Working to a Schedule: When to move on from a task and when to stick it out?

In this video I share my experience from the previous week of working to a fixed schedule. 

As most regular readers will know, I recently left my 9-5 job behind, and I now have to motivate myself to work each day. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been setting up a daily schedule after my morning routine and trying my best to keep to it. 

Easier said than done!

I found there are clear Pro’s and Con’s to working on a set schedule, and I share them with you in this video. 

I also learnt that I handle Creative and Logical tasks in a different way within the daily structure.



Video Notes: (For the people that fancy a cheeky Blog post read behind the boss’s back)

Working for yourself is awesome. Now that I’m living it, I wouldn’t change it at all. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The lack of leadership in my life is freeing and wonderful, but I’m now responsible for getting things done. 100% ME!

Lou works shifts so there are times when she’s home with me until mid afternoon, the temptation to hang out with her is big. If it’s a beautiful day outside, it’s tough to deny yourself the glory of sun and nature, especially when no-one is watching over you. 

Since finishing my 9-5 job, I started to implement a schedule into my life to keep me on track and avoid getting sucked into such productivity nightmares. The system I use is basic, but it works for me. For those that are interested, I use Google Calendar, and simply block my time out on various tasks, including lunch and drink breaks. Toilet breaks happen when they happen!

One of my strengths is my ability to believe in myself and think that I can achieve anything. I’ve taken on numerous tasks in my life because I want to accomplish so much. Overall I’d say this is a good thing. The downside to this is I’m liable to take on more than I can handle. If there aren’t time constraints that’s fine, but if other people are involved or my quality is impacted, then that isn’t great. 

Scheduling has helped me balance out my vast workload. I now put in set time to concentrate on the things I want to do in my life each day if I can:

  • Blogging / Youtube (may become separate in time)
  • Book writing – I want to release my own written book on Money management this year. 
  • Kindle Publishing – My F/T job. 
  • Kindle Coaching – 1-to-1 time with clients, preparing and summarising sessions.
  • Affiliate Marketing – Setting up auto-responders for my Kindle Book author names
  • Future Projects – New website / Blog & Kindle Publishing course / FIRE Escapes
  • Weight Training / Exercise
  • Personal Development / Learning


Rather than dedicating entire days or half day chunks to certain tasks, I’m trialling a system where I work for something between 30 mins up to 2 hours on set tasks. 60 mins is regularly used. I might change this system in time, but I want to continue using it for now. 

I simply slot in specific tasks from the areas above and put them into my day. 

I’ve found some Pro’s and Con’s to using a set schedule, and I want to share them with you. 


The Good

  • Keeps me accountable and on task
  • Creates urgency
  • Allows me to cover multiple tasks throughout the week
  • Minimises the possibility of missing certain areas above

The Bad
  • Can create unnecessary pressure
  • *Hard to predict how long tasks will take* (Key point in post!)
  • Urgency can stifle creativity
  • Dissatisfaction from not completing tasks – Moving on to fit schedule
  • Or, missing opportunity to continue with task when you’re ‘in the zone’

I found estimating a tasks length one of the harder things to do. I regularly underestimate the time required to complete tasks. I would then be left with the question of what to do next? (I know that in time this will improve)

Do I just move on from the task and stick to the schedule?

Or, do I see it out to completion and get the job done?

I tried both!

And yet again, I found pro’s and con’s to each. 


Real Example – Writing my Book

I set some time aside to consider the contents of the ‘Money book’ I’m creating. I got all excited thinking about what to cover – Changing your mindset, working to a Budget, frugal living, saving %, investing, Early Retirement. 

The truth is, there could be anything from 1-6 books there. Is that too much? What do I leave out?

I was struggling to decide what to cut out without compromising the quality of the content. I researched forums, facebook, amazon reviews and tried to get into the head of my audience. This process was taking me hours. The thing is, it was important for me to get over this hurdle so that I could start writing, and putting together the notes I had previously made earlier this year on the same topic. 

I tried moving on from the task, as the schedule suggested. This bugged me. I felt an underlying frustration that I couldn’t complete this task (I understand this is a limiting belief and I ultimately have control). Moving onto a task that I deemed ‘less important’ didn’t seem right, but I did it anyway. 

I then spent the following afternoon on giving the Book contents my undivided attention and ignoring the schedule until I got the result I wanted. This lead to 3 1/2 hours of creative mind wandering, and little progress. I could have spent another 3 hours and I think with the state I was in, I would have made little progress. 

I’m a logical thinking guy. I like subjects like maths and science that have right and wrong answers. My strength doesn’t lie in English or the creative arts. 

For example, when watching countdown, I like the numbers round and despise the letters equivalent. I look at:

A     R     S     E    T     W     C     I     P

and I just see ‘ARSE’, ‘SET’, and ‘TIP’. My mind almost gets overwhelmed with all the possibilities. I think the best I’ve ever done is a 6 letter word and you would have thought I had received an unexpected special dividend from Amlin. I was over the moon!

Can anyone beat ‘Arse’ by the way? Answers below in the comments!

My 2 approaches to tackling this creative thinking ‘blank’ brought me to some insightful learning points about myself:
Working on creative thinking or challenging tasks 

  • Set a time limit to work. Base response on current mindset. If in the ‘creative zone’, which is rare for me, stay on task for another 30 mins and repeat. If I’m just ruminating about all the different options and getting nowhere, cut the cord and move on.  


Working on logical or rudimentary tasks
  • I can chose to move on from the task to fit my schedule or I can work through to completion if it’s a ‘Must Do’ job. Either option sits well with me.


The HMRC didn’t send me a letter that they said they would, and it had been over a week. I designated 30 mins to calling them and asking them to resend it. I was on hold for 20 minutes (at 9.30am!), had to go through security questions and I was cut off by my phone battery. I decided that because the task was very important, I needed to see it through to the end. 90 minutes later I had finished the call, called my accountant, sent him some details and was satisfied that the job was done, despite it taking 90 minutes instead of 30. 

Taking the same approach in establishing my books contents (creative thinking) left me feeling deflated, it didn’t help my productivity, and other tasks suffered. In future, I will give myself 30 mins to turn things around. If it’s going well I’ll continue for 30 mins, if it’s not working for me at that particular time, I’ll just move on. 

I’m not sure if anyone can glean any value from this self assessment, but at the very least you have a Countdown puzzle to solve. Just don’t take more than 30 secs……



How do you set up your daily schedule? Do you find it a struggle? What are your coping strategies? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

0 Comments

  • Mike Rawson

    Reply Reply 30th October 2015

    Hi Huw,

    Great post. I tried and failed with a schedule at home, largely because I couldn't predict how long things would take.

    Now I just start with the most important thing and then move on to the next when that's done.

    I still have a specific time for exercise.

    I've posted this article to the FIRE & Frugal reddit that I moderate.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/UK_FIRE_and_Frugal/

    Oh, and WIRETAPS. I had CARPETS for a long time. I think the 30 seconds with a ticking clock – and the music – are the big problems with countdown.

    Mike

  • Dividend Freedom

    Reply Reply 30th October 2015

    Great post!

    I have been thinking on how to tackle the freedom once I reach financial independence (12 years from now), and I really think you are doing the right thing. I would probably scheduling my own freedom with tasks I enjoy 100% and in the same time be as productive as posible.

    Take care
    Dividend Freedom

  • Huw Davies

    Reply Reply 30th October 2015

    Hey Mike,

    Thank you very much. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Your method is a popular option. I will compromise my schedule for a MIT for sure. The downside I found with using it is that I tended to miss doing work in multiple areas. I got behind and lost motivation in sometimes. DO you suffer the same fate or is it just me?

    Thanks for the link. I'll check it out at lunch!

    Congrats on WIRETAPS and CARPETS. Great find! I could only wish to be as accomplished on the task.

    All the best
    Huw

  • Huw Davies

    Reply Reply 30th October 2015

    Hi DF,

    Thank you very much!

    It's a nice problem to have I must admit, and it's not really a problem. It's more about how I can optimise productivity and maximise results.

    I wish you luck on your 12 year journey!

    Huw

  • Mike Rawson

    Reply Reply 1st November 2015

    Hi Huw,

    You're absolutely right – the danger is that you just never get round to some things.

    In theory your prioritisation system should take care of that, but there's a risk that you focus too much on the things you've been doing most recently.

    You need to step back every week or two and make sure you're still happy with what should be most important.

  • M from There's Value

    Reply Reply 1st November 2015

    P R A C T I S E – but then I did study literature so I really should do well on these… the numbers on the other hand??? If there isn't a 100 and loads of other easy solutions then I fail every time.

    Scheduling – I have tried every bloody task manager and calendar app out there. I do use google calendar too, but often still miss things. I have found the most effective thing for me is to use the 'my effectiveness' app on android in conjunction with physically writing out a to-do list – I even draw the little squares on the page so I can tick them later. This makes me feel satisfied, even when it's a shitty task that I didn't really want to do but had to.

    I've given up trying to guess how long stuff will take, so I just make sure I plough through to get the things done that have certain deadlines, everything else I just take one at a time. You can only know how long stuff will take for regular, repetitive tasks, so there's no point trying to guess otherwise. You may as well write out your whole list and then choose the 3 MITs you need to get done today and then just work on each, one by one. One task could take 4 hours, one could take 30mins, and one could take 1.5hrs – but you'll feel good at the end of it. If you happen to have 'spare' time when finishing these, you can do another task of your choice.

  • Jim McG

    Reply Reply 2nd November 2015

    Ironically, the first word I spotted on the Countdown challenge was WRITES

  • Huw Davies

    Reply Reply 2nd November 2015

    Hi Mike,

    I think you're spot on too. There is a risk to not stepping back and considering the work you've done or that remains undone. I conduct weekly reviews, to look back over the 7 days, and to look forward over the next 1-3 weeks. It's important to consider all tasks at this stage, to avoid what you mention above.

    I'd like to think that I do a good job of that, but it's still worthwhile to be mindful of it.

    Thanks again!
    Huw

  • Huw Davies

    Reply Reply 2nd November 2015

    You nailed it M! What a great word too.

    I'm not aware of the effectiveness app. I'll be sure to check it out if my productivity suffers or I find this isn't working for me. I too write out my daily 'Must Do' tasks from google calendar into my work diary to do exactly the same thing – cross them out. There's something very satisfying about crossing out a task with pen.

    I'm coming to the same conclusion as you with estimating work completion time. It's difficult to do, and I'm not sure I'll persist. I'm either going to be head strong on following through to completing a 'must do' task or setting a time frame in which to work on it – such as 1 hour 'book writing time'. I still class 'must do's' as time chunks like I mention in book writing. I would never complete a book in a day, but there's something to be said for making sure you write for a set time everyday to keep the project moving.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I benefit (and I'm sure other people do too) from you sharing your practices.

    Huw

  • Huw Davies

    Reply Reply 2nd November 2015

    Ha ha.

    I still just see 'arse'!

  • EdwardJBean

    Reply Reply 4th November 2015

    I think "Parsec" belies my engineering background… good efforts for the seven letters and above! Mind you, I've been following 8 out of 10 cats does Countdown and I kick ass at the numbers round. Eat your heart out Rachel Riley. With a spoon. A rusty spoon.

    Anyway, back on topic for this post – I find that scheduling works well to get some proper high detailed work done during the first half of the day (brain fully recharged from a night's rest)… but need to leave the late afternoon for some of the more mundane "must get done but doesn't need much thought" tasks.

  • Huw Davies

    Reply Reply 5th November 2015

    Nice work Ed!

    Ha ha. I'm not sure I'd match Rachael for speed, and I can't help but find the clock massively off-putting, but the maths round is my favourite for sure. I'd like to see you in action!

    Well said on the afternoon scheduling front. I've found that I can do a cheeky 'thinking' task after lunch, as I've just come off a break, but after that I'm with you on keeping it 'low thought'. Thanks for sharing your views!

    Huw

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