Being Realistic about Your Schedule

Between juggling fulltime jobs, friends, and kids, most of us have way too much on our plates. We often make the mistake of trying to jam pack too many things in the day, assuming that we can do more than we actually have the time and energy for.

While it is good to be ambitious, if you pack too much into your schedule chances are things will actually backfire, and you will subsequently end up being less productive. The key to maximizing efficiency and productivity is being realistic about your schedule. How can you do that? For some guidance and advice, be sure to keep the following tips in mind.

Know How to Prioritize Tasks

The harsh reality is that like most us, you probably have more things to get done in a day than logically possible. The key to being realistic about your schedule is honing in on top-priority tasks and making sure those get done first. After scheduling time to get the most important things done, you can then move down to second and third tier priorities. 

To keep track of those priorities, it often helps to write them down into a to-do list. “I don’t go to bed without making a list for the next day. I like to have a clear understanding of what I need to accomplish and a timeline. My to-do list allows me to visualize things so that in the morning, I can slide gently into the day without that sense of chaos running in five different directions,” Stacie Krajchir-Tom, a PR maven and mom, recently told Forbes.

“I am also realistic. I do have complete understanding that it could all go left at any moment, especially with a little one at home. But at least I have a conceptual idea of what I want my day to look like.”

Make Sure You Are Comfortable Saying No

Being realistic about your schedule means knowing when to say no, and getting comfortable doing so. “Most people have way more to do than they can possibly fit into their workweek. The smartest ones are constantly reprioritizing their to-do lists. To stop more things, or the wrong things, from creeping onto your list, you have to start saying no.” Amy Gallo explains in the Harvard Business Review.

“Keep in mind that you’re saying no to the request, not the person. Make this clear by expressing your respect for your colleague or simply by being polite. Sure, your colleague may not be happy with you pushing back, but it doesn’t have to be a personal affront, especially if you have a good reason.”

The goal is to provide a short but clear reason explaining why you are not able to tackle the request. Whatever that reason might be, it is best to be honest and straightforward. Remember, sometimes you may have to say no to something that you actually want to do.

Learn How to Delegate Effectively

People often overburden themselves by assuming they have to get everything done on their own. However, the most effective people know how to delegate effectively. “Ultra-productive people accept the fact that they're not the only smart, talented person in their organization. They trust people to do their jobs so that they can focus on their own,” Travis Bradberry explains in Inc.

Part of being realistic about your schedule means taking a good hard look at what you have to do in a day and deciding which tasks can be delegated.

Minimize Simple Decisions

Did you know that Barak Obama only wears gray or blue suits, or that Mark Zuckerberg wears the same simple, uniform work attire to the office every day? The reason behind the thinking of both is simple, cutting out small decisions is a great way to save time, and free up more mental space for bigger, more important decisions.

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing,” Obama explained in the Harvard Business Review. “I have too many other decisions to make.”

Research backs up this approach. While such simplification might seem boring, it can without doubt boosts productivity. In the late 1990s, Florida state professor Roy Baumeister conducted a series of experiments demonstrating that most of the decisions that we make throughout the day, whether big or small, require drawing energy from the same mental energy source.

That essentially means that the smaller the decisions we make in a day, the less effectively and efficiently we to make larger, more important decisions. For example, an experiment that Baumeister conducted involved subjects who had to eat a pair of radishes instead of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven. He found that these subjects gave up on the problem-solving task that came after the control group, which consisted of people who were not forced to suppress their desire for cookies and choose the radishes.

According to Baumeister, this suggests that the self-regulation and self-control required to choose the cookie over the radishes had depleted their mental resources.

Similar research was conducted by Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of business at the University of Minnesota. It was discovered that by making repeated choices as we go about our daily life, such as whether or not to eat a candy bar, what to have for lunch, what to wear in the morning, or where to go for an evening run, depletes our mental energy.

The bottom line is that to boost your productivity, you should figure out what areas of your life are most important to you and what areas you consider mundane. Put the mundane areas on autopilot by minimizing decision making. Then, you will have more mental energy to make decisions efficiently and effectively in the most important arenas of your life. 

Avoid Multi-Tasking

Although people often feel that they can cram more into their schedule and get more done by multitasking, research has consistently shown that this is not the case. Researchers at Stanford University, for example, found that people who describe themselves as heavy multi-taskers and believed that it improved their performance, actually had trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information from relevant information. This made them less productive than people who just focused on a single task at a time.

The brain can only focus on one thing at one time, so when setting you are scheduling, do not try and cram two things in at once. Ultimately, you will be far more efficient when focusing on just one thing at a time.

Prioritize Yourself

Last but not least, when juggling a hectic schedule, it is important to give yourself priority. Do not cut corners by skimping on time for yourself. Always make sure to take time out to exercise regularly, eat well, vent to friends, and spend time with your family. If you are fit both mentally and physically, you will be much more productive in the long run.

In conclusion, the better you are at being realistic about your schedule and understanding what you reasonably have time to do and not do, the more efficient and productive you will be. The most productive people understand that the key to time management is not necessarily working longer or harder to cram more into their schedules, but to work smarter and make intelligent choices to ensure that everything gets done.

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