Managing Schedules

Content Updated October 3, 2007

Having a schedule is one of the most important parts of time management. Without a schedule, everything ends up in a chaotic mess of random activity. You already use a schedule mentally, figuring how long it will take you to get ready before you go out, when you’ll eat, when you’ll sleep, and so forth. If your life is moving along smoothly with a mental schedule, great! If you find yourself always running behind, forgetting things, getting backed-up or side-tracked, losing track of time, and so forth, you need to sit down and make a schedule.

Use a monthly calendar, a daily (or weekly) schedule, and a “to do” list.

You just can’t organize your time unless you know what you’re doing with your time. I highly recommend having a Household Organizer Notebook and visiting the Calendars and Schedules page to learn how to set up an efficient calendar in your notebook. I also recommend scheduling things on your “to do” list whenever possible because you will be more likely to get it done, but don’t feel like you have to schedule absolutely everything in your life (leave room for spontaneity). If each member of your household has their own personal planner, make sure that everyone updates the household calendar at the end of each day.

Prioritize your “to do” list.

Give each item on your list a priority level. You can just mark each item with a symbol or code, such as H or ! = high priority, or use a highlighter for high priority, underline medium priority, and don’t use any markings for low priority items.

  • High Priority: Must absolutely get done. Schedule it into your day and commit yourself to doing it. (Break big projects into small steps and schedule those steps into your day.)
  • Medium Priority: Must be completed but can wait until High Priority items are completed, during spare time, or as scheduled into your day.
  • Low Priority: To be completed if time is available and you feel like doing it.

Don’t be too specific.

One of the big mistakes when scheduling is to schedule EVERYTHING. A more efficient method is to assign various tasks on your to-do list or daily routines (like getting showered and dressed every day) to blocks of time, such as “between 7:00am and 9:00am I’m going to do all of these specific items on my to-do list” rather than assigning a specific time to each task. If you said, “at 7:00am I’m going to take a shower, and at 7:15 I’m going to brush my teeth, and at 7:18 I’m going to get dressed…” you’ll end up with a lot of stress if you get behind on your schedule, and you’re trying to make your day less stressful, not more stressful. (Of course an appointment at 3:15pm should be scheduled at 3:15pm, so you don’t end up showing up late, but everything else.)

Always plan extra time for unexpected events (e.g. traffic, uncooperative kids, missing car keys, …)

When you’re late to an appointment, you may be skipped and will have to wait longer than expected to be seen by the person you made the appointment with (or worse, will have to reschedule completely). If you plan to do a project, but forget to plan out how long it will take to set up and put away the project, you won’t have much time to actually get your project completed. Your best bet to avoid such scenarios is to always schedule extra time for everything. I always give myself an extra 15 minutes. When going to a new place or starting a project I’ve never done before, I give myself an extra 30 minutes.

On my daily schedule I only use 30 minute intervals (rather than 15 minute intervals or entering in specific times like 3:05). If my appointment is at 3:15, I just put it in for 3:00, so I’m assured that I’ll get there early or on time.

Make appointments for your personal time, hobbies, playing with your kids, and so forth just as you would for work or school assignments or doctor appointments.

Often when we start scheduling things, we fill our time with chores and work and forget to make time for play and relaxation, making our lives unbalanced. Make sure you leave room for your family and personal interests and needs. It doesn’t have to be anything strict or formal (no need to schedule exactly 15 minutes of play time with Billy between 5:00pm and 5:15pm on Tuesday, and definitely don’t get specific about what you will do during that time). Just mark off a block of time (for example, after 7:00pm every night), and reserve it for family or personal time, making sure you don’t schedule any appointments for anything “serious” during your personal or family time period.

Have a family meeting after dinner every night to coordinate your schedules.

Have your spouse and the kids and whomever else you have living with you sit down with their schedules and discuss who is doing what when and any conflicts that arise. Keep track of all of this in your household organizer notebook, so everyone can quickly see what’s going on and update their own schedules accordingly. Computer software, such as Microsoft Outlook with the ability to synchronize schedules online, or even an online family calendar (lots of free sites with them) are great for keeping everyone updated no matter where they are, especially if you all use PDAs, but this method is only effective if you have frequent access to a computer and time to boot up, launch programs, wait for servers, and pray your family members update their schedules, so they know that you won’t be home when they get home.

Wear a watch.

I know you have a pager, cell phone, or PDA that has the time on it, but you have to get it out and turn it on to look at it, which usually isn’t something that’s habitual. I know you have clocks all over your house, but sometimes you can’t quickly look at them if their not in your field of vision, and you probably don’t have a clock outside. When you wear a watch and make a habit of checking the time, you’re more likely to be on time (and you won’t have to ask anybody what time it is). I highly recommend using a digital watch with an alarm and a timer, so you’ll always have one when you need it. Digital watches usually will also tell you the date, and some tell you the day of the week, so you won’t have to ask anyone what day it is or what the date is or get out your calendar when doing things like writing checks or signing documents. Plus, looking at your watch becomes habitual (so much that you’ll catch yourself looking at your wrist when you don’t have a watch on), which makes keeping on time easier. Also, digital watches are very inexpensive. You can get one with all the features I’ve described, plus water resistance and the ability to take a good beating, for about $5 to $10, so if it gets damaged or lost during the course of your day, you’re not out much money. Save your nice watches for business meetings and special occasions.

Use a timer or alarm clock to keep track of when to start and stop activities.

You can really lose track of time when you’re watching television, surfing or playing games on the computer, talking on the phone, and such (I’ve done it many times myself). Set a timer or alarm clock to let you know when it’s time to finish. Likewise, you can use alarm clocks and timers to remind you when to start a project that you have scheduled or to get ready for an appointment. If you don’t have a habit of looking at clocks all the time (like me), timers and alarm clocks are lifesavers.

Use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning.

It’s been said that if you have to have an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning, then you haven’t had enough sleep. I’m living proof that this statement isn’t true for everyone. If you let me, I’ll sleep for 13 hours or more. Use an alarm clock even on your days off from work or if you’re a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have kids in school because you’ll be surprised at how much more you can do to enjoy those days at home when you don’t waste the day sleeping (nobody said you actually had to do anything after you wake up; you can still hang out in front of the television with your bowl of Lucky Charms cereal and watch cartoons, and it makes getting up for those early morning appointments much easier if you’re always waking up at the same time). If you have kids, set your alarm clock to wake you up at least 15 minutes (30 minutes or an hour is better) before the kids wake up, so you have time to get yourself ready before you have to take care of them.

Don’t let your scheduling control your life.

I know this sounds like a contradiction (after I just told you to use a schedule), but you need to have flexibility. Always expecting everything to go according to schedule can really cause you to end up with a lot of stress. The goal is to become more efficient, not overwhelmed or obsessed with staying on schedule.