How to Schedule Your Day for Optimal Productivity

One of the most common scheduling mistakes people make is not correctly estimating how long a task or project will take. “If you over-or-underestimate on how long this will actually take, you’re more likely to throw your entire schedule off. Even worse, you may miss a deadline or waste valuable time for you and key stakeholders like employees and customers.”

Rescue Time

The Complete Guide to Planning Your Day

We set goals on the order of seasons and years, but it’s what we do each day — the habits we adopt, the tasks we complete, and the things we prioritize — that compound over time into success or failure. A few aimless days each month can help us reset and find balance. But when our days without intention exceed our days with purpose, we end up missing our goals and wondering where all the time went.

The best defense against hectic yet unproductive days is a good offense in the form of a daily planning ritual. This article will walk you through how to plan your days for calmer, more focused productivity that brings you closer to your goals. While planning your day should only take 10-15 minutes, the underlying strategies to meaningfully craft a day with intention are worth exploring in full.

Types of Scheduling Techniques

1) Create a Productive Morning Routine

According to Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning , “How you wake up each day and your morning routine (or lack thereof) dramatically affects your levels of success in every single area of your life. Focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days.”

Elrond turned his life around by waking at 5 in the morning to spend time in silence, meditating, reading, and exercising. This set the tone for his days and he was able to pull himself out from under crushing debt and achieve new levels of success.

2) Avoid Task Switching

In fact, the true cost of multi-tasking can be up to 40% of your productivity. Each time you move between tasks, it takes your brain time to switch. Additionally, people are more prone to mistakes when task switching. And the more complex the task, the bigger the losses.

3) Batch Tasks & Block Scheduling

We’ve seen how task switching can impact productivity. However, we all have more than one thing to do in a day. So you can minimize the effect of the task switching by batching tasks and using block scheduling.

You can define “like tasks” in many ways. But the key is that the tasks should have a unifying feature that makes them more efficient when done together. Think about running errands. It makes more sense to go everywhere in a certain geographic location.

Similarly, you can batch tasks in terms of the mindset required to do them. For example, administrative tasks take one kind of mindset, but creative tasks like writing a blog post or debugging code require something entirely different. But grouping tasks by mindset, you can reduce the impact of totally switching gears.

Elon Musk famously uses task batching to make sure he gets everything done for his business and still spend time with his family. Task batching is the process of scheduling like tasks together so you can do them more efficiently.

4) Expect the Unexpected

You can’t predict the future, but you can be pretty sure that something unexpected will happen at some point. You don’t know what it is or when it’s coming, but it’s out there. And a productive schedule will take that into account.

It doesn’t have to be an urgent project, either. It could be a sick kid keeping a team member home. It could be a weather emergency keeping everyone home. It could be unexpected server downtime slowing everyone’s pace. The little things can kill productivity just as effectively as the big things. And frankly, they are more common.

Just like it’s smart money management to have an emergency savings fund, you should also have an emergency time fund. Of course, you can’t stockpile time, but you can build a time cushion into your schedule. That way when the unexpected comes up, you’re ready.

5) Leverage Technology

Tools like Google calendar help you schedule recurring tasks, color code tasks, set reminders, and even share calendars among teams. All of these increase the efficiency of your schedule. Plus they keep you from forgetting that client meeting.

However, you can also do so much more. Use an iPhone app to access your calendar on the go. Eliminate the back and forth phone calls and emails to schedule meetings by allowing others to schedule meetings right in your calendar.

6) Paper Planners, Bullet Journals, & To-Do Lists

In fact, planner industry leader Erin Condren’s Lifeplanner received the Good Housekeeping seal of approval as a productivity tool. And notebook systems like Ryder XXX Bullet Journal are also trending as productivity tools.

Of course, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned to-do list for keeping individuals on track. Writing things down saves you the trouble of remembering them. And the reward of crossing things off your list can be highly motivational.

7) Eat the Frog

The more difficult tasks are often the most prone to procrastination. After all, most of us really don’t want to eat a frog. So doing them first thing in the morning keeps you from pushing them off all day. Plus once they’re done, you have the free time to do more fun tasks.

8) Evaluate and Pivot

Once you’ve gathered your data, you can make informed decisions about where to go from here. Missed deadlines may indicate poor time budgeting, a problem that is easily solved in the next month, sprint, or quarter. Extraneous meetings can be eliminated. More padding can be added to accommodate unforeseen issues.

Use “time blocking” to switch from being reactive to in control of your time

This isn’t the same as the daily schedule of The Overscheduler who fills their days with other people’s priorities. Instead, this is a template of when you’re most suited to do certain types of work.

“There are scheduled times during which I can be fully immersed in email and for the rest of the day I’m forcing myself to ignore it. Most of all, there are scheduled blocks of time where my wifi will be off.”

“So many people have big goals for the future. I think it’s better to know what your perfect day looks like. Then you can ask yourself with each opportunity and choice: Is this getting me closer or further away?”

Set your availability to the minimum you can (10-15 minutes)

With your meaningful morning and daily schedule template set and matched to your productivity curve, the next question is: How do you fit in the inevitable tasks, appointments, meetings, and responsibilities that creep up and throw your daily schedule out of whack?

“Many people don’t check in to figure out how much time should be realistically allotted to something. They just default to 30 minutes for a small conversation and 60 minutes for a larger conversation. This contributes to calendars looking like Swiss cheese.”

Instead, Simo sets the minimum time for meetings at 10-15 minutes (Elon Musk famously breaks his entire day into 5-minute chunks). This way, it’s up to the person booking the meeting to request more time if they feel they need it.

Simo also recommends setting buffers around your meeting times, as well as setting aside intentional open slots into your day for last-minute surprises. This way, you’re not being naive about the distractions you’re bound to face.

What Is a Daily Schedule and Why It’s Important

A daily schedule puts you in control of your day. It gives you the structure and discipline you need to make the most out of the hours of a given day. When you have a plan to stick to, you get more daily work done and ultimately inch closer to your goals.

1. Prioritize Your Values

Practically, that means before you can create a daily schedule that helps you accomplish your goals and live the life you want to live, you have to define what you value. An understanding of these things will help you pinpoint priorities that make sense for a work life balance and, ultimately, organize your day accordingly.

As a first step, carve out some time to think about what’s important to you. Make a list, in order. Then, find ways to incorporate those things in your daily and weekly routines in time blocks that honor how important each value is.

For example, if your biggest goal is health and fitness, then you should prioritize working out and healthy eating before other, less important hobbies. If your top priority is family or friends, then you’ll want to make sure you carve out time each day to connect with people you love before you jump into your daily work.

Defining your personal priorities prevents the things you value from slipping off your to-do list and into the margins. It also allows you to delegate and outsource the tasks that aren’t in accordance with your values. [3]

2. Include a Morning Routine

It’s not uncommon for productivity gurus to boast of their 4 AM wake-up calls and elaborate pre-sunset routines. But there’s no perfect time to rise and grind—your morning alarm will depend on your own, individual rhythm. No matter when you start your day, though, there’s something to be said about including a morning ritual in your daily schedule.

Why is morning so important? The first thing you do after getting up ultimately sets the tone for the rest of your day. If you roll out of bed, half-awake, and jump right into your email, you’ll likely struggle to focus and engage, and you’ll run out of steam before too long.

It’s up to you what you do in the morning. The goal is to kick off your day by doing the same thing. Ideally, that’s something that both aligns with your personal values and prepares you for the tasks ahead.

3. Designate a “Most Important Task”

Your day will inevitably include essential tasks that don’t propel you toward your goals—taking phone calls, hopping into meetings, answering emails. To make sure these things don’t derail you, always define what you absolutely need to accomplish every day and incorporate them into your daily schedule.

Every week, when you plan your schedule, consider your goals. What needs to get done to keep you on track? Then, choose an MIT (most important task) for each day. [4] When you know what you need to accomplish to stay on track, you’ll waste less time on non-essential work.

There’s plenty of research showing that our ability to function cognitively shifts depending on the time of day. [5] For most people, including me, peak productivity time occurs between 9 and 11 AM, which is why I always reserve that block of time for MITs rather than less-demanding busy work like answering emails.

4. Schedule Time for Things That Normally Distract You

If you’re anything like me, you end up in your inbox or on Twitter several times throughout the day (and end up staying there for far too long). There’s nothing wrong with taking breaks to check social media, and we all need to respond to emails to do our work. But these things can also be a significant distraction from the most important tasks.

Instead of allowing yourself to mindlessly scroll, take a proactive approach by building blocks of time to engage with potential distractions. For example, your daily schedule could include time frames where you can “process” your email or social media accounts two or three times a day. The important thing is to treat these items like any other task—just another line item on your daily schedule—rather than allowing them to infiltrate your day.

5. Include Breaks

Every day, I schedule an hour-long lunch break and several 10 to 15-minute breaks to meditate or go for a walk. It might seem useless to plan out time in your day when you’re not working, but remember that nobody has endless capacity to work at full steam, constantly. And if you try, you won’t be as productive as you want to be.

There’s scientific evidence that the occasional pause can actually enhance productivity. [7] For one thing, pausing from time to time can boost your ability to think creatively and strategically. Sometimes, the brain needs a change of scenery (and a break from constantly thinking) to come up with fresh ideas.

Scheduling breaks throughout your day also provides something to look forward to—an end in sight. When you know you’ll have a chance to rest at the end of a work block, you’ll be much more likely to muster more energy—and focus—for the tasks at hand.

Best Scheduling Apps for You

1. Google Calendar

is a great organizational tool – and it’s user-friendly. Don’t underestimate this free app: it has a surprisingly wide range of features. Add new events, set reminders, track time, and link up with colleagues. Plus it integrates seamlessly with other Google services.

How To Create A Daily Schedule To Organize Your Day

2. Calendar

If you’re looking for something with more features, Calendar is another great bet. Just like Google Calendar, the app lets you create and edit meetings on an hourly schedule, and view what’s on your plate. But it also offers a useful analytic tool: Calendar Analytics. This shows you how you’ve been spending time, so you can assess and optimize your time management to be more efficient.