Micro-scheduling: How to break down your time into small pieces of efficiency

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of Microsoft, speaks during an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. Source: AP/Carolyn Kaster.

Do you plan your day down to tiny chunks? There’s planning, and then there’s micro-scheduling. 

Some say micro-scheduling will help you to avoid getting overloaded by your mountain of tasks to do in a specific period of time. Knowing exactly what you’ve got to do every few minutes, you can tick and flick as you go, then supposedly feel great all the time being so efficient.

The term is becoming popular because people report feeling overwhelmed by what they’re having to do each day. It comforts some to write their daily itineraries down, or log them in a spreadsheet. Scheduling has roots in the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago, which saw a massive change in the way people organised their time. The new factories were rushing out unprecedented machinery and modes of transport and also applying new kinds of business organisation. Coordination was critical to bringing together raw materials, marshalling workers and regulating output. Time management, therefore, came into the lexicon.

Elon Musk and Bill Gates reportedly break their days down into five-minute chunks. If you’re a captain of industry, it also supposedly makes you more accountable — shareholders can check what you’re up to (perhaps via your Twitter feed) and breathe a collective sigh of relief that you’re on the job, increasing the company’s value. Back in 2010, venture capitalist Juliet de Baubigny was swearing by it (though, these people’s schedules make Juliet’s seem chilled by comparison). 

A powerful tool to manage complexity

Micro-scheduling is essential for industries and any kind of project where there are a zillion variables and budgets to tamp down. Event planning, construction, film-making (mega-productions employ thousands) all require hefty amounts of precise, yet flexible organisation. When micro-scheduling is called for, it’s beyond intense — but the rewards can be tremendous.

Moving forward, there’s no question that some people are downright ridiculous about their approach to micro-scheduling. They might indeed be getting ‘lots done’ (and feeling ‘in control’), but the odds are that something else — relationships, quality of life, health — is suffering.

How can you manage yourself more effectively?

  • Choose your goals — short term, medium and long term — in your work life, home, finances and so on. 
  • Categorise them accordingly to prevent overlap — though you’ll note how some goals inevitably impact others.
  • Determine your priorities. It can be helpful to decide what needs to be done first, and then work your way through them all.
  • Plunge in. See what you can concurrently juggle (bearing in mind that some people need to focus on a task at a time — multitasking isn’t for everyone, nor should it be).
  • Set yourself realistic, reasonable timeframes — time is astonishingly elastic. There are days when we can never get all we want done, but there are also smooth-flowing days when things magically come together. 
  • Set mini-tasks and smaller deadlines when the overall project is big. Micro-scheduling can be helpful.
  • Plan break times and contingency slots for the extra challenges you might face (those unknown spanners).
  • Share your plans with key stakeholders on a need-to-know basis.
  • Get help if you are stuck and re-evaluate the plans.
  • Celebrate steps achieved and tasks completed.
  • Remember that rest and regular exercise and recreation is important for recharging your batteries. 
  • Don’t punish yourself for not making “targets”. It is a recipe for severe mental stress. Every once in a while, why don’t you sleep in, have breakfast an hour later or do a digital detox?

Life isn’t something you greedily snort, like an illicit substance. You can plan it, time it, and even accomplish wonders — but there’s much to be said for a ‘slower-cooking’ approach, which frequently results in a higher quality of output.

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