Wellness, Productivity, Balance for Graduate Students and Beyond

Schedule blocks: New ways to use your schedule to have the best day

I am a big, big fan of protecting time in your schedule. I live and die by my Google calendar, because I can always access it, but on that calendar, you'll find more than appointments. 

There are two kinds of scheduling - appointment and defensive. Appointment scheduling is pretty self-explanatory - you have somewhere to be at a certain time, and so you put it in your calendar! These are the kinds of things that people usually use their calendar/schedule/planner for, and of course, it's useful! It gets you to where you need to be when you need to be there! 

But defensive scheduling is a little different. It's about protecting time, rather than filling it up. You put something on your calendar so you WON'T give that time away to someone/something else. You claim your time before someone else does. 

To help clarify the idea a little, here are a few different kinds of scheduling blocks you can add to your week!

  • Morning routine block. I just don't feel centered and ready to start the day if I don't: 1) have a cup of a warm beverage 2) do a little stretching 3) have breakfast 4) do my morning pages. So I've started blocking time off in the mornings to do just that. It also helped me be realistic about how long I need to get going in the morning, and, following that, how early I need to get up, and then, when I need to go to bed for that to be reasonable. 
  • Sleep block. Oh, to be 18 and able to swing between four and ten hours of sleep without any real ill effects! Alas, that's no longer my reality and after months of denying it, I've accepted the fact that the quality of my sleep often directly impacts the quality of my work for the next day. Putting a block that says "bedtime" or "night routine" or "phones off" has really helped me clean up my sleep hygiene and get better rest. Seeing it my calendar makes it so much more concrete - added bonus for the phone reminder I can set!
  • Movement block. I am a very good long as I don't have to decide when and where to work out. When faced with the option of working out or staying at my desk and working more, I almost always pick work. So I started scheduling in my workouts into my calendar - they correlate to fitness classes, or challenges with some online accountability. I'm just better about working out if it's in the calendar and I know that other people are aware of my commitment. You can also experiment with a quicker session of walking or stretching in the afternoons or mornings to break up big writing sessions! 
  • Transition or buffer blocks. When I was teaching, I dreaded finishing class and then feeling like I had to turn around in 15 minutes and start writing my dissertation. The switch from one headspace to another was brutal, and so I often just didn't write. Until I realized that I could schedule in some transition time - a half hour or an hour to get something to eat, walk around outside, check my email, get my notes out, settle into a new task. I now use these all the time - between client calls, when I'm trying to switch from admin work to writing, when I need a little space after therapy or time with a friend. If you build in time to transition, you can stop feeling guilty about needing to take it!
  • End of day routine blocks. I've written more extensively about this here, but leaving just a little bit of time at the end of the day to wrap my day up has made it easier to leave my work at work, and get started again the next day. 
  • Firefighting blocks. This is my newest and most powerful scheduling friend: setting aside time to deal with all the stuff that comes up during the day. I used to have a really hard time getting to my writing, because invariably something would happen (an email that I needed to handle, an admin problem to work out, someone else dumping work on my plate) that would feel more important and urgent than the writing. I started leaving a few hours in my schedule, every couple of days, to deal with all those things that come up. If nothing came up, then hooray! Free hour to do whatever I want! But I always know I have some time set aside to deal with these things, and I can focus just a little bit more easily on the task at hand. 
  • The power hour block. This is an incredibly powerful idea from Gretchen Rubin: set aside an hour, once a week (or as often as you need it) to work on all the tasks you never seem to get done (or want to do) at other times of the week. Make your dentist appointments, pay your bills, return your library books, deal with your citations - but schedule the time in so that you actually have time to do them. It sounds like the worst hour ever, but in practice, it can feel really good to get some of those tasks that float around in the back of your brain off the list. 

As always, know that new schedules and routines take a while to crystallize, and then, just when you think you've nailed down your perfect schedule, and you're really crushing'll change. It always does. But think of these blocks as tools in your scheduling tool belt - pull them out when you need them, or when you want to get to know them better. I hope that they'll serve you well!