Stop Using Task Lists, Start Scheduling Your Tasks

J.R. Heimbigner

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“I’m not big on to-do lists. Instead I use e-mail, desktop folders, and my online calendar.” — Bill Gates

Calendars don’t seem to carry as much importance in our productivity in today’s work world. Everything seems to use calendars, but they don’t take the president as an essential part of our production system. What I have found is making your calendar only for keeping appointments is a big mistake.

I have previously shared how I used to keep hundreds of tasks in task management software. It was this kind of thinking which killed my productivity and my momentum through the day. Imagine opening up your task management program or journal and finding a hundred tasks waiting for you. It stinks. And it led to me not wanting to sort through it.

Over the last few months, I have been learning how to make myself more productive at work, so I can have more margin at home. It has been revolutionizing the way I do things while at the same time reducing my stress drastically.

One of the important changes I have made happened when I augment my task list with my calendar. Since I was feeling so discouraged by so many tasks and never feeling as though I had time to do everything, I started scheduling those important tasks. I also found how I needed to schedule the tasks I didn’t want to do.

All of the sudden, I was completing these tasks and my task list was shorter.

The Calendar Forced Action

Once I started using my calendar in a more central role for my productivity, I began to use it while deciding on what to do with emails, tasks, and requests.

The calendar added a new level of learning how to ‘Do, Delegate, Defer, File, or Delete a Task.

  • Could I complete something in two minutes? Then I would do it.
  • Should it go to someone? Did I need to follow it up? Then I forward it.
  • Would take time? Or was it an essential part of my most productive work? If yes to time and/or no to productive work, I schedule it.
  • Did it need to be saved for the future? If so, I would calendar it for another time.
  • Did it fit any of these? If not, I could delete it.

It is really not different from working through my email. However, it created greater depth to processing tasks. It would help with decluttering my inbox. And it provided me the ability to get a lot of work done more easily. It made me take action on inbound items, whether they were essential at the moment or not.

How Do We Start?

We need to answer a few questions to start. These questions will help set the parameters for how we will work be able to best use our calendar.

1. Where will your ‘Master Calendar’ be?

Your Master Calendar must be the main place or way you intend to keep track of everything. Will you use Google Calendar? Or Microsoft Outlook? Or perhaps a paper calendar? Whatever you choose, you will need to commit to this one mode of keeping your calendar.

For work, I use my Outlook Calendar. For my personal life, I use my Google Calendar. I prefer electronic calendars because I can have them on my computer or my phone. I don’t access my work calendar at home, but I have plenty of work to do in my personal life.

2. What are Your Most Important Activities?

Before you start actually using your calendar, you need to know what is most important. Once you know what those things are, you can create categories or highlights for the items you enter.

When you consider the most important activities; think about family events, the 20% of your work yields the most output, reoccurring events, and activities, etc. These are the things you will focus on.

My family always comes before work. So do my doctor’s appointments and other important outside work activities. These personal items have their own category. When it comes to my work, any meetings which are scheduled come next, then reoccurring events, and then the most important activities to help me be most productive. After all those items, the less important things get priority.

3. When to Triage Events and Tasks?

Here is your first action with your actual work product. Enter what you currently have in your calendar or triage what is there already. Remember the DO, DELEGATE, DEFER, FILE, and DELETE method. This is the best way I have found to work through my mess or when things feel out of control.

I tend to triage everything Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at work. And mostly Wednesdays and Saturdays for my personal life. These are things that I don’t work through when they come in or when I need to focus a little bit more to figure out where they go.

However, it is important to be sure to you triaging every inbound task, meeting, request, and so on each day.

4. How to Keep it Going?

Consistency is always a struggle. However, the best way to keep things going is by scheduling it at first. As it becomes a routine, you start doing it regularly. I always schedule new routines or system reviews for at least two to three weeks before they become natural.

Create boundaries to keep others out. The other way to keep something going is to keep others from taking over your priorities and system. If you don’t need to be in a meeting or part of a get-together, get those things out of there.

Also, don’t schedule work things after work hours. Then you will start to get into a habit of working extra, which isn’t what we are trying to do with our productivity. We are trying to create a margin!

5. Who is Going to Make it Happen?


It is all going to be about you. And I promise you this: You can do it. Want to know how I know? Because I can do it. And if I can do it, anyone who wants to be more productive can do it. I know this to be true. Others are trying these tips out and it is beginning to happen.

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