What is the most common way to create a time schedule? You make a list of all your tasks that need to be done, you estimate how long it will take to do each of them, you eventually set priorities between your tasks and then you try to put them all into a time schedule, indicating which task you will do when. Sounds like a very logical and smart way of organising your tasks, no?
Does this method work? Sure, it works in the short term. It works to schedule the things you want to do this morning, this afternoon or even during the whole day. Does it also work in the medium and long term? Nope, it doesn’t!
The first hours after you’ve scheduled your whole tasks list you’re very motivated and you start working on the first tasks of your schedule. After some time, a few hours or a few days later, you start feeling a bit annoyed that you’re not able to completely follow your schedule, to see that after a week or two weeks, your schedule is completely messed up and outdated.
Or, you need to update your schedule at least every (other) day, or after some time, you will need to start over the whole process again in order to get your schedule up-to-date again.
Why doesn’t this work?
Actually, creating a time schedule based on an exhaustive tasks list looks like a very logical way of doing, no? And didn’t we always learn that making lists is best practice to get things done. Well, that might be true for your shopping list and for your list of things you shouldn’t forget like a checklist but not for an exhaustive tasks list put in a time schedule. And here is why:
- A big tasks list creates a big overhead cost in time and energy.
The first step, creating a list of all your tasks, is your first step to bureaucracy. The longer your list of tasks, the more time you will need to administer that list and to keep track of where you are for what task. This creates a huge overhead cost in time and energy.
- A big tasks list is overwhelming and creates analysis paralysis
Guess what an exhaustive tasks list of a multi-potentialite looks like? It looks endless. It goes on from here to infinity. How would you schedule all that? And how long will it take to schedule all your tasks? Does it surprise you that you get slightly overwhelmed? And finally you do nothing at all.
- It will still be difficult to set priorities
Even if you prioritise, you can still end up with 10 or 15 things that have a high priority level. It will still be difficult to decide with which task to start.
- Your estimates will mess up your time schedule anyhow
Estimates of how long a task will take are what they are: estimates, meaning they are never correct. In general they are much too optimistic and this is one of the main reasons why you get in trouble with your time schedule.
- You would also need to plan the unknown.
Life happens and sh*t happens. There will always be things that happen in between and that you need to do instead of what you have planned to do. This is another big reason why a time schedule is not flexible enough and gets messed up. You would need to plan the unknown.
- Your time schedule doesn’t take into account your energy level, your motivation and if you feel like doing the task at the planned time yes or no.
You might be just too tired to execute a task. You’re not feeling very enthusiastic or motivated, so the task will take much longer. A certain task might be something you hate doing, you might just not feel like spending time on that task or it might be difficult to concentrate on it; and thus again it will take longer than planned. And again, your time schedule is in trouble.
- You might be a victim of scope creep
While working on a certain task, you start seeing things you need to do before you even can do the planned task. You start to see new possibilities, tasks you’ve forgotten to schedule, things you would like to do also, things you could improve etc. This is called ‘scope creep’. A task or project starts out small but a lot is added to it underway. Although there can be good reasons to add these new tasks, it also messes up completely your time schedule.
If for all the reasons mentioned above, scheduling your tasks list is not a good idea, then what is working?
What’s the alternative?
Making an exhaustive tasks list and putting this into a time schedule is a bottom-up approach. It’s my experience that with this approach you risk spending more time on administering and updating your time schedule than on working on your actual tasks.
So, what is the alternative then? What if you would do things differently? I mean how to work top-down instead of bottom-up.
You can start with listing all your different passions and projects you have. Then set a priority between your passions and projects. It’s enough that you write down the big lines. Doing like this, you keep having an overview.
In general you know exactly what you need to do for which passion or project. You don’t need to write down every single task. The only lists you need are for things you might forget.
Then, if you really want to have a time schedule, set time blocks in your calendar or agenda, in which you assign time to the different passions and projects, without exactly saying on which task of that project you will work. E.g. Monday from 9.00 till 11.00 I will work on the ‘Rockwell project’.
This way you will have a much more flexible schedule and a lot less time wasted on updating your outdated schedule.