From Productive to Effective – A Better Way of Scheduling

productive to effective

In another post, I wrote about becoming less busy and more productive and outlined four principles to help you do that. I’ve been practising those principles for a long time now, although Principle 4 still trips me up now and then. They truly do make a difference.

Then I learned something that took productivity to a whole new level. I learned how to go from productive to effective.

My other post on the topic includes these words from Christina Marfice:

Being productive is less about always having something to do, and more about making sure that what you’re doing is propelling you toward a goal.

In other words, it matters what direction you’re heading. We’ll get to that shortly.

First, let’s examine two common ways of scheduling: to-do lists and daily planners.

If you read my previous post, you know I had a love/hate relationship with to-do lists.

I enjoyed using lists to plan, prioritise, and best of all, tick things off. Dopamine spike! But the next day’s list would grow with the addition of whatever wasn’t accomplished today. As my little legs metaphorically ran faster and faster to do it all, I felt like a frantic mouse on a wheel. 

That ended in burnout.

I no longer rely on to-do lists or daily planners to steer my life. Here’s why:

  • They focus on the here and now, on what needs to be done today.
  • The sense of accomplishment is temporary – the list is never-ending.
  • What is planned is easily deposed by new urgent demands; even if important things are scheduled they get pushed further down the list.
  • It is easy to be seduced by all the white space on the page and overschedule.
  • Overscheduling creates stress and the temptation to escape to time-wasters – like mindlessly scrolling social media.

Lists and daily planners focus on getting the business of the day done. But the priorities you’ve scheduled may be things you don’t even need or want to do. There is little lasting satisfaction or real benefit because your activity is not tied to what is truly important, that is, your values and goals in life. These things are often skipped because there is no immediate payout like there is with ticking things off a to-do list or daily planner.

An effective schedule does more than just manage your activity. It keeps you pointed in the right direction.

Effective planning:

  • prioritises what is truly important while still addressing the urgent
  • is based on your values and goals and informed by your mission statement
  • is balanced across all your roles  
  • recognizes that people are more important than things

If you are not sure about your values and goals or do not yet have a personal mission statement, see The Making of You: Creating a Personal Mission Statement. It is crucial to have a clear sense of where you want to head in order to make the most effective use of your time.

Planning effectively

Make a list of all the roles you will play this week. This includes roles in your personal and professional life as well as community and other roles. This might look something like parent, spouse/partner, department manager, or netball coach. Don’t forget the role of investing in your own development.

Next, for each role, choose 1 or 2 goals you would like to accomplish in the week. Make them specific, actionable goals. Make sure the goals align with your vision for this role. If one of your roles is a parent, avoid vague goals such as love your children. Instead, decide on 1 or 2 specific actions that you take this week to in relationship with each child.

A variation of this approach uses dimensions instead of roles. Some dimensions are: mental or intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, physical, financial, vocational, and environmental. I started off using the roles approach but now I use the dimensions method, which I have customised to my own circumstances. Both work well; find what works for you.

When choosing goals for your roles or dimensions, it is important that they are attainable. Starting smaller with something that you can achieve is better than biting off more than you can chew.

Don’t skimp on the time needed to plan effectively or review progress. It may take longer than you expect in the beginning, especially if this kind of planning is new to you. However, as you get practice, you’ll get quicker. The dividends for the investment of your time are more than worth it.

In my experience, planning using roles or dimensions is better when done weekly. For that reason, I prefer to use a planning tool where I can see the entire week on a spread. When only one day at a time is visible, I feel like I’m flying blind. Viewing the day’s plans in the context of the week helps me to be flexible if something needs to be rescheduled.

It is also useful to have a planning tool that I can carry with me and edit on the go. I used a hard copy planner for a long time but portability and editability were both an issue. Scheduling apps are another option but again the ones I tried fell short of my needs.

In the end, an Excel spreadsheet works best for me. I keep it in the cloud where it can be accessed from all my electronic devices and can be edited in real time. My spreadsheet ticks all the boxes – accessible, flexible, easily customised and edited, with the bonus of font and cell colour coding, which makes it attractive and greatly appeals to my kinesthetic preferences.

More recently, I added the feature of a space to summarise the week: what worked, what didn’t and things I’m trialing.

So, why bother with a schedule at all?

Recently, I was talking on the phone to a friend. “I’m turning 65 soon!” she cried incredulously. “Where did that time go?”

The conversation made me think of what poet and author Annie Dillard said,

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives… A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”

Our days fly by at an astonishing pace and we too may lament where they went if we don’t catch them and put them to good use. That’s the value of a schedule that prioritises the truly important things.

Can you identify one activity that has been neglected but would significantly impact your life if it were prioritised?


Photo by eleni koureas on Unsplash



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