Creating a schedule to reflect your priorities

One of my resolutions for 2016 is to get a better handle on my time. I created this resolution because I noticed in the last three or four months of 2015 that the vast majority of my days were spent catching up or just going with the flow instead of actively participating and pursuing what matters most to me. It’s not that I was neglecting my priorities, rather that I was being passive about them.

To help work toward my resolution, I bypassed traditional goal-setting and went straight for creating a list of to-do items. For my first to-do item, I wanted to track exactly how I was spending my time — from the moment I woke up in the morning until I went to bed each night. I grabbed a stopwatch and a notebook and recorded what I did each time I changed activities. Some things I left a little vague, such as “got ready for the day,” since brushing teeth and getting dressed aren’t things I’m going to remove from my daily routine. But for the most part, I kept detailed notes of how I spent my time like, “checked Facebook on phone” and “read 2 pgs. of a book while standing at bus stop waiting for son.” After a week of recording data, I felt that I had a decent idea of how I was spending my time (and I was bored out of my mind with writing down what I was doing). If this is your first time recording data about how to spend your time, you may wish to log your activities for two weeks because often the act of logging what you’re doing influences how you spend your time. Once the novelty of tracking what you’re doing wears off, you’ll get a better idea of how you’re really operating.

My second to-do item was to sort through the logs and label the activities. I chose three colors of highlighters and swiped a color over each activity. Yellow were for activities fully in line with my priorities and my time commitment to those activities or actions taking care of my responsibilities (like depositing money into my retirement fund — it’s not a task I particularly enjoy, but it’s one that takes care of a responsibility that is in line with my priorities). Pink highlights were for activities not in line with my priorities or actions that were in line with my priorities but taking up more of my time than I wanted (like staying in touch with my family and friends is a priority and reading and posting to Facebook is one of the many ways I fulfill that priority, but I don’t need to check in with Facebook four times a day when two times is sufficient). Green highlights were for things in line with my priorities that I wanted to spend more time on than I was (one example that fell into this category was that I was lifting weights three times a week but I wanted to start training for a triathlon, so I needed to increase my numbers and types of workouts to better reflect this priority).

My last to-do item was to create and begin to follow a new schedule that more accurately represents my priorities. I chose to make a weekly calendar, broken into 30-minute increments, to help me with this process. In addition to chores, wake up and bed times, and most of my life’s set activities, I’ve mapped out blocks of time that are more open ended but still have direction. For example, after cleanup from dinner but before it’s time to start getting the kids ready for bed, there is usually an hour of “free” time. Each night I’ve made notes on the calendar for ideas of things to do during this hour that reflect my priorities. Instead of plopping myself down in front of the television (which is not a priority for me on weeknights), I now have a list of things I can do that I know bring me much more happiness than squandering that time (like working on a puzzle with my kids or having a living room dance part with them or playing flashlight tag in the yard if the weather is cooperating or Skyping with my parents).

Since creating the new schedule, I’ve been much happier and feel more like I’m actively participating in my life. I’m not rigid with the schedule — if something falls through the cracks or I come down with a migraine (like I did on Saturday), I’m not freaking out about abandoning the schedule for a bit. It’s there more as a guide than a law, and this attitude is working well for me.

How do you ensure that your time is focused on what matters most to you? Do you think a similar schedule would help you to feel happier and more comfortable with how you’re spending your time? A few changes might be all it takes to get your life more in line with your priorities.

7 Comments for “Creating a schedule to reflect your priorities”

  1. posted by Tuppenz on

    As a CPA I will tell you that keeping a timesheet – recording what I did every six minutes of every working day so it could be billed – is not something I would want to do during my personal life. Just let your day flow, doing the things that are important to you and your family.

  2. posted by Terry Janes on

    Would LOVE to see you post a week’s work of your schedule as an example……

  3. posted by Pat on

    I am fairly newly retired (8 months) and I am dealing with this. Because I have “all the time in the world,” I have not yet checked out the nearby yoga place so that I might increase my flexibility. Or do what I need to do for the small home business that I started. Or cleaned out the basement and the attic. Or gotten my finances in shape. My house looks good; I’d never be embarrassed if someone dropped by. And my regular routines take care of things like meals, dishes and laundry. But I spend an awful lot of time reading and doing crossword puzzles.

  4. posted by Forrest on

    I think it’s good to schedule out my days — I’ve personally found that if I schedule more than a day or two out, I generally end up ignoring the schedule. Something will come up or I’ll find that I want to prioritize something else, I will. This is good, but once the schedule has been broken, I find myself moving away from it.

    I think for me, what seems to work best (and it seems like what you are doing with your calendar) is creating a template for a typical day so I know what types of tasks I should be doing at any given time, but I usually wait until the end of the day before thinking about scheduling out the next day with actual to-do items. This also helps to make sure that I don’t get overwhelemed if I don’t finish something on my list for any given day. If I didn’t finish, I’ll just build it into the next day.

  5. posted by Tina on

    Great Blog.. Thanks for sharing..

  6. posted by Zsuzsa on

    this is really interesting! I wish I could do it, I tried, but I have ADHD, and I forgot the whole thing after 1 hour 😀 I need a spy to do it for me.

  7. posted by [email protected] on

    I’ve tried using a schedule like this in the past but there’s no way it would work for me now. My days are extremely unpredictable and plans change as fast as I can make them.

    My priority is my family. I’m a full-time homemaker with kids and grandkids and I want to be as involved in their lives as possible. As a result, I spend a lot of time babysitting and my daughter and daughter-in-law call me often. I don’t have near as much time to get things done as I think I do. Having a schedule would be very frustrating.

    However, not having any kind of structure is also not good and that’s what I’m working on. I’ve done the time tracking to see where the heck my time was going but the only thing it did for me was show me that I don’t have as much discretionary time as I think. That was a good thing but not the result I was hoping for.

    Instead of a “schedule”, I do better with a loose routine – instead of half hour increments, I do better with morning, early afternoon, late afternoon and evening.

    If a person hasn’t ever tracked their time, it’s definitely worth the trouble. I thought your color coding was very smart. I never thought of tracking my activities in line with my priorities. I’ll have to try that next time.

Comments are closed.