Some productivity experts recommend that you schedule tasks you want to accomplish on your calendar each day. I don’t, and I wanted to tell you a little more about why I think this practice won’t help your productivity.
This topic is on my mind because of a recent Fast Company article called “8 Productivity Habits of the Most Successful Freelancers.”
I’m grateful to the article’s author, Gwen Moran, for citing my work. She quotes me regarding the potential pitfalls of working freelance from home, and I offered some ideas for how to minimize distractions.
I want to offer a counterpoint, though, to some of the other tips provided in the article. I’m a fan of author Kevin Kruse and I think he is a source of really smart content. On this one issue, though, I have to respectfully disagree. In this column, he recommends that you shouldn’t keep a to-do list but rather schedule tasks on your calendar.
Our days tend to be filled with disruptions, distractions and surprises. And when it comes down to it, you’re more likely to break your appointment with yourself to do the task rather than put off or turn down someone else who needs you. In my experience, people who try to schedule tasks spend way more time reconfiguring their calendars after they miss their scheduled time to do a task than they do actually getting things accomplished.
(I also don’t see much use in estimating how long different tasks will take — another strategy suggested in the Fast Company article — for the simple fact that most of us are really bad at it, and if you’re realistic with the amount of tasks you schedule, how long each one takes doesn’t really matter.)
So if you’re not going to schedule tasks on it, how should you use your calendar? In my book, Personal Productivity Secrets, I talk about how your calendar and your task list are both part of a successful personal productivity system. Your calendar is for things that have a strong relationship to time, like appointments and meetings. Your task list is for items that have a weak relationship to time: all the things that you want to get done but that don’t have to happen at a specific time.
If You Must Schedule Tasks
If you’re really determined to schedule tasks on your calendar (and I still wish you wouldn’t!), at least do it in the most efficient way. My friend Francis Wade is a fan of an app called SkedPal. It automatically schedules your tasks based on your commitments, priorities and energy levels so you don’t have to enter each task manually.
While I agree with not scheduling specific tasks on a calendar, it is valuable to schedule blocks of time dedicated to addressing tasks in general. This provides a dedicated time (and deadline) for moving certain efforts forward. More importantly, in offices where people can view other people’s calendars, it minimizes the chance of having someone book meetings during a time when you could otherwise have focused on getting work done. This helps ensure you have a block of time rather than many small chunks in between meetings.
As a creative person, a rigid scheduling structure absolutely does not work for me. It can cause me to start ignoring the calendar as a rebellion against the structure.
However, I needed a tiny bit of structure in my day job. So I put one task in a morning slot on my calendar and delete it when I’m done. It actually isn’t important what time I start it, or even how long it takes. But since I get interrupted a dozen or more times a day, it’s a flag I have this task I need to finish.
The task itself is something that I do to prevent emergencies later in the week. If I keep up on it, it also prevents more work at the end of the year.
Interesting idea, Linda! Thanks for sharing!