A schedule shouldn’t be your worst enemy. It should free your mind to concentrate on the actual work you’re doing and alleviate any worrying you have about whether you have time to do it all. I am a huge advocate for routine and scheduling as a means of working productively and maintaining sanity. When utilized effectively, an organized schedule can work for you and make your life much easier. Here is how I do it:
I recently decided to try a new style of schedule building based on a blog post I saw this summer on Chase Jarvis’ blog which can be found here http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2013/03/do-less-do-more-the-art-of-being-creative-productive/.
Basically, he found that he was the most productive in work blocks of 90 minutes followed by rest breaks of 30 minutes with significant rest breaks around meal times. I adapted his model, which is centered around a self-employed writer, to the life of a musician and student. I had to cheat the 90minutes-30minutes model a bit but it has still been really effective! To recreate my scheduling method you just have to make a schedule, focus that schedule, and put it into action.
Make a Schedule
Something that you write down is significantly more likely to happen than something you just keep in your head. So the first step to a more productive life is to make a weekly planner. Here is what mine looks like:
I used this website http://freecollegeschedulemaker.com/ to make mine but you could just as easily set it up in excel or, obviously, write it by hand depending on your personal preference.
Chase Jarvis preferred to take an extended lunch break in order to exercise but I prefer my fitness activities to either be at the beginning of the day or after classes are over. This is just because no one would want to sit next to me in class or rehearsal if had just worked out and I don’t always have time to go home and shower at mid-day. Hence, my lunch breaks are often short in exchange for a longer break around dinner time and/or time for exercise in the morning.
You will notice, as I said earlier, that not all of my work blocks are 90 minutes. I had to cheat a little to fit my blocks around my classes.
I also view classes as break times. While lectures can be mentally stimulating, I don’t always feel the need to rest my brain after class and I can carry on into my next work block without a break (or, at most, a 5-minute scan of my phone, facebook, and twitter).
My schedule may seem riddled with breaks and down time but I still have time to practice for up to 6 hours every day AND get my homework done AND stay in shape.
Focus that Schedule
A work block without a goal has the potential to become unproductive really quickly. Without clear focus, I find that my smart phone begins to call my name with its social media apps and messaging services. Then TV start to beckon me and that’s when I know I need to get a grip!
I use the following form to focus my daily routine (I have included a pdf in case you want to print it):
In a work block, I decide whether it will be a practice block or a homework block. I usually take 2 homework blocks and 3 practice blocks every day. If I only have time for 4 work blocks, I take away one homework block (practicing is higher on my priority list).
I write down what pieces I will work on or what assignments I will tackle so that I have a plan for the day. Often I will get more specific in my practice goals like “memorize the first page” or “get measure 123 to 160bpm”. I also like to do chore-type things in my “break” times so I don’t end up using a work block to do laundry or clean my apartment. The form has a place for these too.
I like to plan for the day ahead during my morning walk to campus (which is partly the reason I prefer to walk). I then reflect on my day at the end of it and write down what I did effectively and what I need to do more of the next day.
The daily goals sheet for one day might look like this:
If you are a person who gets bored with the tediousness of filling out the form every day, just don’t fill it out! After you do it for a few weeks or a month, you might feel that you are in the habit of keeping it in your head and don’t need the form. That is fine! But if you ever get overwhelmed, the form will be here to help you get things out of your head again.
Put it into Action
Now all you have to do is follow the routine. It’s easy, you already told yourself what to do and wrote it down! It is as easy as following a recipe.
But if you’re like me, you will not be able to follow it exactly every single day. Some days you will have extra rehearsals. Some days you will get wrapped up in a project and just feel like working for more than 90 minutes on it. Some days you will be on a roll in a practice session and not want to quit. Some days your friends will invite you out for drinks! On each end of the productivity spectrum, I have both gotten excited about projects which kept me up until 3:00am and spent 4 hours in a coffee shop with a friend discussing who-knows-what.
It is important to know that these things are OK! (as long as drinking with your friends doesn’t turn into binge-ing multiple night per week!). Your schedule isn’t a ruthless dictator, it is just a friend reminding you to be productive and suggesting a way to do it.
If things come up for me, a homework block (not practice block!) is the first thing to suffer. The next thing to fall victim to a busy week is exercise, then sleep. And that all just means I have to make up for it later. Deciding your own priorities is essential to putting your schedule into action.
The last step to putting your schedule into action is to not be afraid to update it. If the weather changes and you find it hard to drag yourself out of bed to run in the cold winter morning, reschedule your exercise for the afternoon. If you find that you are frequently shirking your afternoon practice session for a cup of coffee with a friend, build your caffeine fix into your schedule! If you find you aren’t getting enough sleep, it may be good to rethink your bedtime.
Your schedule should free you to be productive and not be stressed. If you find yourself worrying about your schedule, it is time to retool it so it will work for you. Everyone is different and prefers to work differently. Finding the perfect routine is a journey we must all go on by ourselves.
So now that you are armed with some tricks of the trade, go make a schedule, focus it, and put it into action! I promise that you will get more done and be an overall happier person!