So you made a schedule. Now respect it.

Making a schedule is half strategy, half fantasy; you sit down, you imagine how the next few days or weeks will go, and you attempt to write it into existence. But what happens when, you know, life happens? Here are a few tips to help respect (and help others respect!) the schedule you make - and maybe a few pointers on when to be flexible, too! 

  • Figure out not just the schedule, but the tools/resources you need to make it work. If your plan is to wake up every morning and write from 8 am to 11 am, how much sleep do you need? Do you need to have an idea of what your breakfast will be so you don't need to make that decision before dawn? Do you need help getting other humans in your house out the door, or the dogs walked? Schedules are great, but they don't happen in isolation, so figuring out what you need, and when you need it, to make the work happen is important. 

  • Have you considered buffer/transition time? A written schedule can be deceiving - the class you teach might end at noon, but do students often want to speak to you afterward? Do you need to eat lunch (probably!!)? Do you need a few minutes to walk around the block, or answer emails, or switch locations so that you can write in peace? Accounting for that buffer, rather than always being "behind", can lower the "ahhh I'm late for the schedule that I created!" anxiety. 

  • Are you inviting in distraction? Some distractions can't be prevented, but others can be anticipated and headed off at the pass. Maybe you just can't get into the deep focus state you need for writing at home, where there is laundry to do and meals to prepare - so you stay on campus an hour later than normal to get two good poms of writing in after you teach. Maybe your lab computer has an internet browser, so you're surfing Twitter while running experiments, instead of reading, or grading, in the down time. Email inboxes are basically a list of invitations to do something else - snoozing your inbox, keeping the tab closed, and removing notifications from your phone can help you look at your email more purposefully. Yes, you can work through distraction, but if you can prevent it, that's more energy to use on your scheduled task and less you need to spend on sticking to your schedule. 

  • Communicate about your schedule to stakeholders so they can help you keep to it. Especially if you're starting a new schedule, it can help to give people a heads up about changes. Include a line in your syllabus that you check your email once or twice a day, and rarely in evenings or on weekends, so that your students know when to expect a response. Ask your PI or lab mates if there's a possibility of protecting a block of time for your writing, and then speak up if there's a meeting schedule that conflicts with that protected time. Tell your parents or friends that Thursday evenings work well for phone calls to catch up (because your brain is tired anyway!) and that unless it's an emergency, texts are a better way to get in contact. Put a sign up on your office door so that your office mates, kids, partner, or roommates know that when the door is closed, you're focusing. These boundaries can be hard when they're new, but the more that you present them as necessary and not optional, the easier they are to enforce. 

  • But, schedule in time to be present with your life, too! If your schedule is all work, it can be hard for people to know when and where you can be with them. In my house, I will schedule "work nights" where I know that I will have to focus into the evening, but I balance them out by making sure that when I'm not working, I'm actually present (no emails on my phone while I'm supposed to be watching a movie!) Write it in your schedule - this is the time when I live my full, human life. 

Of course, there will always be things that come up - a sickness, a family schedule change, a last minute advisor request, a deadline, days or weeks when you get behind. It is so easy to slip into the magical thinking loop where you imagine how if you had just stuck to the schedule in the past, everything would be perfect in the future. Schedules are helpful tools, but they are just tools. Showing up, trying again, believing in your ability to make progress no matter how it looks - that's what finishes tasks and gets things done.