How to plan effectively part 1 - 8 actionable tips to get the best out of calendar, diary or other schedule and move towards planner peace

Calendars, diaries, schedules, they’ve been around for literally hundreds of years, if not thousands and on the face of it, using them is really simple.  Actually it is really simple, but like so much else in life, there’s a knack to it and even people who’ve been using schedules for years don’t always use them as effectively as they could.  With that in mind, here are 8 actionable tips to help you get the best out of your choice of scheduling tools.

Stick with one schedule

By one schedule I mean one digital schedule and one paper backup thereof (or vice versa).  There is only one you and you can only be in one place at one time so you only need one schedule.  If you try to use more than one schedule, you’ll probably wind up making your life a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be.  If you’re a paper person and you want to have a monthly view, a weekly view and a daily view of what you have coming up, that’s fine, just stick to one of each and have a clear process in place for managing them.  For example, you could use your monthly schedule as your main collection point and transfer information to your weekly and daily views at the start of the relevant time periods, or you could add each event to all three at the same time.  Personally, one of the reasons I prefer to work mainly on digital is because I can change the view to suit what I want to do at any given time.  My paper planner is basically a back-up to my digital one and I put information into it as and when it is needed.

Block out the time you need for yourself first

Self care is a must not a luxury.  You need to ensure that you are getting enough time to take care of yourself, from basics such as eating and sleeping to having sufficient relaxation time while you’re awake.  If you find that this is all happening just fine, then you may not feel the need to schedule specific time for it, but if you find you’re regularly missing out on sleep or rushing meals (or not eating) or just not having any free time to do what you want to do, then start blocking out that time in your schedule and working with what’s left rather than the other way round.

Make sure to schedule some “clear time” each day.

If you schedule every minute of every day, you have the potential to land yourself in a whole world of pain if you underestimate how long it will take you to do something.  Schedule some “clear time” to allow for this.

List only time-specific action items in your schedule

The whole point of a schedule is to make it clear when your time has already been claimed or when you’d like to have your time available.  In other words, it makes sense to list action items you need to do at a specific time and it is often a good idea to list action items you want to do at a specific time (you can use colour coding to show which is which), but keep a separate list for action items such as tasks, which can be done at any point up to a specific time.  I personally am fine with marking really important dates on a schedule (e.g. birthdays), but I’d recommend you have a separate list for date-specific “reminders” such as when people you know are on holiday, to keep your regular schedule clear.

Pro tip - I’m a big believer in listing all time-specific action items in my schedule, even if they’re not confirmed.  I then set a reminder for a later date so I am prompted to confirm the action item or delete it.  If you’re a paper person, you could literally pencil in “possibles” and make a note to confirm or decline the specific item closer to the time.

List your action items in your schedule as quickly as you possibly can, preferably immediately

Your schedule is the place for your time-specific action items, so put all your time-specific action items in there and forget about trying to keep them in other places, like in your emails.  This can also go a long way to cutting down on email overload, since it removes the temptation to store emails for future reference.

Put everything you need to complete the action item in the schedule entry

Names, addresses, telephone numbers, emails, relevant documents or links thereto, anything you need to remember to take with you, put it all in the schedule entry so that as soon as you open that entry, whenever it is in the future, you know everything you need to know about it.  If you’re using a paper schedule and don’t have the space to do this, put the details all together, store them somewhere safe, and put a note in the entry to remind yourself where you stored them.  Similarly if you have important information on paper, I strongly recommend you scan it and keep a digital copy of it, even if you’re a paper person.  If you don’t have a scanner, a mobile phone camera will often do the job.

Pro tip - remember to account for travel if appropriate.  In addition to blocking out the time for it, think about whether you need to create tasks relating to it, such as booking travel tickets.

Use an end date for recurring action items

Some recurring action items have a natural end date, for example, if you’re studying and you meet with your tutor once a week, then that action items will only last for as long as your course.  Some recurring action items could, however, go on forever, in theory at least.  I suggest you put in recurring action items for a maximum of 6 months and then double check if the action item is still valid.

Pro tip, if you want to stop a recurring action item, but still keep a note of the past instances of it, just change the end date rather than deleting it.

Be sensible with colour coding

According to psychology, the average person can easily remember 5 to 9 items of information at a time.  I therefore recommend sticking to a maximum of 5 colours when/if coding your schedule (or indeed anything else).  Once you start going over that, it can often turn out to be more confusing than helpful.

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