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Assault on productivity, neglect of your schedule

Almost all of us want to be able to improve our productivity. But how can we do this exactly?

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Proven techniques are certainly not lacking. For example, work when you’re most efficient, set timers, block out distractions, or set daily goals.

While all of these are useful, they also rely on a schedule. For example, to achieve your goals, you need to block out distraction-free moments to focus on tasks that bring you closer to the desired outcome. Otherwise, you will be bombarded with phone calls or engage in less difficult tasks.

But just because you have a schedule doesn’t mean you get the most out of it. It’s like buying an elliptical trainer to improve your health, only to let it gather dust. If you ignore your new exercise equipment, you still fail to maintain your health.

In short, if you want to increase your productivity, you can’t neglect your calendar. And here are the best ways to prevent that from happening.

Time estimates are not adjusted.

Last Sunday, I decided to cook dinner for my family. It wasn’t an overly complicated entre – it was stuffed peppers if you’re curious. Unfortunately, I underestimated the time it would take me to prepare and cook the meal, leaving a very hungry family.

To be fair, we’re all terrible at estimating time. And, you can thank the planning error for that.

What is the planning error?

Planning error is a psychological term that describes our tendency to underestimate how long a task will take. It was first introduced in 1977 by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They found that people tend to ignore historical data when making predictions.

In other words? We do not use historical evidence to estimate time. Instead, we focus exclusively on the task ahead.

Kahneman later expanded on the original concept in his 2011 book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. According to him, estimation errors are usually caused by two factors;

  • Disregard past times when we performed similar tasks
  • We assume that no complications will arise that will delay us

A second error involves optimism bias, which describes our tendency to believe that the future will be a better place than the past. How is this related to the planning error? People think the things they do in the future will be more effective than the things they do now.

Due to our optimism, we believe delays will be unlikely. But, unfortunately, that means that when it comes to estimating the weather, you’re going for the best-case scenario. Therefore, we tend to ignore historical data that proves the best-case scenario is, in fact, highly unlikely.

How to overcome the planning error?

In some cases, the planning error is nothing more than an inconvenience. For example, you might have a hungry family when dinner is late. But, you can prepare snacks while waiting. However, time estimation errors account for 25% of failed projects at work.

The simplest solution? To estimate time spent on different types of tasks, use a time tracking app to track your progress over time or find out when you’re most productive. The app’s built-in reports make it easy to reference data later.

Another easy solution? Give yourself more time than necessary. For example, you could set aside 2 hours for a specific task, even though you think it will only take you an hour. If it ends up taking you an hour and an hour, then you have 30 minutes to spare instead of going over the allotted time you had planned.

Sorry to keep beating the drum on this same idea – but you should periodically track your time on your recurring tasks. As you become more proficient at these tasks, you should complete them faster. For example, if you blocked out two hours for a task and it now takes you an hour and a half, that extra time could be used elsewhere.

Don’t block your priorities first.

Throughout my career as an entrepreneur, I’ve worn a variety of hats. Obviously, it’s more important in the beginning. There’s no way to hire a talented team when you don’t have the resources. Once the money starts rolling in, hiring an exceptional team to back you up means fewer hats you have to wear.

That doesn’t mean you should completely ignore these responsibilities. Instead, it means you can delegate specific tasks to others. On the other hand, it could mean that you start to fill your calendar with entries that are not a priority.

Take Stephen Covey’s advice instead. “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to plan your priorities.”

It’s not as easy as it seems. Still, that shouldn’t be too hard to pull off. After all, at the end of the day, your priorities are anything that gets you closer to your goals.

With that in mind, you need to reserve your priorities before anything else. If you don’t, other less critical items will take their place. Also remember that you won’t accomplish them all in one day, so focus only on your three most important tasks. All other activities should be postponed, delegated or eliminated.

Ignore calendar conflicts.

Occasionally, scheduling conflicts will arise. It’s life. But that doesn’t mean you should just shrug your shoulders and be like, “Oh, well.

Ignoring calendar conflicts doesn’t mean they will magically resolve themselves. Instead, you’ll need to be proactive and tackle it head-on.

For example, if you booked a duplicate timeslot, acknowledge your mistake and try to correct it. So let’s say you have a doctor’s appointment when you were supposed to have a call with a client. Inform your client of the scheduling error and offer another date to speak. They may be disappointed, but it’s better than leaving them dry.

Forgetting to add calendar entries.

It’s possible to lose productivity when you forget to add calendar entries. Don’t wait until the last minute to add events to your calendar either. You may miss important meetings if you don’t do this immediately. As a result, you may not be able to meet deadlines or you may need more time to catch up on missed tasks.

Always plan items as early as possible, even if it’s a year in advance. But, of course, with the popularity of calendar apps, you can do this when and where you can. So, in my opinion, there really is no excuse for forgetting to add entries to your calendar.

Not clearing your calendar regularly.

There are very important things in life that you will own forever if you don’t clean them up, including your calendar. Everything from torn clothes to broken appliances to expired pantry items needs to be replaced. Otherwise, you will end up in an episode of Hoarders.

The same goes with your calendar. If you don’t declutter your calendar from time to time, it will be filled with unnecessary entries. How often you go is up to you – I personally do it twice a year. Anyway, here are a few things you might want to remove when cleaning up your calendar;

  • Meetings with no purpose or agenda
  • Back-to-back or standing meetings
  • Habitual or mindful activities, such as brushing teeth.
  • Unnecessary notifications and reminders, such as “walk your dog”.
  • Recurring events that no longer fit your schedule or that you have no interest in attending
  • Tasks that can be delegated or outsourced
  • Other people’s priorities

Stick to the default calendar settings.

Make sure your calendar settings are tailored to your specific needs instead of just accepting the defaults.

For example, multiple calendars and color-coding options are commonly available in calendar apps. By using a different font or all caps, you can also draw attention to necessary entries. Alternatively, you can change the calendar view and decide which day to start.

Additionally, you have the option to enable other time zones, hide specific calendars, and change the default time. This last option is particularly important. You can set the time to exactly what you need for an event or task instead of blocking the default time – usually it’s one hour.

For example, you may only need to meet with your team for 30 minutes. But, since you stuck with it all the time, you’re wasting everyone’s precious that could have been spent on something more important.

If you really want to boost your calendar and productivity, consider linking your calendar with other tools. By leveraging machine learning, Calendar, for example, suggests when, where, and how to schedule your time.

One last tip here. The calendar app and the tools you use should sync seamlessly across multiple devices. Google Calendar, for example, is also accessible on Android and iOS devices. This means you can switch between your iPhone and Chromebook, preventing any missed calendar entries.

Not constantly reviewing your schedule.

To start the day off right, you need to plan ahead. I mean, that’s like saying you’re going to cook your family meatloaf for dinner on a whim. Unfortunately, you don’t have all the ingredients, forcing you to think of a replacement, in addition to a disappointed and hungry family.

As for productivity specifically, let’s say it’s Sunday night and you haven’t planned ahead on your calendar schedule for tomorrow. Because you are busy with your family, it escapes you that you have an early morning meeting. Needless to say, you are not preparing for the meeting and are caught off guard when you receive a calendar reminder 15 minutes before the meeting starts.

In situations like above, it might not disrupt your schedule. Or, even if you can keep your schedule intact, you may feel “off” for the rest of the day. In turn, this could slow your productivity to a screeching halt.

Image Credit: Lucas Pezeta; pexels; Thank you!

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