We live in a chaotic world. Between work, family obligations, personal life, volunteering, and the dozens of other responsibilities you may shoulder, there’s a lot to juggle!
In this article, we will offer five techniques to help you reorganize and reprioritize your personal or work schedule. In doing so, you may also reduce feelings of disorder and mental clutter.
What leads to scheduling issues?
- Lack of boundaries – It is so tempting to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes your way. Coffee with a client? Yes! Meeting with colleagues? Yes! Drinks with old friends? Yes! Helping at the kids’ school? Yes! And since virtual work has blurred boundaries between home and work life, these struggles have become increasingly common. You may find yourself over-committing more than ever. (“Well, it’s just a virtual meeting. I can make that work!”) But “yes” after “yes” will start to add up, leading to a calendar with no time to recharge and inevitable scheduling conflicts.
- Lack of attention to detail – Failure to properly fill out your calendar with the full details of an obligation—such as the time of the meeting, the frequency, or what exactly the meeting is—can also lead to scheduling issues. Even more dramatically, failure to write down the meeting at all can lead to forgotten responsibilities altogether.
- Digital overload – Feel like you are on screen all the time? You are not alone. That feeling of needing to be always connected to your phone or computer, even as your mental health suffers, is digital overload. Taking your scheduling offline, such as through a desk calendar or planner, offers plenty of advantages and also reduces the risk of digital overload. For instance, physically writing down a task requires you to pay more attention, which may help you remember your appointments better.
What happens when I overschedule?
Simply put, overscheduling negatively impacts your health—both emotionally and physically.
When you feel too busy, you may start feeling anxious or stressed. You may feel inadequate or overwhelmed. Especially as you start missing obligations or being unable to fully do what you’ve committed to do; you may feel incompetent or guilty. These symptoms may be particularly acute for those who derive a sense of self from managing a packed calendar.
You may also experience physical effects. This can come from a few sources. First, you may be so overscheduled that you simply don’t have time to take care of yourself. You may drop exercise to fit in your obligations. Or you may grab fast food on the way from one appointment to the next instead of sitting down for a home-cooked meal. Or you may skip meals altogether.
Second, your packed and overwhelming schedule may result in physical manifestations of stress. You may start feeling muscle tension and headaches from stress. You may have trouble sleeping, leading to fatigue and even more stress. You may start experiencing stomach issues. You may even be put at risk of cardiovascular disease.
Overscheduling also impacts your productivity. Multitasking, or trying to do two or more tasks simultaneously, takes a beating on the brain. Your brain really can’t do it. Instead, it must switch quickly from task to task, leading to inefficiency, lack of focus, and distraction.
Finally, overscheduling can take a toll on your personal relationships. When you leave little time for those you care about, they may feel left out, lonely, or angry. Eventually, your relationships can suffer.
Techniques to help declutter your schedule
Feeling ready to tackle that appointment book? Below, we offer five tips on how to declutter your schedule and get you back on track.
- Start Fresh. If your old calendar system isn’t working for you, it may be time to start fresh. Consider pivoting back to paper. There are plenty of ways paper planners have advantages over digital, including reducing distraction, aiding memory, increasing motivation, and lowering stress. Having a clean page can also be just what you need to assess your commitments and feel good about the days ahead. You may also want to consider getting your physical desktop and your computer desktop organized, which helps to banish mental clutter as well. When your overall office is organized, you’re more organized. You just might find that with a fresh desk organization system and fresh planner, you’ll feel ready to conquer the world (and your schedule)!
- Don’t forget to eat. Although there are 24 hours in a day, you don’t have 24 hours to devote to work and personal projects. There are some “fixed expenses,” as Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes for Harvard Business Review. These fixed expenses are the most basic of self-care. They are wellness activities that you do every day and include sleeping, eating, and personal grooming (like showering and brushing your teeth). Let’s say this is how much time you need for each of these:
Sleeping: Eight hours
Eating: One hour
Personal grooming: One hour
- When you add these all up, you get 10 hours of fixed expenses that you need to factor into every day. Subtract 10 from 24 and you get 14 hours left to play with. If your work, hobbies, personal activities, commuting, volunteering, and other activities add up to more than 14 hours, you’re overscheduled. You can’t really get it all done. Being realistic about your time will help you learn when you need to say no.
- Color-code or categorize your events. If you have commitments from many aspects of your life – such as work, social, and volunteering-it can be hard to keep track of what’s what. Whether you have a digital or a paper calendar, try color-coding your events to make it easy to read briefly and give you a sense of where your time is going. If you’re sticking with a digital calendar, you can either create different colors for events or add them to different calendars. If you’re on paper, a simple highlighter will do the trick.
- Don’t forget the details. All the color coding in the world won’t be helpful if you don’t accurately write down your commitments. Add the commitment to your calendar as soon as you can. Be sure to include what the commitment is when it is and for how long, and where it is. If it’s an online commitment, add the online meeting info so you can easily get to the meeting when it’s time without sorting through your inbox. The key is to have all the information at your fingertips so you know exactly what it is you are committed to doing and can get there on time and be ready to participate.
- Do a commitment audit. Take a hard look at your (newly color-coded!) calendar. To borrow a Marie Kondo phrase—do your commitments spark joy? Do they further your goals, whatever they may be? Personal success? Deepening relationships? Giving back to the community? If they don’t, maybe it’s time to trim down. Sometimes it’s hard to let something go. But when your overscheduling is affecting your physical and mental health, it needs to be a priority. Try going through your monthly calendar and taking out three commitments. You may find that the extra space brings you much more joy than the stress of over-commitment.
Portions of this article originally appeared on the Quill website.
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