In a nutshell: To take control of your schedule, figure out your most productive periods, consolidate your calendars, prioritize tasks and be flexible.

Client luncheon, dog groomer, budget meeting and grocery shopping … all in one day? You may not always be in control of what you need to do, but you can certainly decide when to do it. Feeling like you’re in charge of your own schedule will be empowering. You’ll be more productive and effective.

Read on for some tips to help you take control of your schedule.

When Are You Most Productive?

The more you know about yourself, the better. So, be introspective for a moment and think about what time of day you tend to get the most done. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Maybe you need a cup of coffee to focus on the task at hand or you work better after lunch and on a full stomach. Can you shut out the noise in a bustling coffee shop, or do you prefer a quiet, dark office to get things done? According to Inc.’s “How to Figure Out What Time of Day You’re Most Productive,” figuring out your “golden hours” (the time of day you’re most focused and motivated) will allow you to maximize your time. If you’re not sure when you’re at your peak, try tracking your time to figure it out. There are many tools (with a freemium version) out there, including Hubstaff, Tick and Toggl. See which one you like best and start using it — then review the results to pinpoint your golden hours. And get to work!

Use One Calendar for Everything

You may have a calendar app on your work computer and a monthly family calendar hanging on the side of your refrigerator. By integrating all your schedules in one platform — whether it’s a smartphone app or a daily planner — you’ll be able to see all your obligations with one glance. After all, does it matter if they’re personal, professional or academic? They’re all tasks that need to be completed. To categorize them, use color coding. This will allow you to segment them without them being spread across multiple platforms. In addition to setting time aside for simply “family time” or “next-day planning,” consider a category for optional events. According to The Muse’s “The Simple Calendar Trick That Made My Life So Much More Manageable,” using an “optional” category on your calendar will fill in blanks between necessary commitments with more hopeful and idealistic activities. Instead of looking for something to do during downtime, you’ll know what you can start on next (even if it is watching new episodes of “Game of Thrones”).

Prioritize

There are multiple ways to prioritize the list of tasks that need to get done today, this week or this month. On a simple level, you can create a list of the top five overarching goals you’re trying to accomplish in a certain timeframe and prioritize all your obligations. Or you may consider the potential profitability or personal benefit from the tasks on your list. The idea is to not make these prioritizing decisions on the spot though — decide which is most important when you’re creating your calendar. That way you can continue to plow through your to-do list instead of taking time from your productive periods to consider which items take precedence.

Be Realistic — and Flexible

When developing your schedule, don’t schedule every moment. You must leave time for contingencies — they’re inevitable. This is where your optional schedule or a big block of “personal time” will come in handy. Additionally, don’t commit to an 11 a.m. dentist appointment when your management meeting might not end until then. Instead of feeling more relaxed about your schedule, you’ll be rushing around trying to meet your impossible expectations. Don’t reasonably think you can hammer down and work for eight hours straight either. Business News Daily’s “What’s Your Most Productive Work Time? How to Find Out,” suggests three methods of breaking up long work periods into patterns:

  • 15-minute breaks: During a typical eight-hour workday, take a mid-morning and mid-afternoon break in addition to your scheduled lunchtime.
  • The Pomodoro Technique: Named for the tomato-shaped Pomodoro kitchen timer, break your day into 30-minute segments that consist of 25 minutes of work and a five-minute break. Once you’ve completed four “Pomodoros,” take a 15- to 20-minute break.
  • 90-minute windows: For each 90-minute window of time, commit to one specific task. Focus all your energy on it for that period of time, then take a 20-minute break before your next 90-minute work block.

By being proactive and putting a little time and thought into maximizing your schedule, you’ll be able to complete so much more. Follow these tips and you’ll be dubbed the “super scheduler” in no time.

Keep the conversation going: How do you keep on top of your schedule? Share your tips with us at @BAIupdate on Twitter.

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