Is there such a thing as a basic time management training program?

“Basic” Time Management Training? No such thing!

As a manager, you may advise a subordinate: “You need a basic time management program.” While this advice is probably well-intended, it turns out to be flawed. Today, a more nuanced picture has emerged.

Your intent might be pure. Many employees who once appeared to be capable and reliable have fallen into rough times. Even though they remain motivated, they look harried, are behind in their email and keep missing deadlines. Their reputation has taken a hit so you want to help.

But they still have to complete the new project you assigned them, in addition to their other responsibilities. None of it can be delegated—it’s all important.

Yet, their sense of overwhelm remains real. Maybe, you think, “They don’t understand the basics of time management.”

While this line of thinking sounds logical, it happens to be incorrect. Here are the reasons why.

  1. They are adults, not kids

In the world of adult learning, there’s a known fact: teaching adults differs from teaching children. Why? In most cases, it’s because the adult already possesses some capacity, prior practice, plus a motivation to solve everyday problems.

In this context, teaching people Latin isn’t the same as teaching us our local slang or dialect. We all chafe and resist when someone tries to force us to learn something we think we already know.

With respect to time management, my local research shows that you and your employees are similar to other experienced adults around the world.

To illustrate: you were taught the concept of time at age eight or nine. Shortly after, you taught yourself how to create “time demands” – your own internal, individual commitments to complete actions in the future. You stored each one in memory to prevent it from being lost or forgotten.

Over time, you evolved, having learned the superior nature of paper or digital storage over brain cells. But regardless of your efficacy, you became a functioning adult with many successful time management habits. After all, they are responsible for positive results at school, work, and family.

However, you suspect that your subordinates have not kept up with the volume of their work and suffer from some weak habits or tools… the question is, “Which ones?” Only nuanced (not basic) training can help them uncover and close these gaps.

  1.      They need personal diagnostic skills

Instead of being instructed to engage in specific behaviours (the stuff of basic programmes) adults need to learn how to analyze and improve the habit patterns they are currently using: the same ones they have been honing since their teenage years.

In the second edition of my book, Perfect Time Based Productivity, I condensed the actions required to guide this transformation into four steps, known as ETaPS.

The first step is to E*valuate your current skills. Unlike other trivial behaviours, this takes more than completing a two-minute quiz from a magazine.

Unfortunately, empirical data from local classes reveals that the combination of habits, practices, and apps you employ today are complex. For example, everyone in your office may rely on Outlook, but there’s a unique way they use the program. Over time, you each developed routines which are idiosyncratic. Understanding them enough to make changes takes some study.

Therefore, a sound self-diagnosis starts with a deeper than average knowledge. With it, you can compare yourself against a typical employee, or the very best in the world. This can be a sobering exercise, but the knowledge is priceless and produces a lifetime of steady changes. How fast should you expect to see real improvements?

  1. Instant, magical change won’t happen

A “basic” training which ignores the lingering effect of old behaviours sets learners up for failure. They go to work the next day thinking that everything will change right away.

This is impossible. It took a decade of practice to develop your current skills which don’t change overnight. To help, I recommend the remaining steps of the ETaPS formula.

–          Ta*rget new levels of accomplishment for each skill.

–          P*lan a timeline of changes to reach these new levels in months or years, taking baby steps.

–          S*upport each change so that single behaviours turn into habits. Draw on other people, reminders, and progress tracking to maintain momentum.

The idea is to break a complex, long-term transformation into small, manageable actions.

If you are a manager, help your subordinates see where a personalized plan of improvement provides a way to accomplish their goals. Then, show them how better time management could improve every part of their life:  relationships with significant others, children’s performance at school, work-life balance, health and engagement in their community and family.

Instead of trying to shoehorn them into one-size-fits-all “basic” training, give them the nuanced understanding they need to make consistent, fool-proof changes.

This article was adapted from one written for the Jamaica Gleaner.

New SkedPal Video

The power available in today’s auto-schedulers remains a huge secret.

As a result, few people can describe what these powerful apps actually do and why they are so very different from Outlook or Google Calendar.

This video offers the first clear explanation. (I was part of the team that conceived it so I am quite biased!) It describes the app as a “GPS for All your Tasks.”

Becoming Like the Elite Part 3

In this post I share some of my results from playing the RandomCheck Game for five weeks in May-June 2017 – seven months ago. I had a cohort of 6-7 people along for the ride.

As you may recall from prior posts in Part 1 and Part 2, I set up a fun effort to improve my “On-Calendar” percentage:  a measure of how well I follow my plan for the day.

The overall idea is that I am more effective when there is a match between my schedule and actual activity. If I can create a way to track my On-Calendar percentage I might be able to improve the underlying behavior.

The metric was defined as the number of times I am On-Calendar when a random check is performed. Fortunately, there are a number of apps which can be used to generate these random check-ins. I used one called RemindMe.

My alerts were set at random times in three time slots:

  • 2 on weekday mornings from 8am-1pm
  • 3 on weekday afternoons from 1pm – 6pm.
  • 3 on weekends

Week 1 Report

This week I got an average 92% score on weekday mornings, 93% on weekday afternoons and 67% on the weekend.

So far I have learned that there is a pattern to my scores. My mornings are highly scripted and I am usually On-Calendar. This makes sense: I rise early and follow the same weekly routine, barring an occasional surprise.

My wife and we have synchronized, scripted schedules for the most part. On Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and Saturday mornings I am exercising, and on the other mornings I am writing/working. I wake up between 4am and 5am like clockwork, without an alarm, courtesy of an early bed-time.

However, the afternoons are awful. I lose steam at around lunchtime when I usually eat and nap between 1 and 2pm. After that, it’s quite likely that I go Off-Calendar and stay that way until the following day. I notice that I don’t have the habit of rescheduling my calendar in the afternoon which is the reason why I mess things up. Too tired?

I also see myself making a deliberate attempt to stay on target, so some new behaviors are entering the picture:

  • I go into my calendar and adjust it more regularly, a few times each day. This keeps me On-Calendar.
  • I think about where I am at each point of the day.
  • I don’t want to report a bad score to our team, so this has kept me on my toes.

Overall, I am far more aware of what I am doing. I have never been this aware of my On-Calendar status, not ever. Of course, having a team of people watching my progress and also playing the game allows me to benefit from the Hawthorne Effect.

Week 2 Report

My lower scores reflect the hectic nature of the week…
Weekday morning – Overall average fell to 83%. This week I only hit 7/10.
Weekday Afternoons –  Overall average fell to 77%. This week I scored 9/15.
Weekend Score – Overall average stayed at 67%. This weekend I had 4/6 successes.
I wonder how far my cumulative average will fall before it settles down. Not an exciting thought, as the game will end in a few weeks and all my fellow game players will disappear, along with Mr. Hawthorne.

Week 3 Report

This past week saw us losing power, Internet and water… in part due to floods across the island of Jamaica. So, it was quite challenging to stay On-Calendar.

Weekday mornings: 8/10

Weekday afternoons: 9/15

Weekend: 4/6

My moving averages are now at 82%, 72% and 67% respectively.

I have decided to continue playing until the end of the fifth week, just to get a bit more data.
But…I’m increasingly concerned at this point about what will happen once the game is over. If I were to turn off the RemindMe program, I’d be sure to experience even more time Off-Calendar. This indicates I’m far from seeing the development of a permanent behavior.
As I have noted in other articles, there is a danger in relying on external/extrinsic motivation: at any point, the agent supplying the trigger for the behavior might disappear.

Week 4 Report

 Morning/weekday – 8/10 (82%)
Afternoon/weekday – 13/15  (76%)
Weekend – 3/6  (63%)
Overall scores are in brackets.
Week 5 Report
This is the final week of the game and my final report shows the following:
Week 5 mornings:  10/10
Overall score for mornings: 83%
Week 5 afternoons: 13/15
Overall afternoons: 77%
Week 5 weekend: 3/6
Overall weekends: 63%

While playing the game, I had one person (Trish) who stuck with it all the way through to the end and another (Joyce) who also participated consistently. Others may have played, and not shared their progress.


Today is December 30th and some time has passed since I ended the game. I’m glad I waited this long before writing this report because I can see the effect the game had on my mid-term behavior more clearly.

When the game ended, I kept tracking my data but the RemindMe app turned out to be buggy in the extreme. In around November, it stopped popping up altogether.

Then, when I tried to access the data I had carefully downloaded, I ran into further issues. The developer appears to have abandoned any support, so I am actively looking to replace it.

  1. At this point in time, I can honestly say that I am far more conscious of being On-Calendar. However, it’s not yet a habit with an intrinsic trigger.
    Bj Fogg, the habit change expert, describes a new behavior as a function of motivation, ability, and triggers. as shown in the diagram below.I think that my triggers to stay On-Calendar lie just on the cusp between Failure and Success, along that green line. They amount to no more than a stray thought which pops up every other day or so.

    So, following the thinking from my article How High Performers Convert Single Behaviors Into Habits I need to find a way to create an internal trigger that is reliable.

  2. The fact that I was playing a game with an audience I convened help me pay attention. Most of the others who started dropped out, but I couldn’t, which helped.
  3. Having a tool like SkedPal made a huge difference – I could reschedule my calendar with the click of a button.  So did a simple plugin for Google Calendar which I accessed with a button in the browser bar. I could have been even better with a button for SkedPal in or beside this icon on the browser bar.
  4. Setting up these games isn’t easy, from a technical point of view.  If I hadn’t used an app, I could never have collected such detailed metrics. It just wasn’t built for this purpose.
  5. My overall moving averages dipped at first and then appeared to hold up. Now, I have a Google reminder set up me to get back On-Calendar – but only for the absolute worst day of the week – Tuesdays.
  6. As you can see below, there appears to be a difference between my performance on weekends and weekdays. It’s almost as if they are independent of each other.

Further Improvements

One of the reasons I embarked on this journey was to find a repeatable way to use gamification to help create a permanent habit. I think I have found a few elements that helped start me off in the right direction, but the fact that I still don’t have a permanent habit in place means that I have some way to go.

I’m glad I set this game up and played it to the end – it provided a far superior experience to simply making a quiet, personal effort.

I also need to report that I thought RandomCheck would be one of a number of games in the effort to increase my On-Calendar percentage. I tried hard to create other games, and even worked with one of my colleagues to try to devise another game.

I failed for a number of reasons which may become the subject of another article. Inventing a game that works in all respects is hard, even for something as simple as staying On-Calendar.

So, my search continues for a “final” answer.

Becoming Like the Elite part 2

In the prior post in this series way back on June 30th, I promised to share the game I set up to become like the 11% who get everything done each day. I left off describing the fact that I had a group willing to play together to achieve the result.

My first step was to, share the overall challenge for the group: to increase the match between what is on our calendars and what we actually do at any moment in time.

For Total Task Schedulers, this is a big challenge. If you undertake to manage your tasks via your calendar, you are putting into writing your daily plans and pledging to account for them in a visible way. By contrast, people who make mental plans for each day don’t have to confront their failures in this area, due to the lack of written dates.

I also shared that I wanted to play games which would improve this score. In the group I formed, I shared that we could all play the same game or different games, but the overall idea was to learn, grow and have some fun at the same time.

Reminder: “Being On-Calendar” in any moment means that what we are doing is in our calendar. The opposite is “Being Off-Calendar.”

Game #1 – RandomCheck

The first game I made up is one I had tested for about a month.

The game was simple: to record the times when I was On/Off-Calendar via random check-ins each day. If the times truly were random, then I should be able to generate some unbiased data.

To help me pick random times, I downloaded an app called Randomly RememberMe that provides a notification at random intervals throughout the day/week.

The Game I Played in May
I decided to set up different reminders for weekday mornings, weekday afternoons and weekends. For the weekdays, I set 3 reminders per day, one in the morning and two in the afternoon. On the weekends I cut out the morning reminder.

A few people opted into this game and played it with different levels of intensity at different points. However, as the convenor, I didn’t give myself the option of dropping out. Call it social pressure.

In the next post, I’ll describe the results I realized.

A Summary of the New Release of SkedPal – version 2.6

Hi – as you probably know if you have been around ScheduleU for a while, we are a big fan of all auto-schedulers, and SkedPal in particular. (Disclaimer!)

Recently, Saied Arbabian and his team (of which I – Francis – am part) released version 2.6.

The video below gives you an idea of the kind of attention to detail that’s being included in each release, as increasing amounts of friction are removed.

When you are done, leave a comment on the Facebook page for ScheduleU, and remember to Like the page for future reference.

Are Bill Gates and Elon Musk Total Task Schedulers?

According to this article on the Business Insier website:

Bill Gates and Elon Musk are two of the biggest names in tech.

Gates cofounded Microsoft in 1975, helping to spark the PC revolution. Now he focuses most of his time on philanthropy.

Musk founded PayPal and currently splits his week traveling between Tesla and SpaceX.

Both men also share one habit that’s helped them navigate their jam-packed schedules: They plan out every moment of their days.

Click here to read.

Eleven Experts Share The Secrets of Scheduling Everything in Your Calendar

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Question: “What is your best advice for managing all your tasks in your calendar?”

Read on, as ten experts give their point of view on how you can maximize the use of your calendar by using it as a tool for managing (almost) all your tasks. There are some important differences of opinion, and a variety of approaches depending on which approach the expert happens to use. It’s the first post of its kind on this topic anywhere, so I’m glad to have you here!

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Ultimately, successful people live their lives by design, i.e. an effective plan of execution. When we plan to use concrete resources such as space, or money, we’re very conscious of the available resources vs the demanded resources. But, when it comes to time, it’s much harder to plan because time is not perceived as a concrete resource like space.

Those who have been successful with concretizing time used their calendar as the framework to transform their time demands into tangible blocks. However, there are very limited number of skilled individuals that have made it to this level of discipline. What hinders most people from scheduling all their tasks in a calendar are interruptions, lack of control over mood and energy, shifts in priorities and incorrect estimates of task duration. So, any attempt to schedule tasks leads to frustration.

Fuzzy Planning is the middle ground between not scheduling, and scheduling. It tries to offer the benefits of concretizing time, yet provide some slack in the execution to make it as practical as possible. It leverages machine thinking to augment the planning process. So far, in SkedPal beta we have converted many people with a to-do list to Fuzzy Planning to reduce the overwhelm in their lives.

Our first implementation required total task scheduling. In other words, every time demand was thrown into the calendar. Our study and analysis of user behavior showed that this method was very highly prone to the planning. Once again, we tried to find the middle ground and offered a new solution where we encourage scheduling tasks for only the near term and leaving the rest of tasks on a conventional list. This way, users can maintain a small list of active projects in their current focus to be scheduled using Fuzzy Planning. This has led to a greater success rate, and has dramtically reduced the number of failed plans.

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I have found three things to be key in making calendaring my tasks work for me.

First, there have to be blocks of time that aren’t scheduled. The more I try to do, the more unscheduled time I need. Even within the working time blocks, I give myself a break. So if I’m scheduled to work on a writing project for an hour, I take the last ten minutes of that block as a break.

The second key is to use blocks of time for certain tasks based on my ideal schedule. I work on blog and podcast tasks from 1-3 in the afternoon, for example. Limiting related tasks to that timeframe helps me get more done and feel that I am moving all my projects forward. In the past, my tasks might be scheduled all throughout the day, leaving me feeling scattered.

Finally, when I finish scheduled tasks early, I do not schedule anything else. This means that in using Skedpal (my scheduling program of choice), I do not hit the Reschedule button. Doing so makes me feel like the work never ends. A scheduled list should function the way a traditional to-do list does in that once it’s done, you’re done.


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Let the old fable of rocks, pebbles and sand guide us through this simple framework for scheduling.

Rock it with Deep Work

You see, the purpose of total scheduling is to not to fill up every minute of your day, but rather to free up good chunk of your day for the most meaningful and fulfilling work of your life. What is it for you? Raising your kids? Helping people in your community? Making a dent in the universe with your creations? You can achieve any and all of your dreams, if only you would work on them every. single. day. In your waking 16 hours a day, do you think you can have 3-4 chunks each 2 hours long – to do things that are most important to you? I’m sure you can, and here is how: you take the glass of your daily schedule when it’s still empty, and place these rocks of Deep Undistracted Work sessions in there. Done. And you still have at least 8 hours a day left.

Pebbles of Recovery

Pebbles, beach… The thing about these arch-important Deep Work hours is that they require your full presence and attention. And attention is limited resource. Good news is that it is also a renewable one. So, to ensure peak performance, stick a few recovery activities in between. It might be a healthy meal (you know, the one that doesn’t put you into food coma), or a trip to gym (that might be a Rock itself – an example of how you can kill two birds with one Rock :), or play with your kids (another likely Rock), or just a walk around the block (or to the cooler). No, checking your Facebook feed is not a good recovery technique – it actually drains your attention reservoir. And don’t forget about THE recovery activity – sleep. But how you possibly could – it already blocks 8 hours out of 24, right? By now, we have ensured that we have both time AND energy to move the proverbial needle every day, even if little by little.

Sand of shallow work

Guess what? There is still time left in the day! You can spend this time however you want, completely guilt-free. Checking your email, or your site stats, or chit-chatting with a friend, or whatever gives you the kick of immediate variable reward (or the kind of reward you prefer). And even these can be scheduled strategically, for checking off a bunch of little things can give you a) momentum and b) peace of mind. In other words, it can make you feel productive (feeling is a good thing, as long as you don’t confuse it with actually being productive), and it curbs the temptation to do these when you are trying to focus on work that really matters. For these reasons, you can even do some shallow work before (gasp!) deep work, just don’t let it eat into the deep work time. And again, beware of the little things that shatter your ability to focus. But hey, sand on beach feels so good.

Be water, my friend

In the extended version of the fable, a student takes the turn and demonstrates the wise professor that the glass full of rocks, pebbles and sand can still take in a surprising amount of liquid (vodka or beer, depending on the origins of the fable-teller). And in our framework, water plays an important role too. “Be water” is Bruce Lee’s way of saying “go with and not against nature”, and our way of saying “the best schedule is the schedule that works for YOU”. Water moves everything in the river for the optimal flow. Likewise, experiment and find the exact placement of Rocks, Pebbles and Sand that keeps you in the Flow.

Curious to see this framework in action? You can see my actual workday schedule here

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If you desire to manage all of your to-do items in your calendar, I’ve found it’s effective to treat larger projects and smaller tasks differently. With larger projects, I recommend blocking out chunks of time to complete them.

For example, you may put in two, two-hour blocks to work on a proposal. Or you may block out a couple of days to work on a large project. This is important because larger projects can’t just be “squeezed in.” Setting aside the hours needed to get them done helps you to visualize how the work will fit in your workweek. It also gives you a sense of realism for how much you can actually accomplish.

For smaller tasks, making note of the exact time you’ll get them done can get cumbersome and tedious, so I’ve found it’s helpful to take a modified approach. One possibility is to put them in as tasks or all-day events that appear at the top of your calendar on the day you intend to get them done. That way, you know that you need to complete them but you can have flexibility around when they fit in throughout the day. A second alternative is to schedule a calendar event for grouping small tasks such as “finance work” or “client follow-up.” Then within the description or notes section of the calendar event, you can record the specific tasks that you need to complete as they come up.

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Francis Wade asks, “What is your best advice for managing all your tasks in your calendar?”

I find blocking time to be very useful in several situations: when I’m overwhelmed when I’m facing a lot of empty and unscheduled time with several tasks on deck, or when I feel that I am just not dedicating myself to a task enough.

However, more generally, I work from a well-curated small list of tasks. So-called “hard landscape” items, such as meetings, line my calendar. Projects and batches of small tasks find their way in between as the day progresses, by some finely tuned balance of task review, habit, and even whim.

So, with Francis’ permission, I’ve changed the question to:

“What is your best advice for managing tasks in your calendar?”

When managing tasks on your calendar: Consciously buffer time to close your sessions of work.

Blocking time is a useful method to help set aside other work. When we have a sense that other work can wait, we have a better chance of focusing on our present work.

However, there are other ways to lose focus within the session, too. If we realize that we are making a mess, we may start to worry if we’ll start the next project in time. Or, if we’ve made a mess in a previous session of work, that session’s files become clutter and can distract our present work.

Therefore, the better we set work aside at the end of a session, the better it will stay off our mind during other work.

However, doing so takes time.

Setting work aside consists of:

  • Having a sense as to when we will return, perhaps scheduling it
  • Storing the work and readying it for next time, perhaps with a clearly written and well placed next action
  • Clearing the work out of the way of other project paths and stations, perhaps creating it a home

Because all of these benefit from time in thought, it is often useful to set an alert as to when you would like to consider ending your current session of work*. Doing so allows you time to close the session.

Notice, setting an alert to close a session is quite different from the usual practice of setting an alert as to when to start something. When you set an alert to start work, often, if not always, you are in the midst of something else. That leads to either dropping what you’re doing while leaving a mess or starting the next work off schedule, either of which can be problematic.

Instead, as you begin your session of work or when you realize you are creating a mess:

  • Consider when you might begin closing the current session of work?
  • Consider setting an alert to accommodate time to do so, giving yourself plenty of time before starting the next session.

Often, you’ll find better focus, better quality, and even an enjoyable engagement.

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To make time blocking a regular habit:

1) conduct a weekly planning session where you plan and block out activities for the upcoming week and

2) keep your calendar open each day, refer to it often and re-plan appointments on the fly as you go throughout your day and based on how long tasks actually take so that you have a record of how you spent your time.

Visit my website at

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“What is your best advice for managing all your tasks in your calendar?”

Total task blocking is irresponsible.

Hold on, I am saying this because it is unrealistic. All tasks are not created equal and should not be treated as such. Really, you know better.

1. Only schedule the tasks that you are actually going to do.

You create more wasted energy in re-planning and the disappointment of not achieving something. Evaluate the time it takes to do the task and then schedule what is most important. You can have an overflow list to look at when you have extra time.

Notice, have you have moved the task more than 2 times? If so, evaluate if you really need this task to be on the priority list or if it should go to the overflow list.

2. Evaluate excuses

Evaluate the excuses you use when you move it or delete it. Why are you moving it? Did you just delete it? It obviously wasn’t a priority if you deleted it. Stop scheduling tasks that just get deleted.

It isn’t about getting things done but getting the right things done. That isn’t new. But the dopamine that is released when we get stuff done has us focused on unimportant stuff because the important stuff may be harder, or outside of our comfort zone so we opt for what is easy.

3. Focus on the Result

Listing out each and every task in my experience doesn’t get me the result faster or more effectively. I focus on the result and chunk my tasks.

To me, listing it all out is an unnecessary planning effort. You are looking to achieve the result so start putting more focus on the result than the task.

By doing that you may find a better way of doing things and being open to the fact that the tasks might change.

4. Build in flexibility

Build in flexibility and become more strategic in your thinking versus tactical.

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Take inventory of all the recurring daily tasks and set them up as a recurring activity.

For example, if every day, you need a sum total of 1.5 hours to handle the day’s emails, then enter a 1.5 hour block on your calendar and make it a daily recurring activity, let’s say from 9:00 to 10:30.

Now we all know emails don’t come in like that; they come in throughout the day at random. But by reserving the time as a continuous block, it allows you to realistically understand exactly how much time you really have left for other tasks. So, do this for all your known recurring tasks: email, meetings, anything you know you have to deal with every single day. Reserve that time now. This will show you just how much time you really have for those other activities.

Drag your ToDo list.

If an item on that list needs to be done today, drag it onto your calendar and make it a real appointment. Make it tangible. Make it account for its own duration.

Manage Expectations.

Give yourself time to communicate with the people who are expecting responses from you. Let them know the status of the task, even if it is going to be taken care of later than they had hoped. Managing expectations reduces your stress level, which helps increase productivity.

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Working with your strengths rather than against them is a critical, yet underutilized principle of Total Task Scheduling.

You account for your strengths when you manage your energy, focus, and environment in ways that maximize your productivity. Optimize your efficiency and increase the number of tasks completed.

Your energy level naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day. When you have the most momentum is the time to schedule tasks that require the most brain power. Similarly, planning more routine obligations, or those of less value, during low energy hours allows you to maximize your efforts without draining your energy.

Focus management relates to energy level. Your ability to focus will vary according to your interest in the activity, its level of difficulty, and the number of distractions while working.

Unfortunately, interest-level and duties are sometimes at odds with one another, especially in our professional lives. If we only did tasks we enjoyed, many jobs would never even be started! As such, it’s advisable to schedule less appealing assignments during a stretch of higher stamina because that’s when we have the best focus. Note, I didn’t say during your “highest” energy. We experience a continuum from very low to very high momentum. As such, some tasks require our peak energy and others need sufficient stamina-neither the highest or the lowest.

Another aspect of focus is the complexity level of the assignment. The higher degree of difficulty, the more important it is to reserve a high energy time-slot  Alas, we are prone to procrastinate challenging tasks which usually means we’re tackling something hard when we are tired. It’s important to reverse that trend!

When using your calendar for Total Task Scheduling, design your day around your energy capacity and focus level to increase your overall effectiveness.

How does your “environment” correlate to organizing tasks? When your workspace is arranged in ways that appeal to you, it is easier to main your energy and focus. Here are some environmental features that you may want to consider: noise level, accessibility of materials, comfortable as well as ergonomic furniture, amount of light, and water bottle for hydration.

If Total Task Scheduling is your goal, it is crucial to take advantage of your strengths. Take a moment and answer these three questions:

  • How can you change your current scheduling tendencies to benefit from your peak energy times?
  • What small modification will increase your focus?
  • What one alteration will create a more conducive work environment for you?

Choose one area and experiment with small adjustments until you find what works best for you!

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What Can You Achieve in 30, 60, & 90 Minutes?

When I ask my clients where they found the biggest benefit in my How to Use a Calendar program, they often reply: “Scheduling for 30, 60, or 90 minutes.”

It’s tempting to block off a massive chunk of time for a big project. Whether that massive chunk of time is an afternoon, a day, or a series of days – doing so subtly encourages procrastination in two ways;

  • It doesn’t specifically define the desired outcome
  • The extended duration of time allows you to constantly say, “I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.”

Overcoming both of these requires peeling apart the project into smaller, more discreet, incremental tasks. Then estimating the time to accomplish each of those specific tasks. Finally, scheduling those tasks with their corresponding estimated duration on your calendar.
This has three subtle benefits:

  1. Timeboxing each task mildly increases the sense of urgency to complete it, for this is the only time available for this part of the process (er, project).
  2. Increasing the number of completed tasks makes it easy to see progress and build momentum toward a larger goal.
  3. Discrete task level scheduling makes it easier to confidently communicate expectations of progress to yourself and your collaborators (at whatever granularity is appropriate).

I encourage my clients to use the following estimation framework I talk about The Power of When:
• 30 minutes for a small, known* task.
• 60 minutes for a small, unknown task.
• 60 minutes for a large, known* task.
• 90 minutes for a large, unknown task.
• Tasks taking longer than 90 minutes should be broken up into more smaller, more specific tasks.
*known = something you’ve done before and can confidently complete within minutes

Why 30, 60, and 90 minutes?
  1. Nothing takes less than 30 minutesOnce you factor time for preparing to do the work (including switching mental contexts), reviewing the work to ensure it has, in fact, created the desired outcome, and properly closing out the work – nothing takes less than 30 minutes. Not even replying to that important email or phone call. This is before factoring in any disruption or interruption.
  2. If you can’t achieve the outcome in 60 minutes you need to step awaySixty minutes is a long time to be intensely working. In endurance running it’s here at 60 minutes where you need to start considering additional food & water to counteract the physical and mental fatigue. The same goes for intense creative work. Fifty minutes into a task, you know if you’ll reach the intended outcome within the next ten minutes or not. Either way, stop after those ten minutes, step away from the work environment, and get something to eat and drink, take a walk around the block. I’d be willing to bet when you return you’ll have a new perspective – if not a breakthrough.
  3. After 90 minutes you’re fried. Maybe you figured, this tasks is just a little bit bigger, a little bit unknown, but totally do-able with a little push past the 60-minute mark. Ninety minutes would get you to a more substantial milestone and more resilient stopping point. Fantastic. Go for it. Know that at the end of it, you’ll be completely fried, totally mentally drained. The break we talked about at the 60-minute mark? Yeah, it’ll need to be longer and even more re-energizing than before. Especially if you’re expecting to do it again when you return. The best place for intense 90-minute tasks is the very first thing in the morning and the very first thing after lunch.

Now, what if you reach the outcome before the estimated time is up?

  1. Review it thoroughly to confirm it is in fact completed. You might be surprised to find one or two more small, quick, easy things that could make it that much better.
  2. Pat yourself on the back for beating your estimation and take a break.
    If you’re interested, I wrote this post in two 60 minute sessions with an hour lunch in between.

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Use Temporal Containers to Carve Out Time for “Flowing”

Most people describe Total Task Scheduling as a method for placing all their tasks in their calendar. But there’s another opportunity that can transform your performance: you can use it to consciously program periods of super-high productivity.

“The Flow State”. “Deliberate Learning”. “Deep Work”. These are all examples of periods of intense focus described by authors and researchers. They are times we produce our best work, using our most developed skills to accomplish a short, challenging objective.

The big problem is that the modern workplace is not set up to facilitate these sprint-like sessions. Instead, you are expected to sacrifice them on the fly for meetings, email, slack messages, watercooler talk, and other even lesser reasons. Plus, if you have the misfortune of being seated in an open floor plan, you must also be prepared to overcome visual and audible distractions.

While open plans represent a huge cost saving for the person who writes the checks for furniture and rental space, there is a huge, invisible price to pay. Now, you must scrounge around to find quiet spots in the basement, or stay at home, or spend afternoons at Starbucks; all in order to “actually get some work done.”

If you are serious about “Flowing,” you simply cannot leave these sessions to chance. But even more important than finding quiet places is the need to schedule them far in advance. In fact, they need to become a regular feature of your calendar because time is the only element that’s required: the others are optional.

The most productive people set aside containers of time, using as many recurring appointments as possible. They may not know exactly what each session will be used for, but it doesn’t matter. The mere fact that it exists means they have a unique resource banked for later consumption.

Now it’s easier to stay on track. Before the session starts, the time is protected against arbitrary meetings. While it’s running, barriers are erected against interruptions. They can be used to gain the kind of momentum  Arno Rafael Minkkinen talks about, where one discovery leads to others.

My breakdown of the core behaviors of Flowing shows them to be exquisite and rely on a number of other skills, such as the ones we teach at ScheduleU. If you’d like to gain some valuable insight into your Flowing skills, here’s a free assessment. It’s part of an introduction to the MyTimeDesign Plus+ program where we take a deep dive into Flowing.


As you can see from these ten expert contributions, there is no single, one-size-fits-all solution.

Novices mistakenly believe that scheduling everything means blindly throwing every task into your calendar. As some of the experts point out, that’s a recipe for disaster, even if you use a powerful auto-scheduler. The truth is, “Scheduling Everything” means using your calendar in nuanced ways, assisted by technology to achieve peace of mind.

I encourage you to find the approach that fits your circumstances as a first step. Then, make a plan for the development of your future skills which uses the best technology. Learn how to take these steps by signing up for my complimentary program – A Course in Scheduling.