Schedule, Checklist – or Both?

I remember the difference  Charles Hobbs’  “Your Time and Your Life” made in my life.  My ministry was growing, but with it came that un-welcomed  sense of “there’s too much to do and not enough time to get it done”.  My lists were endless and I was tired of always re-copying them.  Some people like lists with lined-out items.  It shows them what they’ve accomplished.  I like clean, forward-looking lists.

A couple of  friends carried these nifty little pocket calendars around.  When I asked, they quickly confirmed how they helped them stay organized and in control of their active lives.  (“Active” is no less ambitious than “busy”, but it sounds and feels better.)   Their enthusiasm for the product was contagious and by the time I reached the end of the free trial Day-Timer offered at the time, I’d learned what I needed to know.  I do better when I schedule my time.  I bought and listened to “Your Time and Your Life” a couple of times, adjusting as I learned and enjoying the improvements, BIG-time. It wasn’t the Bible or anything, but working toward pre-determined goals and objectives sure beat what I’d been doing!

It didn’t take long to discover that I was most creative when I could work in large blocks of time.   Two to four uninterrupted hours yield better results artistically than half an hour scheduled every day. Since I can usually accomplish more between one and four in the afternoon than at other times, I blocked those hours for creativity a couple times a week, and for demanding tasks on other days.  It worked!  Plan your work and work your plan!

Before long I was scheduling everything.  What time shall I run that errand?  When would be the best time to care for that household chore?   They all found themselves assigned a place on my schedule.  I loved discovering Lotus 123, and could carry printed copies of my calendar and other related documents in my leather binder.  Even better was the day my PDA —in a much smaller case— replaced the full-sized binder.   I affectionately referred to it as my “little leather-bound brain”.  My PDA would remind me what to do next at the time I told it to remind me.  I loved being able to focus even more and not watch the clock so much.

As the schedule grid became increasingly crowded, however, that little alarm reminder began to interrupt my thought processes.  I found myself feeling guilty for being late while I finished up projects and priority-1 tasks.   Not good.

I’d escaped the tyranny of the list by scheduling things, but over time that schedule began to add to the frustration instead of  helping me with it.

Enter: Hybrid.

“What’s the next step to improve my performance?” I wondered.  Reflecting one morning, it occurred to me that some of the things on my schedule were there every day.  I’d put them there. I’d even picked the time for each.  But if the phone rang and I found myself in a longer conversation, a phone interview, for example, that unscheduled good thing could push the first domino over and affect the rest of the day.   Taking an extra half hour to finish something creative could put me in catch-up mode the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.

What if —

What if I used a hybrid?  A combination of check-list and schedule?
If I put all the daily tasks on a check-list, I’d maintain the focus I need, and wouldn’t feel like I’m behind all the time because my PDA keeps chirping at me.

Its worth a try —

I created my task list with  “Today is __ / __  / __ ” at the top of the column. With first-thing tasks at the top and evening tasks near the bottom, I edited and condensed so the list fit into a single column, with hollow bullet points for my check-marks.   (I still don’t like lining through the item – clutters things up for me)

If I decide to leave a task undone one day it’s because I choose to; because I decided something else was more important, or because there really wasn’t a need for it today.

“So is this something new?” you ask.
Actually, no.  It’s just the latest in my quest for performance improvement.  I’m always after increased performance. To me it’s part of excellence.   Not in a compulsive way, but in a  Good Steward way.  In manufacturing they call it Kaizen – steady, incremental improvement. Athletes are always looking for ways to shave a tenth of a second of their time, raise their batting average, shoot a higher percentage from the floor – I want to maximize my use of the time God’s given me.  So no; I’ve done similar things several times over the years, getting a bit better at it each time.  I’m still working on it. I’ll ALways be working on it, I think.

This works, though. so if you can use the idea, help yourself.

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4 Replies to “Schedule, Checklist – or Both?”

  1. Jonell

    Phil,

    Tell me about the picture at the top of this page. I know it will change and won’t seem relevant to this post at a later date, but I’m just curious.

    You talk about your most productive time being 1-4 PM. If I remember right, I think your wife is most productive in the morning. Our sister is most productive after 10 PM. Does the book you mentioned: “Your Time and Your Life” help me discover that about my own most productive time of day, or is that found in another book, or is it just by trial and error that we find what time of day is most productive in our own individual lives?

    Lately, I’ve been working off a list for my days off, and seem to get a lot more accomplished. I also work off of a standard “cleaning schedule” list that is divided into a room of my house every day and printed out for me to accomplish each week. Like you said, even if something doesn’t get done one week, due to an interruption or a change in schedule, it at least gets done more often than it would if I didn’t have a list.

    Thanks for this post!
    Jonell

  2. Phil

    Hi Jonell,

    The picture today is called Disilva Light Curtain. It’s a picture of a light display used as a backdrop on the stage. I love the brilliant, *vibrant* colors 😀 and the way it rains onto the content below. I found it several years ago and have enjoyed using it now and then as a background for presentations.

    “Your Time and Your Life” was a 10-cassette tape series Day-Timer sold, and if I remember correctly I bought mine for half-price. It was that or wait some more! I don’t recall that there was a lot in YTYL about finding the most productive segment of the day, but I know I first *thought* about it as a result of that tape series. You’ll probably be able to estimate when your best hours are by noting 1) how much you get done when you get to do things by *your* schedule, and 2) how good you feel at the end of that part of the day.

    A lot of life is about balance, isn’t it? The tools we use to keep things in balance, and the safeguards we use to keep margins intact have a lot to do with how well we bring glory to our Savior.

    Phil —

  3. Janice Campbell

    Your system sounds a bit like mine, Phil, except that I use a master list, datebook, and Google calendar. The master list is written on a 3×5″ sticky note and titled “Week of [date].” On it, I list the priority projects for the week. It moves from page to page in my datebook during the week.

    Each weekday, I list on my datebook page the action steps toward completing one or more of the projects on the master list. Appointments are noted in the Google calendar (which I can access from computer and iPhone) and on the datebook, as I need all the help I can get in making sure I don’t miss anything.

    For busy writers and editors, it’s definitely a stress-buster to know that everything is recorded and accessible from anywhere. Good post!

  4. Phil

    Thanks for stopping by, Janice! It takes a few tries to settle in on something that works well for us, doesn’t it?

    Sometimes we need to stir things up a little to keep things fresh – a bit like taking a different route home from work or school or church.

    Productivity is the key here here, though, and sustainability; must have something in place that makes it possible to continually produce with excellence.

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