Start reducing your stress with priority scheduling

Some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of following a schedule. They also feel uncomfortable with the frustration of not being able to achieve the goals they wanted for that day, week, or month.

What is more uncomfortable to you, trying something new or feeling unsatisfied most the time?

When my clients want to find a new way to feel in control of their time, I introduce them to priority scheduling.

Most of them are not sure at the beginning: they worry they won’t be able to handle emergencies; there is concern about feeling claustrophobic or too constrained to be creative; and, understandably, they are afraid the schedule will be yet another source of stress in their lives.

After just one week of trying priority scheduling as their primary time management tool, my clients agree on two things:

  1. Their focus increases by concentrating all their energy for short periods of time, so they get more done in less time (optimization)
  2. They identify their sources of stress in the form of activities and commitments that do not provide them with value (opening the possibility of making a decision about it)

We all need focus to achieve our goals, and flexibility to enjoy what we are doing. Priority scheduling enables you to allocate energy to what is most important. It also helps you to make decisions about how to use your time in a way that produces value, joy or progress towards your life goals.

The term might sound familiar because I borrowed it from technology project management. The principle is simple: focus on what needs to be done first.

The implementation for humans is viable and exciting. Activities that enable you to achieve more and better are the ones that should be done first.

Consider giving priority scheduling a try this week. Use the weekend to set your schedule criteria and run it from Monday to Friday:

We all need focus to achieve our goals, and flexibility to enjoy what we are doing.

1. Decide what three things you will be focusing on during the week. Mix and match from different areas of your life. Think of what three achievements will change your week in the most positive way.

2. Decide how many time blocks you will assign to each priority. Alternating 90 minutes of work with 20 minutes of rest is a good way to be productive while taking care of your well-being. These 110 minutes become one block for your schedule. (Skipping breaks is like skipping meals: you think you are saving time, but you are getting tired faster and becoming less productive.)

3. Make sure you have time to care for your basic needs (sleep, eat, move, and hygiene). Bonus points if it is at the same time every day. These become fixed time slots, and you love yourself a little bit more every time you honor them.

4. Assign your time blocks for the week. Make sure your blocks are clearly labeled and visible. You might also want to build thorny forests around them and hire a fire-breathing dragon to protect them. Your toughest challenge will be using these non-negotiable time blocks to get your priorities done.

5. Schedule anything else in the available slots. If you live on planet Earth, your average day will be 24 hours long. You already blocked 8 to 10 hours to care for yourself and, depending on your priorities, anything between 5 to 7 hours a day in making progress towards your goals. That leaves you 11 to 7 available hours, maybe less if you are in the middle of a particularly demanding project.

What is valuable enough to be there? How will you choose? You still need to commute, shop for groceries, prepare or buy your meals, and clean your house. What else keeps you alive, healthy, happy, and on track? Take everything that does not fit these characteristics and go to the next step.

6. Assess what you will do with the things that are neither a priority, nor produce value for you. The reflective part of the experiment is identifying what is creating stress and not helping you to have a better life in any way. What would you like to do with it? What would happen if you stopped doing it? Would it be worth it to make it a priority and transform it into something valuable? What would it need to be/produce/mean to be important enough?

How you manage your time is a habit. You learned how to get organized in a way that was your best option at the time. Situations evolve, life changes and priorities move. Maybe your habit is not working for you anymore. Maybe it is time to design a new way to manage your time.

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