How to create a daily schedule to stay organized all through the day

Viesturs Abelis 20.03.2024
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Creating a daily schedule is easy. But, creating a GOOD daily schedule that fulfils its function and benefits your work is very difficult.

You might scoff – how hard can it really be? Isn’t a daily schedule just a glorified to-do list? 

The answer is no, and if you think so, then this article is for you. In it, we’ll cover everything from the complexities and benefits of a good daily schedule all the way to how to set one up, while balancing productivity, goals, and your own sanity. 

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Here’s what we’re talking about today:

  1. What is a daily schedule?
  2. The benefits of a daily schedule
  3. Do you need a daily schedule?
  4. 5 things to consider before beginning daily scheduling
  5. 5 simple steps for creating a GOOD daily schedule
  6. On to you

Let’s get into it! 

What is a daily schedule? 

At the most basic level, a daily schedule is a time-bound to-do list for a day. It consists of specific tasks, meetings, and other activities assigned to specific time windows throughout an entire (work)day.

You prepare a daily work schedule in advance, allocating available time for various activities in a way that will help you get the most out of your limited hours. Typically, the reason for creating a daily schedule is to help balance a multitude of tasks and responsibilities and do so productively. 

daily scheduling is about finding balance

That said, to create a GOOD schedule, you also need to take into account reality. Let’s illustrate that by comparing a standard template for a daily schedule with what a real day looks like in practice: 

  • A standard daily work schedule template: Task 1, task 2, task 3, lunch, meeting, task 4, task 5. 
  • An actual work day: Task 1, coffee & chitchat, task 1, social media, task 2, get stuck, task 3, lunch, back to task 2, progress interrupted by meeting, task 2, stuck again, task 3, task 2. 

(Un)fortunately, we’re not robots isolated from the flow of daily life. We all have peak productivity hours when everything just clicks, and we all have troughs when all our energy is expended resisting the urge to take a nap. Plus, it’s a regular occurrence for plans to change – an unexpected meeting, completing a task quicker (or slower), a change of priorities, an unexpected office birthday party, etc. 

Much of the value of a daily schedule lies in helping you complete tasks and stay organized. But if your plans are constantly disrupted, then you’ll feel like you’re perpetually falling behind, you’ll feel disorganized, and all that the daily schedule will do is cause unnecessary stress and pressure. 

That’s why I suggest we revise our definition of a daily schedule from the beginning of this section to – a daily schedule is a time-bound to-do list for a day that’s as realistic as possible

The benefits of a daily schedule

If you get it right, then a daily schedule can become your most valuable ally in your day-to-day work – almost like a personal assistant that helps you keep your head clear and your day organized. 

There are many potential benefits. Of course, which of those you actually make use of will depend on how you use your schedule and the nature of your work. That said, you can expect to:

  • Stay organized – by outsourcing your time management, you can be constantly on top of priorities, tasks, and deadlines. 
  • Be more productive – approaching work in a structured manner helps tackle it more effectively and avoid procrastination.
  • Experience less stress – knowing what’s on your plate and when you’ll work on it alleviates the stress of juggling multiple projects or tasks at once. 
  • Make better use of your time – in a similar vein, not jumping from task to task will help you stay focused and make the most of every minute.
  • Better understand your work patterns – sticking to a daily schedule can boost your self-discipline and provide a clearer picture about where your time goes and how much of it. 

All in all, to create a daily schedule seems like a no-brainer. It may appear that all you need to become a superstar worker is to start scheduling. So should you create one right now? And how to make a daily schedule for yourself? 

Do you need a daily schedule?

Let’s come back to reality – creating and following a schedule is not easy. For one, you need to have a good grasp of your work patterns, expectations, deadlines, potential disruptors, upcoming commitments (meetings), and more. Plus, following a schedule demands serious discipline. 

Creating a schedule is also a task unto itself. You need to gather and analyze your workload and organize it in a realistic way, which can take a sizable amount of time. Are you ready to dedicate 30 minutes every day to organizing your tasks? Heads up – most people will answer yes, and while it’s fun at first, the novelty of it quickly wears off, as the planning increasingly starts to feel like a chore. 

That’s why so many people who start a daily work schedule struggle to keep up with it. But to truly tap into the benefits, consistency is key. 

woman presenting daily schedule layout

Moreover, the value of a schedule depends a lot on your line of work. The people who will benefit the most are those who have a lot going on, i.e. multiple projects, meetings, deadlines, and other things that split your attention every which way. On the flip side, if your daily workload is linear – in that your responsibilities are stable and clear – then a daily schedule may have less added value. 

This isn’t to say that you wouldn’t benefit from a daily work schedule. Rather, it’s worth considering whether the effort of putting one together is worthwhile. Maybe all you need is a to-do list. 

5 things to consider before beginning daily scheduling

If you’ve decided that a daily schedule is exactly what you need, then here are some factors that you should take into account to get the most out of it.

1. Account for breaks

Did you know the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break? Breaks are an invaluable component of productive work. Whether it’s to grab a coffee or socialize with colleagues, it’s imperative that you make some space during the day for some decompression that helps you get re-energized for the next leg of the day. 

man wondering why daily work schedule format must include breaks

2. Leverage time-blocking and other productivity-boosting methods

Time-blocking, eating the frog, Pomodoro timers, and other methods that help you be more productive can easily be integrated into your daily schedule. By doing so, you can get even more out of your day and maximize the value of having a schedule. 

3. Build around your productivity patterns 

Different people are most productive at different times of the day. Some thrive in the early morning, while others peak in the afternoon when they’re finally fully awake. You can identify your productivity patterns with tools like DeskTime and then build your day around them, e.g. if you’re most focused in the morning, then schedule deep work for that time, while avoiding meetings and other distractions. 

4. Expect distractions 

Even the best-crafted schedule will get disrupted. Meetings will pop up, some tasks will take longer, and priorities will change. It’s inevitable. That’s why you should be ready to respond to these disruptions. This might entail adjusting your schedule or, on the contrary, returning to it after a disruption, depending on its type and disruptiveness. In either case, it’s a smart idea to give yourself some leeway when scheduling to account for some distractions. 

5. Plan for maintaining your schedule

As mentioned previously, daily scheduling is a lot of work. Unless you’re happy to take care of it after hours, you should make some room for planning during the workday. 

Now that you know the pros and cons of a daily schedule, what you should look out for, and how to get the most out of it, it’s finally time to dig into creating one. 

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5 simple steps for creating a GOOD daily schedule

So, how to make a daily schedule?

Before we begin, here’s what you should expect – you’ll get your first schedule wrong. Unless you’re incredibly in tune with your work, you’ll likely underestimate some tasks, overestimate others, forget about some commitments (is the quarterly company all-hands on the horizon?), and more. 

But, that’s fine. Scheduling is a skill and it’ll improve as you train it. The most important part is staying consistent. 

Step 1: Write down all your tasks for next week

Take your time and write everything down – that includes specific tasks, scheduled meetings, and anything else that’s on your plate. If you’re primarily working on a single large project, don’t hesitate to break it down into smaller chunks, e.g. “writing an article about daily schedules” would break down into research, writing, editing, getting approval and outside input, as well as publishing. 

Step 2: Fill out your daily work schedule layout with non-negotiable activities

Now, let’s give your days a basic structure by noting key activities. For example, a call with the CEO or a daily stand-up with the team are things that are likely mandatory, hence, it makes sense to start populating your schedule with those. 

In this step, I also strongly recommend including time for lunch and breaks. Give yourself at least 10 minutes every 2 hours to recharge + at least 30 minutes for lunch. 

Step 3: Prioritize and organize your tasks

We should already have some things crossed out from the list we made in Step 1. Now take a look at the rest and prioritize tasks by deadlines, impact, and/or dependency (i.e. do you or other people depend on you completing this for another task). 

Obviously, those with shorter deadlines will need to be taken care of sooner. Likewise, tasks with a bigger impact should be your priority over those that are less important. And some tasks will naturally precede others, e.g. you cannot edit the article before it’s written. 

Step 4: Fill the rest of your schedule – strategically

Now that you have an overview of what’s on your plate, as well as a basic daily work schedule format for your day defined by non-negotiables and breaks, it’s time to fill out the rest of the schedule. 

First, pay attention to deep-work windows, namely, prolonged time periods when your productivity is at its peak, and find the most suitable tasks for those. For instance, the writing part of writing an article requires focus and no distractions to be completed efficiently. So it’s a good task to dedicate your peak hours to. 

man showing how to create a daily schedule

In the same vein, you’ll have some hours of the day where you’re less productive and it’s wise to fill those with less intense tasks.

As your schedule fills up, you’ll have less and less room for your remaining responsibilities, making it increasingly easy to slot them in somewhere. Let deadlines guide your hand, or, if all else is equal, you can simply go by gut feeling or personal preference. 

Step 5: Iterate, optimize, and adapt

As mentioned before, your schedule won’t reflect what your day or week will really look like. Interruptions are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed your schedule. All you have to do is adapt. As you get more comfortable with scheduling, you’ll learn to:

  • make room for unexpected events, 
  • quickly reorganize your plans,
  • be more accurate with estimating time for tasks,
  • and more.

Remember, it takes time to build a habit, but once you do, you won’t be able to imagine work without your daily schedule. 

On to you

Hopefully, you now have a better grasp of the difference between a daily schedule and a GOOD daily schedule. Clearly, creating one that truly benefits you and your work takes more than just haphazardly jotting down some tasks in a planner. It demands serious planning and dedication and the daily schedule ideas in this article should help. 

But the good news is that anyone can do it and unlock the many advantages of a daily schedule. Now you know how. 

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