Do you have an incredibly busy workweek? Are you looking to get more done without working more hours? You could very well benefit from having a more detailed schedule — with time particularly dedicated to deep work, answering emails, and even leisure. This tight planning is the key to being more productive, more organized, and, according to recent scientific findings, it might even make you happier.
If it’s success you want, you can bet that emulating your habits after the most successful people in the world can get you there. A great place to start would be with their number one recommendation: Make your schedule as detailed as possible, down to every 30 minutes of your day, including your family time, exercise, and the things you do for fun outside of work.
But here’s the dirty little secret none of the productivity gurus want to tell you: Creating and maintaining a detailed schedule can quickly turn into a lot of work. That kind of defeats the purpose for helping busy people get more done, doesn’t it?
Fortunately, with a couple of simple systems and some cool new software tools, setting up a detailed schedule can be done faster and more easily than ever before. Keep reading and allow us to explain.
It might seem like common sense that you need to have a clear picture of your week before you can schedule it, but it’s not. Sitting down to fill up an empty calendar can be just as intimidating as staring at a blank page. Before you open your calendar app to schedule your week, do yourself a favor and plan out everything you’d want to get done in a perfect week.
Start with a basic brain dump — get out a notepad and make a list of everything you need to get done this week, everything you want to do in your free time, and everything you know you should get done if there’s time. These should break down neatly into your important work, your fun and family time, and work or chores that are important, but maybe not quite as urgent as everything else on the list.
Once you’ve made that list, it’s time to filter through all of those tasks and action items to sort them by priority. If the words “urgent” and “important” stuck out to you in the last paragraph, that’s because you might recognize them as key concepts from something called The Eisenhower Matrix – a way of thinking about your priorities that’s attributed to former US president and WWII General, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The idea is that everything on your schedule is either urgent or not urgent and important or not important. Urgent and important tasks are obviously your first priority while the “important, but not urgent” tasks are just a tier below them. “Urgent, but not important” tasks are things that can be taken care of when you have a spare moment, and anything that’s not urgent or important should probably just be crossed off the list unless it’s required.
The next step for quickly and easily scheduling your time as a busy person is building out a system to help make the process of getting your priorities onto a calendar a little easier every week. There are lots of quick fixes that will pay time dividends, like recurring calendar events and templates for frequently used event types.
However, the biggest change you can make is a technique known as time blocking. Time blocking is the practice of breaking down your schedule into predictable chunks of time, not just for the things you need to do this week, but into a macro that you can use every week based on when you’re most productive. For instance, if you’re a morning person, you might have two hours blocked out every weekday from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM to work on your most important tasks. It gives you a buffer for unexpected things that come up when you get into the office, but still ends before lunch.
Everyone can benefit from breaking their week into predictable chunks. If you can create a plan for when you answer emails, large chunks of uninterrupted time for when you do your best work, you’re well on your way. If you add in some time set aside for phone calls, meetings, miscellaneous busy work, and the inevitable hair-on-fire emergencies that we all have to deal with from time to time, you won’t have to worry about a blank calendar ever again. You’ll fire up your calendar app Monday morning (or Friday afternoon, if you really get into the spirit of this post) and know exactly where and when each of the priorities on your to-do list belong.
Now that we’ve covered how to decide what needs to get scheduled, and the best way to set up your schedule, let’s move on to the place where the magic happens.
Okay, so you’ve brain dumped, planned out your appointments, set aside time for exercise and family, and scheduled the rest of your week for projects, email, and other necessary tasks. Your life is more efficient, but you may find the planning itself to be cumbersome. How — literally how — do you schedule your week (without dreading Mondays even more)?
We’re going to cover tools to help you simplify the process and reduce planning time. With the right tech systems in place, you can quickly schedule every week, and build in flexibility for the important things that inevitably, and unexpectedly, come up.
Scheduling platforms (like Woven) work by connecting with your current calendar and making it easier for people to book appointments the time you have free. Anyone who needs to book time with you — whether it’s a 15-minute sync or an hour-long consultation — can find time slots around your already blocked schedule. Everyone is happy to avoid the back-and-forth email scheduling which can waste a surprising amount of time.
You can use Woven or another scheduling app to make sure you’re available for new prospects, current clients, and even coworkers or networking partners but without interrupting your time-blocked day. Simply sign up for an account, attach it to your current calendar, set timeframes and appointment rules, and start sending leads and clients a link to your booking page.
Dig deeper into the functionality of your scheduling software: For example, Woven is not your grandpa’s scheduling tool (a physical planner?). In addition to syncing with your current calendar, Woven gives you smart templates, easy keyboard shortcuts, and built-in scheduling invitations.
Smart templates allow you to create a reusable format to work off of so you’re not filling out all of the information for each event from scratch. For example, if you know scheduling a coffee with someone will always be 30 minutes, or a sales call should always take about an hour, the template autofills that information when you book. In addition, the smart template will suggest days you like to schedule particular appointments, add private tags to help you track how you spent your time, and set reminders for the event. Built-in scheduling invitations can automatically add a scheduling link to invite other people for events like team calls.
Keyboard shortcuts: When you sit down with your to-do list and your priorities to plan your week out, putting new events on the calendar is as simple as clicking on the calendar or hitting shift + N to start a new event. Just add some quick information like a time and name for the event, decide whether it’s a repeatable event (like checking your daily email) and you’re done.
As you start to use Woven or another platform, you might notice something: It’s important to make space for new meetings and opportunities when they pop up. As you plan your weeks out, keep some time blocks free for meetings, and have contingency plans for when your intended work time gets pushed due to extinguishing a fire.
If you’re using an advanced calendar app, you can set events as a standard template to use when you start planning your week. If not, set a recurring event for each of your most important time blocks in Google Calendar and edit each individual event. It’s a bit of a pain, and time intensive, but it’s better than starting from scratch every week.
Planning software like Skedpal works with your weekly calendar too — but more as an internal organizational automation tool. It can take your to-do list, the priorities you’ve marked, and your preferences, and automatically time block your week for you. It’s remarkable.
Different planning tools will work differently, but here we’ll go through the benefits of Skedpal. It integrates with Google Calendar, Windows Calendar, Microsoft, and Woven. All that Skedpal needs from you is a time map for what your ideal week looks like and it does the rest. Let it know when you do your best deep work (Tuesday mornings?), when you prefer to handle busywork like email (8am and 3pm?), and rank the most important items on your to-do list and it maps your whole week onto your calendar in seconds.
Once your schedule is set, you can drag and drop anything you’d like to move and the app will adjust around that change. Plus, if a new meeting comes up or something takes longer than planned, simply update your calendar and it’ll reshuffle your busywork to wherever it fits best (and move your most important tasks to your next block of focused time).
When you use a planning tool for your internal blocking and a scheduling tool for bookings, you can easily carve out a productive week (or month!) in minutes — while allowing for ongoing modifications as necessary.
Last, but certainly not least, we can’t leave out the easiest yet notably reliable tip for easily scheduling your week — getting some help. But don’t run to HR just yet, we have some modern twists on hiring an assistant to help with your schedule (and your overhead). Putting someone else in charge of your schedule is the fastest way to get scheduling out of your hair once and for all. If you don’t already have a full-time person who works in your office that’s okay. Nowadays, you can find affordable support that’s specifically focused on getting your schedule right and letting you get on with your week.
A virtual receptionist service like Smith.ai can answer all of your incoming calls and book appointments on your calendar using your scheduling software. Much more affordable than an in-house receptionist, they can cover many of the same needs including taking payments for consultations, answering frequently asked questions, and even calling to confirm appointments. And they’re mostly available 24/7, meaning they can book appointments for you even after hours. Virtual receptionist services won’t be able to manage your calendar internally but, hopefully, you’ve found a planning software to take care of that anyway — right?
Another increasingly popular option the last few years has been hiring a virtual assistant from overseas. While their schedule might not directly overlap with yours, there are lots of freelance or full-time professions in eastern Europe or southeast Asia that charge a fraction of what a western employee charges per hour. If you don’t need an assistant whose schedule overlaps directly with yours, but need more dedicated help than a virtual receptionist service can provide (or are thinking of using the two in combination), hiring through a service like Upwork can be an extremely affordable option. They’ll get to know your schedule, your preferences, and offer a level of personalization that most business services simply can’t compete with.
Finally, the most modern update to hiring an assistant isn’t actually an assistant at all: It’s software. We’ve seen incredible advances in what artificial intelligence can understand from emails, so apps like Clara can do a surprisingly good job of offering times to your contacts and helping to get meetings onto your calendar. While they can’t help you plan your week, having software that can handle booking meetings is an impressive start. More robust solutions like Smith.ai have done a great job of pairing AI with human support to give you the best of both worlds — plus, Smith.ai offers sales support and appointment booking via website chat, text message, and Facebook in addition to calls.
This might seem like a lot of information, but once you put it into action, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to integrate into your work. Start by making an exhaustive to-do list every Monday morning (or better yet, Friday afternoon), ranking your priorities for the week. This will clarify what tasks need to be completed first and how to set aside time properly.
Then start time blocking your week. Even if you just block out your most important tasks and repetitive routines like lunch and email, you’ll be way ahead of the curve and have a much better idea of what time is left in your week. This will help you make better decisions and get a more realistic view of what you can get done in your week so you can be well-equipped to make more practical plans.
Once you’ve blocked out your time, make sure you’re using a modern scheduling app, preferably one that has everything in one place so you’re not jumping back and forth between different services and running the risk of something breaking. Obviously, I’m very fond of Woven, but take it for a spin and try it out yourself – it doesn’t cost anything to get started.
And, of course, try a virtual receptionist service or a virtual assistant for call answering. With trained professionals taking good care of your scheduling needs for you, you’ll have more time to focus on getting real work done, enabling you to achieve the high-levels of productivity you’ve been searching for.
Hopefully, this post gave you some helpful ideas about how to quickly and easily time block your week so you can build yourself a more effective schedule and get more done.
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