As a time management coach, I have come to realize that many people believe in the myth of the perfect schedule and that finding their own will resolve all their productivity issues. We often expect to find the right formula that will help us balance our responsibilities and still have time for the things we enjoy.
But this idea has one very big problem: it makes it seem like such schedule is pre-determined, almost in a scientific way, and sort of frozen.
I am here to tell you that the perfect schedule does not exist.
The truth is that more often than not, life is unpredictable. No matter how much we plan, there will always be unexpected events that can throw our schedule off balance. And that's okay!
Whether it be a sudden illness, an unplanned meetup with friends, a family emergency, or a work deadline that was moved up, there will always be something that forces us to adjust our plans.
Myths That Feed The Myth
This idea that creating a "perfect schedule" is the key to managing your time effectively is often based on several myths and misconceptions about time management. Here are some of the mainstream beliefs that people rely on that make them think a "perfect schedule" exists:
Time is an unlimited resource: Many people believe that they have an endless amount of time, so they can always find a way to fit everything into their schedule. However, (pains me to realise it too!!) time is a finite resource, and trying to do too much will lead to stress, burnout, and a sense of overwhelm. You cannot do it all, you need to choose! Even if it means coming back to those things you put on the side burner later on in your life.
One size fits all: Some people believe that there is a "universal formula" for creating the perfect schedule that works for everyone. However, everyone's life and circumstances are different, and what works for one person may not work for another. In my experience, copy/pasting someone else's schedule simply never works: I have seen it countless times with my coaching clients.
Technology will solve everything: technology will not solve all your time management problems. While technology can be helpful, it can also be a distraction and can make it harder to focus and manage time effectively. I will develop the subject in many blog posts in the future.
Multitasking is efficient: Many people believe that multitasking is an efficient way to get more done in less time. However, research shows that multitasking can actually be counterproductive and can lead to decreased productivity and increased stress. The best way to achieve good result is to focus on doing one thing efficiently and then move on to the next one, based on your priority order!
Everything can be planned: Some people believe that they can plan and control every aspect of their life, including their time. However, unexpected events and interruptions are a part of life, and it is important to be flexible and adaptable.
Time management is a continual process of trial and error, adjustment, and adaptation. Instead of striving for perfection, it's more helpful to focus on developing habits and strategies that work for your unique circumstances and priorities.
Let me present you the 3 strategies I personally think are the ultimate touchstones of any time management system that works and that is balanced:
Prioritizing What Matters (Vision)
One of the most important things you need to do to manage your time effectively is to focus on your priorities.
It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks, or to let ourselves go with the flow of distractions that life offers, and lose sight of what truly matters. Some of my clients come to me realising that they sometimes even forgot what these priorities were for them in the first place!
By identifying your top priorities and putting in effort to devise a life strategy that works for you, you can make sure we are dedicating enough time and energy to the things that are most important to YOU, which, incidentally, has a good chance to make you happier. The key to doing that is to make sure your priorities align with your values and intentions, and I already wrote about that in this blog post.
For example, if spending quality time with family or friends is a top priority, you may need to adjust our schedule to ensure that you have enough time to do so.
What does that mean? Two things mainly:
This may mean delegating some work tasks to others: you identify that working on a certain project will take up ALL your time for the months to come? It is time to delegate some of your tasks. A quick way to identify what to delegate is through introspection, to understand what you would be better off focusing on and what you may not be the best at or the best person to do. It is all about using your time in a smarter way.
This may mean planning the rest of your activities around your most important priority: being more organised and efficient (taking less time or just the appropriate amount of time to perform a particular task) elsewhere means that you are able to free up time for your priority activity(ies).
It is also crucial to remember that each individual has their own unique set of responsibilities and priorities. What works for one person may not work for another. We all have different energy levels, work styles, and preferences. Some people thrive on a busy schedule, while others prefer a more relaxed pace.
Being Flexible and Adaptable (Flexibility)
The key to effective time management is not creating the perfect schedule, but rather, learning to be flexible and adaptable. Instead of striving for perfection, you must learn to prioritize your tasks, set realistic goals, and be willing to adjust your plans when necessary.
Unexpected events will inevitably occur, and you must be flexible and adaptable, adjusting your plans accordingly. This may mean shifting your priorities, delegating tasks to others, shifting your whole schedule for only 1 week (off-rail) to then be able to come back to the train later, or simply accepting that you cannot do it all.
For example, if you have a work deadline that has been moved up, you may need to adjust your schedule to make sure you have enough time to complete the task. You may need to delegate some other responsibilities or ask for help to manage your workload effectively.
Setting Realistic Goals (Honesty)
Another essential aspect of effective time management is setting realistic goals. It is important to be honest with yourself about what you can realistically accomplish in a given day or week. Setting goals that are too ambitious for yourself will necessarily lead to frustration and eventually burnout.
For instance, if you set a goal to complete a major project in one day, you may end up feeling overwhelmed and disappointed if you cannot achieve it. However, breaking the project down into smaller, manageable tasks can help you make progress while avoiding burnout. The SMART goals method is of course one of the best ones you can use for that.
Another key point is that by setting realistic goals, and therefore achieving them, you will be able to build confidence and motivation as you accomplish each task, which is of course vital for self-confidence in how you manage things.
Vision, Flexibility and Honesty over/about your schedule will help you achieve Balance.
By sharing online my whole journey with learning japanese (@ari_noyume on Instagram), I've come to realise that most people expected me to study 24/7, and to have a very stringent schedule.
In reality, what happened during the 3 years I did the bulk of my studying of the language was that:
it took me roughly 1 year to figure out my "schedule formula", understanding what were my best hours to study (best motivation x best focus x high level of energies)
I later realised that these hours had actually changed with time: that's when I had to perform my first readjustment of study schedule
to then realise that I had to perform a readjustment many times over to match my intrinsic motivation/focus/energy level natural changes over time
my goals with the language also changed drastically a few times during that period, and I had to re-evaluate my whole schedule (or game plan) each and every time as a result
This personal account is as much related to my week-by-week schedule as it is to let's say a 6-month period or even 1 full year of studying.
It was effort, diligence, capacity to evaluate and reevaluate myself, and my overall flexible mindset that helped me go through this self-study journey, certainly not a perfect schedule -- especially since considering that I had to constantly modify it.
In conclusion, as I said earlier, the perfect schedule does not exist. Learning about the schedules of famous CEOs has contributed to the belief that a perfect schedule is achievable. The schedules of successful individuals like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Tim Cook are often idealized and seen as the epitome of productivity -- I will talk about those in a future blog post.
As a time management coach, I encourage you to embrace imperfection and focus on progress rather than perfection. By focusing on your priorities, by setting realistic goals, and being flexible and adaptable, you are for sure set to be able to effectively manage your time and achieve your desired outcomes.
Remember, every small step forward is a step in the right direction. You can achieve your goals while still enjoying the journey!