to power… via email?
- How many great romances have you had… through email?
- How many incredible life experiences have you had… thanks to email?
- How much money have you made… because of email?
Now compare that to sitting down to really build your business, to really figuring out what leadership is and using it, to going out and meeting the guy or gal of your dreams and sweeping him/her off his/her feet (or doing that to the guy or gal of your dreams who’s already back home waiting for you), to going and having the experience of a lifetime and really living it up, to actually making money and being productive.
Email doesn’t do that for you. It’s just… you trading to-do list items with other people. You sharing gossip or trivialities with other people. And you taking care of everyday business items like customer support or technical questions.
It doesn’t move things forward.
I used to spend sometimes four hours a day on email. What a waste. Now I get to it only during those time slots allotted on my schedule. And if I need to meet with someone to go over something… email’s typically the first thing I’ll sacrifice on my schedule to do so.
Productive work is more important.
I know, I know… email feels like a necessary part of your life. But answer me this: who’s going to be more successful in his business, relationships, friendships, and everything else:
- The guy who prioritizes email, phone calls, and other immediate tasks, or
- The guy who prioritizes business building, marketing, development, and other things
The more responsibility you have in your job, the more you need to lean towards the second tendency than the first as you build your schedule. Throw email into your least productive times of day – the times that you don’t need to be “on” or creative during.
At first you’ll be thrown off a little.
You’ll be stressed out.
You’ll feel like, “Oh my God, there are tens or hundreds of people just waiting for my response and not getting it! What’ll I do??“
Just relax. Take a breath. The world keeps turning.
And if they really need you so bad… they’ll call.
Everyone I work with has my cell phone number. And all of them know that, if it’s something really important, they should call me or text me.
They rarely do. They usually just send emails. Or not… now, more often, if there’s something minor, they figure it out on their own.
It’s a funny thing, but you come to realize that the importance of the things brought to your attention is inversely proportional to your availability.
That means that:
- The more available you are, the more people take your time for granted, and the more they’ll feel free to saddle you with unimportant, time-consuming (and time-wasting) tasks or add to your to-do list with requests or demands
- Conversely, the less available you are, the more people respect your time, the more they only come to you with very important things, and the more they take care of unimportant, time-consuming things themselves
It’s amazing, really.
I suppose what I’m saying here is… when I first started taking big breaks from email, I thought I was going to create big problems for myself with a huge backlog of email to tend to.
But what actually happened was… people just stopped sending me unimportant things that they weren’t going to get a response to. Instead, they only emailed me about things I really needed to know or I was absolutely the only person who could address.
In other words, I got most of my time back.
But that’s just the beginning.
How to Build a Schedule: The Core Elements
When you sit down to build your schedule, here’s what I think you need to have in mind:
- I’m not building this schedule around what I have to do – it’s built around what I want to do. What do you want your schedule to look like? If you had absolutely no obligations, what are the things you would work on? Design your schedule like that first – then come back and figure out where any obligations you have now that you absolutely cannot get out of will fit in. Build your schedule around you and force your obligations to respect that… or cut those obligations out.
- Schedules work best with focused work. We’ll cover meditation and how you can use it (or prayer, if you prefer) to get yourself targeting your goals and objectives in an upcoming post. For now, know that your schedule will work best if you couple it with laser-targeted goals. You must know what you want to achieve to make good use of your time – otherwise, you’ll end up checking email and surfing the Internet, instead.
- The majority of my schedule must be focused on future work. I don’t care if you’re a CEO or a secretary – you need to block off as much of your schedule as possible to be focused on building. That might be skill training or personal development (e.g., hitting the gym three days out of the week), it might be setting up your own new website for the first time, or it might be improving and streamlining a business you run to automate a process here, free you or some of your employees up, or cutting out an underperforming product or advertisement and replacing it with a superior one. Regardless, there needs to be a significant portion of your schedule focused on making you and your engagements work better, otherwise you’ll just be madly and endlessly running in place.
- I need plenty of free time and time for sleep scheduled in. When you sit down to build a schedule, if you’re like most people you’re going to get pretty excited at this idea of how much you’re going to get done with your new schedule, and you’re going to go overboard giving yourself things to do every waking hour of the day and a few hours when you probably should be sleeping. The next logical step, of course, is that you burn out after a week of using this schedule and you drop it entirely. Don’t do that – put together a reasonable schedule instead. One that’s going to challenge you with engaging, interesting activities – and then give you the free time to unwind or go out or see friends or spend time with loved ones or whatever else you need, and the time to get a full 8 or 9 hours of sleep per night so you’re fresh for the next day (instead of a zombie).
These are the four main keys to how to build a schedule you like and can use to rocket your life ahead.
Personally, since I’ve been following this schedule, I’ve achieved levels of consistency in my productivity that I don’t think I’ve ever had, in a structured corporate environment or working on my own. I’ve found it not just manageable, juggling the projects I have, but actually enjoyable again.
And, unsurprisingly I suppose, the people closest to me have all been impressed at the results I’m getting out of using a schedule like this and have written their own.
The initial reports are that they love it.
A schedule doesn’t have to constrict you… it can free you. Free you to accomplish all the things you’ve been wanting to accomplish, but haven’t seemed to have been able to find the time to.
Now, you can schedule that time, and get to it.
P.S., once you get your schedule built and you’re ready to start working with a truly great team, partner, or company, you need to check out Yamjac. It’s not running just yet, but it’s only a few months away – you can head here and get on the waiting list to be among the first people to get invited in. It’s going to change the way the world does business, shares ideas, forms teams, and interacts – this is one boat you’re not going to want to miss. Check it out here if you haven’t already:
Talk with you soon.