Lessons in efficiency: Schedule it, then do it

I’m big into the “personal productivity” stuff – not because I try to fill my days with “busy work” just to check things off lists, but because being more productive and efficient lets me get more done in less time, so I can focus on import things… like college football or Star Trek.

A new tactic I recently adopted is working really well for me, and it’s fairly simple: I schedule everything.

Time with my family, appointments, tasks, chores… even reading, research and relaxation time. It’s all on my calendar. If I don’t have an explicit time to do something, I add that “to do” to my Getting Things Done app Omnifocus and do them when an opportunity presents itself.

Reading this, you may┬áthink, “Wow, this guy has got OCD!” No, I’m not like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory or anything like that (though, unlike Sheldon, my Mom never had me tested). I don’t schedule bathroom breaks, or get all fidgety when meetings don’t end on time… I just use my calendar to set aside time to do things.

One of the primary benefits this process gives me is the freedom to focus. Because when you set aside the time to something, you can dedicate 100% of your time and “mindfulness” to that one thing. For example, when I had dinner scheduled with a friend last week I blocked off the entire evening, because it was important that I spent as much time with that person as possible (she lives out-of-town and I only see her occasionally). During that dinner I was absolutely focused on the meal and my friend, and it was a great night for both of us because of it. No distractions, just a great conversation and time.

The key to all this working for me is that I always remember that I AM IN CHARGE – not the calendar, and not the checklist I have each day. Life happens, and you can’t micromanage that. Unless something is absolutely necessary to do THAT DAY – a critical business meeting, or a design deadline, for example – I can always shift things around. And I never feel guilty about it, because I’m still determined to do what I scheduled or planned… just not when I originally intended to.

Finally, an added benefit I have found is that taking all the “clutter” out of my head and putting it in my daily to-dos and my calendar clears my head, because all that “stuff” is now “parked” in those two places. Jerry Seinfeld had a very famous joke where he recounted when a girlfriend asked him, “what are you thinking?” “Nothing.” was his reply, the joke being that guys just don’t think that much.

Well, when I know that everything I need “to-do” is out of my head I’m not preoccupied, and so I don’t think about much of anything… which leaves me open to learning and experiencing new things, and focusing my whole attention on what I am doing.

Like writing this, for example.

As always, what works for me may not work for you – and if it does, your “mileage” may vary. But give it a shot… and you may also find out that if you “audit” your life and fill your calendar with what you have to do you may a lot more free time that you thought.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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