How to hack your work schedule for a more productive day, according to a multitasking expert

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Key Points
  • A schedule can "create the perception of time scarcity and generate the feeling that they are just rushing do the next thing when the time comes," one expert says.
  • Clumping together meetings or planning for all meetings to be held on one day can help you optimize your time.
  • Even if you have a rigid schedule, remaining flexible can help you get more tasks done.

The schedules of celebrities and CEOs have always been a topic of much fascination. Apple CEO Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45 AM every day to read user comments. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey meditates one hour a day. Kris Jenner drinks coffee, checks emails, hops on the treadmill, lifts weights, watches the news, and showers all before starting her day at 7 AM.

The idea that hyper-successful people achieve goals through superior time management isn't untrue, says Raquel Benbunan-Fich, a professor of information systems at Baruch College who specializes in user behavior and multitasking.

"CEOs have more demands on their time than they can possibly accommodate," she says. "For them, tight scheduling serves an important purpose. Scheduling imposes protective barriers to ensure that their time is not misused by others, that problems are addressed promptly and key decisions are made on time."

However, for the average person, that kind of a schedule might backfire. "It can create the perception of time scarcity and generate the feeling that they are just rushing do the next thing when the time comes," she says.

'You are a slave to your own schedule'

Some people do need schedules to hold themselves accountable. However, adhering to the schedule can become more important than what the schedule is supposed to help you accomplish. "Then you are a slave to your own schedule," Benbunan-Fich says. "Instead of it being a tool for you, you are the executer of the schedule."

This might be because your perception of time changes when you know you have a meeting in the near future, says Selin Malkoc, a marketing professor at The Ohio State University who studies how consumers perceive time.

"If you have a meeting from 10 AM to noon and you're sitting at your desk at 9am, that hour feels shorter than if you did not have a meeting at 10," she says.

Instead of it being a tool for you, you are the executer of the schedule.
Raquel Benbunan-Fich
Professor at Baruch College

There are many tasks you could probably complete in an hour, but the looming meeting makes you feel like that time isn't enough. "We cannot complete meaningful tasks because we feel like that requires a substantial chunk of time and this chunk of time I have won't be sufficient for me," she says.

Experts agree that there is not one, right way to make a schedule, but if you start feeling like your schedule is controlling your day as opposed to helping you make the most of it, you might want to make some changes.

1. Trust the clock

If you tend to have small chunks of time between meetings, don't let them go to waste. "Focus on the time on the clock and not your sense of time," Malkoc says.

Even if you just have 30 minutes before a meeting, remind yourself that many kinds of tasks can be completed within that time frame.

2. Clump your meetings

Instead of having a spare 30 minutes here and there between meetings, Malkoc suggests scheduling back-to-back meetings for one half of the day and keeping the other half completely free.

"It's better to have them out of the way," she says.

3. Have 'meeting days'

Schedule one or two meeting-heavy days during the week, Benbunan-Fich suggests, and then keep the rest of the week open.

"Many organizations that are slowly moving their workers back to the office, or adopting hybrid work formats, are employing this approach," she says. "They have specific days where people should be at the office for in person meetings."

Focus on the time on the clock and not your sense of time.
Selin Malkoc
Professor at The Ohio State University

4. Be flexible

Remember that just because you wrote something on your schedule to happen at a particular moment doesn't mean you'll be in the headspace to complete it at that time.

While conducting research, Benbunan-Fich discovered that ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to chronological, schedule, quantitative time. Kairos refers to the perfect time to do something. If you stick too closely to Chronos time, you might miss opportunities to complete a task because you are so concerned with adhering to a schedule.

"By trying to schedule Chronos time and fill it with tasks, we are missing key moments or events or the right times to do certain things," she says.

These tricks will hopefully make your schedule work for you, and not the other way around.

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