My classmate came up to me with a small notebook bursting with folded papers and sticky notes. I nodded politely. He told me, “I use this to keep track of my day.” He opened up to a random page and showed me his daily planner. I glanced over it seeing things like, “1-2 PM Eat.” I wasn’t sure exactly what to think.
At first glance I was a tad bit repulsed by the idea of having such a restrictive schedule. Sure… I tended to keep a rather specific schedule but the idea of actually writing it down seemed excessive. After a minute I started to think about how efficient he must be. I asked more and more probing questions about his study routine. The same kind of probing questions that I’d been in the habit of asking for a year or two before that.
He had every aspect of his life scheduled in advance. He studied each class in a different pre-planned study period. Every few days he’d have a “improvised” session that included whichever classes he felt needed the extra study time. His schedule was virtually all filled with different things. It mostly related to school, sleep, and soccer. I asked him how disciplined he was about sticking with his schedule and he responded, “I’m doing what I planned within 10 minutes.”
His plan included multiple hours of studying each day. It included plenty of exercise. It seemed to be a sure path to success. After a while of my probing questions he ended up showing me a graded paper of his. With all that scheduling, I was starting to think that this guy has to be scoring huge. I was a little disenchanted when I saw his B+. Around that time I was just starting to focus on my grades and B’s were pretty much my standard expectation.
Despite all of his extra scheduling, he barely scored higher than I did. It took me a long time to find out how to score dramatically higher in dramatically less time but it was this incident that first got me a bit disenchanted with schedules.
If you look at virtually any large organization in comparison to a small organization, you’ll notice major differences. One of the most prominent differences is speed. A small organization tends to move faster. Even if the per person workload is the same, a small organization has less things hindering progress. Those things hindering progress are often required in a large organization.
For example, standard procedures are useful in a small organization but they’re absolutely essential when you get more people involved. When work is constantly bouncing to loads of different people, there needs to be a standard expectation or anything complicated could never get done.
When the same few people are working together, they can develop their own standard procedure that works efficiently for their situation. Big organizations can’t count on loads of different people that may not even know each other working these details out. This is very similar to the problem seen in most individual’s schedules.
Most successful people do not use schedules. Schedules can be useful for very specific people and very particular times but they’re kind of like the bureaucracy of a large organization. Successful people tend to avoid schedules because success depends heavily on focus. When a person is focused on a few very specific goals, they don’t really even need a schedule because that schedule is so simple a chimpanzee could remember it.
A schedule often becomes the equivalent of excessive paperwork for a bureaucracy. If you’re trying to manage a ton of different people then it has some very important uses but if you’re just trying to focus on a few key goals then you’re going to be wasting a ton of your energy.
This isn’t a good thing but the situation usually gets even more difficult for the average excessive scheduler.
A To-Do Mindset
When you rely excessively on a schedule you’re encouraging your brain to focus on everything that needs to get done. The schedule becomes a kind of scorecard. That scorecard is a terrible proxy for real happiness though.
You can check everything off your schedule and still be disappointed at the end of the day. That’s because the goal is rarely to do everything on the schedule.
People are not machines designed to keep up with any particular schedule. A human can only be treated like a machine so long before it starts to prove that theory wrong. Strict schedules will break down eventually. When those schedules start breaking down, the stricter they are, the harder they’ll be able to recover from.
When a person schedules their whole day with stuff to do, they need to hope that nothing gets in the way. When something does get in the way, since their are few free moments to catch back up on the schedule, something is forced to fall behind. It’s really in the nature of scheduling.
Scheduling is a plan that, to some extent, is meant and expected to be broken. That being said, if it’s a plan that’s meant to be broken, it can save you quite a bit of energy just to avoid making it a plan in the first place.
By all means, I’m a huge fan of sticking to a regular schedule. Developing habitual routines can help you focus on the things that really matter to you. That does not mean those habits and routines should be given paperwork to follow through with them.
You can do just as well without an overly specific plan. When you know what your priorities are, you don’t even need the details. Instead of spending your time trying to design and organize a good life, it’s much more efficient (in most cases) just to live it.
If you’re looking to find the best time to study you should read What’s The Best Time To Study?
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