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Planning and Diary Management

This blog is one in a series designed to help you get better at time management and be more productive.

This one considers how you can make the best use of the time you have based on some ideas that have worked for both me and my coaching clients:

  • Be realistic about time

  • Plan based on energy whenever you can

  • Plan what you can

  • Defend your diary!

Be realistic about time

If you want to feel more in control of your day, it's a good idea to

Assume you don't have 100% of your time.

Start by assuming that you only have 80% of your time available for working on the things you have to do. Keep the 20% for the unexpected/unplanned stuff.

Avoid optimism bias

We tend to think we can do more in the time we have than we actually can, so to avoid this optimism bias

  • Build in a reality check when you're setting aside time for specific tasks,

  • Learn from experience. For things you do on a regular basis, track how long they take and use what you learn to plan more realistically the next time

  • If in doubt and while you're learning how long things take, consider adding say 10% contingency time to your plan and round up (rather than down) to the nearest quarter hour.

Plan based on energy whenever you can

Our levels of energy change throughout the day...

Start to pay attention to when your periods of High, Medium and Low energy are during the day and then use it as the basis for planning...when you have a choice, which you won't always.

For example, I'm your archetypal 'morning person' and have

  • High energy in the morning where I know I can focus really well. This is the only time of the day when I can focus well enough to write blogs or plan presentations.

  • Low energy around lunchtime until about an hour before I finish work, when I know I can be easily distracted and find it harder to think through things on my own. Coaching is fun and gives me energy so the afternoon is the most sensible time for this.

  • Medium to high energy again for the last hour or so of the day, so I'm guaranteed to be OK with admin tasks later in the day.

To get the most out of your time, keep it simple and

  • do the things you need lots of energy for when you have lots of energy

  • do the things you don’t need lots of energy for when you don’t have lots of energy

  • do the things that give you energy when your energy is at its lowest

Any other combination is sub-optimal, to say the least...

Trying to do difficult things when you have low energy.
  • You’re likely to procrastinate more and give way to distraction

  • Doing the task will feel harder

  • You’re unlikely to make much progress and that won’t feel good, making the task seem harder when you have to pick it up again.

Doing easy things when you have high energy

This is a waste of good time.

Doing this might mean you get to tick off LOTS of things off your list which feels rewarding, but it’s only a short-term gain, robbing you of the chance to make progress on the more difficult things.

These are then at risk of being pushed into times when you have low energy/no focus and will still be looming in the background, preying on your mind.

Watch out for energy drains

It's also worth noting that your normal energy patterns may change depending on what else is in your diary. For example, you may notice that specific activities or some regular meetings always drain your energy and leave you with low energy at a time that is normally high for you. So plan around those too.

Plan what you can