We show up at work planning to be productive, but too often, our plans are thwarted by pointless meetings. Before we know it, the workday is half over, and we don’t have much to show for it.
For many workers, productivity growth has stalled. Despite technological advances that should be increasing the economic outputs of hours worked, The New York Times reports that Americans’ recent output of work is growing slower than it has since the early 1980s.
As frustrating as the situation seems, there are steps you can implement to take control of your own schedule:
Know your tendencies.
Like with most things, knowing yourself is the first step in optimizing your schedule. Your tendencies are a great place to start.
Habit expert Gretchen Rubin has a four tendencies quiz to help you understand how you respond to expectations. You can use this knowledge to figure out what aspects of your schedule to prioritize.
Obligers need external expectations in order to follow through with a goal. If this sounds like you, consider prioritizing the tasks that have accountability measures in place.
If you like to question everything and prefer facts to opinions, you are a questioner. You’d have to understand the reasoning behind certain tasks before you add them to your schedule.
If you naturally go against rules, you’re known as a rebel. As a rebel, it’s essential to align your productivity goals with your identity. In this case, prioritize the tasks that match your personality, and you will be more productive.
Finally, if you’re an upholder, you meet outer and inner expectations and love to have goals spelled out. You would probably benefit from creating a schedule that emphasizes your most detailed tasks.
Work when it works best for you.
Many self-help books preach the importance of working on important tasks early in the day. But if you hate mornings, why force yourself to be productive at that time?
Different people have different circadian rhythms, which influence their energy levels throughout the day. Some people are naturally larks, which means they focus best in the morning. Others are naturally owls, and they focus best in the evening.
We can’t all be morning people. Align your schedule with times that match your specific needs. This way, you won’t be playing catch-up on all your tasks.
Having a nighttime routine.
According to the CDC, a third of adults in the United States do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. This can lead to all kinds of complications, including diabetes, obesity, and stroke.
Not getting enough sleep also affects your ability to concentrate. Because sleep has so much bearing on your productivity, the process you go through to get a good night’s rest might as well be part of your work schedule.
Create a nighttime routine that includes setting a consistent bedtime, meditating before bed, and avoiding large meals as well as screen time before sleeping. Getting enough sleep makes you more alert when you need to be.
Have an emergency time fund.
In the same way that you might have an emergency fund for rainy days, do the same with your schedule. Having an emergency time fund means working ahead even when it isn’t necessary. If you know that you need to get a proposal done by the end of the week, for example, tackling it on Tuesday might let you take a long lunch with a friend.
Having a time emergency fund ensures that you are prepared when the unexpected happens, such as when a meeting comes out of nowhere, when a family member gets sick, or when you have to take off from work for a minor fever. Working ahead keeps your schedule on track.
Keep it simple.
Trying to fix all your scheduling problems at once can be overwhelming and unrealistic. If you want to make your schedule productive, start small. That way, you can keep it up.
How much change you can handle at once is up to you. For some people, they might only want to focus on three goals a day, while others can consistently handle six.
The most essential part of working new goals into your schedule is that you stick with it. If you can be consistent with even the smallest of habits, then it will add up over time and become something significant.
Making the most of your working hours is difficult because there are so many tasks to accomplish, and distractions are sure to happen. But taking these steps will put you in the position to execute even in the busiest times.