How To Increase Your Productivity And Follow Your Unpredictable Schedule: 3 Easy Tips

Do you struggle with following your calendar?

You diligently plan out your week.

Perhaps you even time block your day.

But no matter what planner you use or productivity hack you try, you can’t seem to get everything done.

Time somehow slips through the cracks and by the end of the day you’ve made it through ⅓ of the list.

If this sounds familiar, then you’re in the right place.

I’m here to share three powerful tips to help you follow your calendar.

It’s time to finally check those tasks off your list.

Learn how by listening to the episode below, or streaming it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

Listen To The Podcast Here!

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • The leading reasons we struggle to follow our calendar
  • How to think differently about unpredictable schedules 
  • 3 powerful strategies you can try today to start getting things done

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Episode #83: (Transcript) How To Increase Your Productivity And Follow Your Schedule

Hey everybody Welcome to episode 83 of the podcast what’s going on? How was your week?  

So a few weeks ago I was reading a book on executive functioning by Lara Honos-Webb, and she mentioned creating space for chaos in our schedule through this scientific concept of entropy.

Now I’m not going to lie, I may have learned about the term entropy back in high school, but when I read about it a few weeks ago, I was definitely not familiar with it anymore. The author described it as a law of physics that tells us systems tend toward increasing disorder. 

Now, I needed to know more. I still didn’t really have any idea what that meant, so I decided to the Googles. And as you might imagine, I was quickly sucked down the rabbit hole figuring out what the concept actually is.

And before you skip ahead to the next podcast episode, don’t worry. This is not going to turn into some kind of scientific explanation. However, I do want to give a quick definition and some background on it, because it not only ties into the inspiration for today’s podcast topic. But it also it helped me start both thinking about and teaching about scheduling in a slightly different way.

Now for everyone who is more science-savvy than I am, bear with me in my layman’s terms definitions of these concepts of both entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, which is where you find this term comes up.

Entropy and Thermodynamics (Yes, really…)

So basically, entropy is often interpreted as the amount of disorder or randomness in a system. And the second law of thermodynamics talks about how systems gradually move toward a larger amount of disorder and randomness over time, In other words, it’s the gradual decline into disorder. 

So for example, we could think about an ice cube melting. In this scenario, we have “order” when the ice is solid because the individual molecules are fixed. Then as the ice melts, the water molecules have more movement and become disordered. And then if we boiled the water, the molecules would turn into vapor and move freely in space.

And one of the ideas that really stuck out to me with this definition that I found on a physics website from BU (I really went down the rabbit hole, friends). But the definition was: the second law of thermodynamics states that the level of entropy, or the level of disorder in the universe, is steadily increasing. And that systems tend to move from ordered behavior to more random behavior.

And that’s the part that really piqued my interest and got me thinking. In nature, our systems tend to move from ordered behavior to more random behavior. Are we good so far? 

Okay, good.

Now stick with me as I leap to something seemingly unrelated because I promise I will tie all of this together. 

How To Follow Your Calendar

When I work on scheduling and follow through with my clients. (in other words, creating a daily and weekly schedule that works for them, and that they actually follow and complete the things on their list.) One of the most common obstacles we work through here is not being able to adhere to the plan they made.

They’ll set out to create a schedule for the week, and they time block everything perfectly into slots in their calendar so – on paper – everything makes complete sense. They should be able to get it all done. (Notice that sneaky should in there… they should be able to get it all done.)

But invariably, something comes up. They get interrupted by a phone call or their kid doesn’t take their nap. Maybe they misjudged how long a task takes, so rather than the scheduled hour they allotted, in actuality, it was 2 ½ hours later that they checked it off the list. 

Calendar Interruptions

I know we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all had our clear, ideal schedule that ultimately dissolved into a free-for-all. We’ve had those days where you look at the calendar and you stay on track for – maybe – the first two hours, but by hour three you’re already stretching your time blocks out. You’re rearranging and cutting out projects or tasks, and by the end of the day, you’re thinking to yourself, what in the world just happened today?

Tell me I’m not alone here. 

And I think this makes sense on several different levels because there are opportunities for obstacles to pop up everywhere.

Time Blindness and ADHD

For example, for many of us with ADHD or ADHD tendencies, we have this thing called time blindness, where our brain doesn’t grasp the concept of passing time. It struggles to measure and know how long we’ve been doing something. When we slip into hyper-focus on something, 3 hours might seem like 30 minutes. Or when we’re thinking about doing something we absolutely dread, 5 minutes can seem like 5 hours.

So with time blindness, we can absolutely struggle to create an accurate schedule if we haven’t learned how to increase our awareness of passing time or learn how long things actually take.

Doing Something New

Additionally, whether you have ADHD or not, whenever we are doing something new, this again leads to uncertainty and unpredictability when we create our schedule. When we’ve never done something before, we don’t always have a great guesstimate of how long things will take. So while we can make an educated guess, and we can pull from similar experiences or the usual speed at which we work, there is still some unknown there.

Collaborative Projects

Or maybe you’re in a position where you work with a team of people. Perhaps it is a collaborative type of position where you often find yourself waiting on someone else to finish their part before you can move on to the next step of your part. Again, since we can’t control other people, we might find ourselves trying to create a schedule to get things done, but when someone doesn’t complete their part on time, or they do it differently from what you expect, that can throw a wrench in your plan. 

Unpredictable Schedules

And of course, we have the general catch-all of unpredictable schedules, too. Whether you are on call in the health care field, you work from home as a parent with young kids, or you have a boss who often makes last-minute requests. Plus there are random times when things “go wrong” and you choose to shift your attention to them. So maybe you need to call a plumber or electrician. Or perhaps there’s bad weather that you didn’t anticipate. 

Uncertainty Is Certain

In other words, if there is one thing that’s certain in this world, it’s that life is uncertain and unpredictable. Can we make accurate guestimates of things? Sure. Can we plan ahead about whether our boss will hold the meeting longer? Can we guess whether traffic will be particularly heavy? Sure. We can plan for it. But we don’t know with 100% certainty. 

And if you’re someone who thrives on certainty and planning like I do, believe me, I know how it feels when you think to yourself: wait a minute… I actually can’t plan for everything. This feels terrible. As a side note, I took the enneagram test for the first time a few weeks ago. It turns out I am a 6. And apparently one of the things sixes want most is security and safety. So this whole concept that the only thing that’s certain in the world is uncertainty…not my favorite.

But I also know it’s reality. And because of this, when we try to plan every minute of every day with certainty, as if everything will always go perfectly to plan, we set ourselves up for some challenges along the way.

Because even though we start with a clear plan for our day, and our schedule is planned down to the minute, as the second law of thermodynamics reminds us (told you I’d bring it back) the level of disorder is slowly increasing. Just like the ice cube melting and molecules spreading into disorder, what if the same is true for our schedule? What then?

The Need For White Space

In other words, when you time block your day and allot for each minute without any flexibility or wiggle room, what if it’s perfectly normal that things don’t always go exactly as planned? In fact, what if it’s even expected? What if it’s science?

Now, I can picture all of you scientists and people who legitimately understand how this theory works just shaking your head right now… I am sure I am getting all of the details wrong. But I do love the analogy to challenge our belief that we should be able to plan for everything. And if we don’t adhere to the exact plan – it means we “can’t follow through on anything.”

Entertaining this theory and the concept that nature shifts from order into disorder helped me question this. What if – just because you didn’t follow your packed calendar to the T – it doesn’t mean you’re bad at following through? In fact, what if that’s not the case at all? What if it’s perfectly normal when this happens? And rather than beating ourselves up for it, we just need to create space for it?

What if we just need to be more intentional about building in some breathing room? What if we just need space in our calendar for when unpredictable things come up and we adjust our schedule?

Yes, You Still Need To Plan

Now, this is a concept where your brain may want to goto extremes.. So for those of you listening thinking, “Okay…so you’re saying that I can’t really plan for anything so I should just let things happen as they do because that’s how science works?” No. That’s absolutely not what I’m saying. Of course, I find so much value in creating a schedule and planning out your days ahead of time. But what I am saying is that we can be more intentional about how we set up that schedule so we’re doing it in a way that serves us.

So let’s talk about what that looks like. 

I’m going to share three main strategies that I use to help allow for the unpredictability that comes up in our day-to-day.

Buffer Time

First of all, I like to do this on a small scale in terms of transition time. Now, transition time can be tricky for several different reasons.

For one, you’re challenging your brain to stop doing one thing and start doing another. This is an executive function that – on the surface – sounds like it shouldn’t be a challenge at all. Simply stop what you’re doing and start the next thing. What’s the problem?

Transition Time And Executive Functioning

Well, if you’re doing something you really enjoy or you’re in the flow, it can feel more challenging to stop. Your brain might tell you, “just 5 more minutes.” Or it might think, “ if I stop now I won’t remember when I come back.” Or “it will take too long to get back into the flow again.” And with all of those thoughts, we feel such reluctance to stop what we’re doing and shift to the next task.

On the other side of the coin, maybe you need to start something you’re not particularly excited about. This makes the transition to begin seem harder because we’re thinking, “ugh, I don’t want to do this. This will take too long. I don’t know where to start.” All the familiar procrastination thoughts that create dread and restlessness and resistance to start. 

ADHD and Time Perception

By building in some buffer transition time, and giving your brain the heads up that in 10 minutes it’s time to pivot, or in 15 minutes we’re starting the new task, it often makes it easier for your brain to make that shift. Just as you give your little kids the 10-minute warning before bedtime, the same is true for us. We give the toddler part of our brain a little heads up. 

Last Minute Details

And the other reason why I love to leave buffer time between projects or meetings is it gives you space to wrap up last-minute details. So whether you create a 10-15 minute window between your meetings or you’re working on a new type of project and you’re not 100% sure how long it will take you, having those extra minutes before the next task gives you some breathing room. 

For example, my coaching calls with my clients are all 50 minutes long. By giving myself that 10-minute window between calls, I have space to write a few notes for my client, and review my notes for the next call without feeling super rushed. 

So the first way to help us navigate the unpredictable a bit better is to build in some transition time between your tasks and meetings.

Overflow time

The next way we can approach this is by scheduling some overflow time in our schedule each day. In other words, if your workday technically ends at 5, perhaps you schedule your day until 4:00 with 1 hours of overflow at the end to allow for unpredictability. So again, depending on how many interruptions you have in your day-to-day life, you can gauge how much overflow time you want or need to include in your schedule.

If you’re working from home while caring for small children, for example, you may need to allow for quite a bit of overflow time in your calendar. Or if you’re an assistant to someone who often makes last-minute requests you may want to carve out a few hours in your day for when they come up. 

And this doesn’t have to be the same amount of time each day. If you’re learning a new skill or starting a new project, perhaps allow for more overflow time on those days. Once you learn how long the tasks take you to complete, you can schedule your day with more accuracy. 

Parkinson’s Law

Of course, you also want to be careful with this one. We want to remember Parkinson’s Law that work expands to fill the time you have. So as you’re working, make sure you’re actually working and not slipping into procrastiworking, or quickly checking social media, or slipping into perfectionism rather than getting the project done and moving forward in the time you set. 

But as long as you’re being mindful of that one obstacle, creating space in your schedule for overflow time as needed is an incredibly powerful way to create that breathing room and allow space for entropy to occur as it does. I personally try to end my day by about 5, and I try to stop scheduling tasks at 4. This extra hour gives me extra room for if I misjudged the length of a project, if I had extra notes to send to a client, or if something unexpected popped up throughout the day.

And if I did manage to stay on track throughout the day, and I’ve completed my work by 4, that’s great! Most of the time I call it a day and take Bruno for a walk. But there are also times where I know I could use that time to get ahead on another project as well.  There is no right or wrong, so whatever works best for you!

Weekly Loose Ends

The final way I like to plan for this gradual decline into disorder is to leave a few hours on Friday afternoon to tie up loose ends. Just like the overflow time each day, leaving some time at the end of the week allows you to return any calls that came in throughout the week, finish the last details that need finishing, tend to any of the projects you were waiting on from other people, etc. 

And then within this time I also like to look back on my prior week. I ask myself “what worked” and “what didn’t,” I see what I can learn about how often I’m interrupted, and I observe how long I took to complete various tasks. After I gather this knowledge, I am better able to schedule the next week ahead in a way that works for me. 

So we have these three different ways to help us plan for the unpredictable, which I do realize is a complete contradiction. But when we allow breathing room in our schedule, whether it’s 10-15 minutes between tasks and meetings, giving ourselves overflow time at the end of the day, or building in a few hours at the end of the week to tie up loose ends, you set yourself up for success. That way, even if the natural order you set at the beginning of the week does dissolve into disorder, you’ve given yourself space to course correct and still get the most important things done.

Less Stress

While this theory is not meant to apply to our scheduling approaches, I do find it useful to help shift our thoughts. Rather than thinking we are terrible at scheduling whenever we don’t follow our calendar to the T. And instead of trying to pack every minute of our schedule with peak productive tasks each day. It helps us realize that it’s okay – and even useful – to create space for the unexpected. Of course, we want to be careful to not take advantage of this concept. We dno’t want to carve in too much wiggle room because we just don’t feel like sticking to our calendar. But when we create our schedule with intention. And when we use this as a means of learning our workflows, how long things take us, and how we handle transition times, it can be an incredibly useful tool to help us make the most of our time and skyrocket our productivity.