Unschedule Your Day and Beat Procrastination
Monday, June 5, 2023

Unschedule Your Day and Beat Procrastination

Scheduling your fun time can deliver a big boost to your productivity.

How many times have you thought, “There are just not enough hours in the day!”? Too much on your to-do list, tons of work to be getting on with. With a schedule full of meetings, deep work sessions, responding to emails, phone calls, accounts, etc., when are you supposed to find time for enjoying yourself?

We all know the benefit of pre-planning, creating a work schedule to ensure we have time to do everything on our to-do list. But, when you don’t have time for anything other than work and hobbies, reading, exercising, meeting friends, and spending time with the kids go by the wayside, you begin to question your plan and lose interest in work. A lack of interest leads to a lack of focus and a tendency to procrastinate. And, we all know procrastination causes delays in starting that long to-do list which means your workload seems even more daunting.

If this sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of a time-management and productivity tool called Unschedule.

What is the Unschedule?

Red fist busting through clock

The unschedule is the brainchild of psychologist and author, Dr. Neil Fiore. In his book, The Now Habit, Fiore suggests that we’ve been approaching our work schedules in completely the wrong way.

According to Fiore, people don’t procrastinate because of laziness. Rather, “Procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.” Whether that anxiety comes from a fear of failure, low self-confidence, perfectionism, work pressure, or stress, overcoming procrastination can often feel like an uphill struggle.

It doesn’t help that society views work as the be-all-and-end-all, the thing we all have to do to be successful. Personal interests and enjoyment take a backseat, something we’ll get to later — if there’s time.

Fiore turns things upside down, telling us that, to achieve more of the work we have to do, we should unschedule, and plan for the activities we enjoy and consider fun. In other words, instead of scheduling for the work you’re procrastinating over, you plan your day around everything else.

How the Unschedule Works

An unscheduled day is broken down into one-hour blocks. You can use your phone’s calendar, a spreadsheet, a productivity app, or even go old-fashioned and use a printed template and pen. Now you can begin filling up your week:

  1. Start putting in the activities and routines you must do, such as sleeping, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, showering, and the commute to and from work.
  1. Next comes the fixed appointments, meetings, lunch plans, and dates you’ve committed to throughout the week.
  1. Finally, schedule the leisure, personal, and fun things you want to do. For example:
  • Health-related activities: Bike rides, swimming, gym sessions, yoga, or meditation.
  • Personal activities: Hobbies, reading, shopping, a round of golf.
  • Social activities: Spending time with family, meeting friends, going to the movies.

Make sure you have at least an hour of leisure each day, and one full day for enjoyable activities and necessary chores. Instead of creating a diary full of work with only a few leisure activities slotted in where possible, you’ve planned for all the fun things, giving you plenty to look forward to.

Your finished unschedule may look a little like this:

Sample Unschdule

Time for Work

Once you’ve completed your unscheduled calendar, you’ll be surprised how little time you actually have for working. You can see where you have “free time” (i.e. the gaps between play times), giving you an overview of exactly how many hours of work are available to you during the week. These open hours are where you focus on tasks and projects, backfilling your unschedule as you go.

When an open hour begins, so do you. Each time you complete 30 minutes of uninterrupted, quality work, make a note of when and what you did on the planner. Whether it’s working on a presentation, responding to emails, collating data, or drafting a report, record each chunk of time spent working.

And, after each work session, give yourself a reward. It doesn’t have to be big, maybe a cookie with your cup of tea, a walk around the block, a 10-minute break, or even just a stand-and-stretch moment. Rewarding yourself will help you associate a job well done with something positive.

Your unschedule lets you see that your day is not all about work. You have things to look forward to and a plan to stick to. It says your journey home is at 5 p.m. or you’re heading to the gym at 4:30 p.m., or you’re meeting a buddy at 6 p.m. You know when your working day is over.

Keep track of the number of hours you spend on deep, undisturbed work each day. And, by the end of the week, you’ll be surprised by the number of quality, productive hours you’ve put in.

Why the Unschedule Works

Smiling Young Businessman with Tablet

Unscheduling is an effective time management tool that works for several reasons.

Life’s not all about work

It can be disheartening to think that life is all about work. Unlike traditional schedules, your unschedule lets you see that your days aren’t just full of work. It’s actually full of fun things and activities to look forward to.

Work no longer seems overwhelming, as you don’t spend as much time working as you previously thought. In between sleeping, eating, appointments, and fun activities, work becomes more of a rarity. The spare hours in your diary become the time that you want to work and get on with the task at hand.

More productive deep work

By only recording when you do 30 minutes of uninterrupted work, the work you give yourself credit for is quality time. In other words, deep work. That time when you focus entirely on the job at hand, which helps achieve goals and maximize productivity.

And, when you know that there’s a reward if you put in the full 30 minutes of deep work, you’ll be more inclined to prevent disruptions to allow yourself to focus fully.

Prevents procrastination

The idea of unschedule is that it focuses you on starting tasks rather than finishing them. Don’t worry, the finishing will come naturally. But, as a procrastinator, getting started is your main issue.

Instead of stressing about the 20 hours needed to get that important project completed, you simply get started on it as soon as a free period becomes available. And, you’re not expected to work for hours on end until it’s done. You work in more manageable and realistic short 30-minute bursts rather than long, drawn-out sessions.

Of course, if you find the ideas flowing and you’re on a roll, you don’t have to stop after 30 minutes. If you have the time, press on through until your next break or appointment.

Guilt-free playtime

Procrastinators often have feelings of guilt and self-criticism when they realize how little has been achieved at the end of the day. “Where did all the time go and why didn’t I get more done?” The thought of enjoying leisure time when there’s still so much to do only heightens the guilt.

Unschedule prioritizes guilt-free playtime. It lets you look forward to breaks, leisure, and social activities, and we all know how important frequent breaks are for our well-being and productivity. This time-management method also helps motivate you to work so you can enjoy the rewards after each session.

A true picture of where you spend time

By the end of the week, your unschedule should be full. You’ll have a clear picture of where your time has been spent — both in and out of work.

Analyze how much time you’ve actually spent focused on that important project and allow yourself a pat on the back knowing that all the work hours you’ve recorded are quality, productive deep work time.

Unschedule Your Day

Unscheduling is about fitting work around your scheduled appointments, exercise, hobbies, and social events. It’s about looking at things differently and realizing that life is not all about work.

If you struggle with procrastination, try unscheduling your day. Even if it’s only for a week, begin by planning for all the things you need and want to do, the doctor’s appointment, the commute, eating lunch, preparing dinner, time with the family, happy hour with friends, a yoga class, or grocery shopping. It all goes into the weekly diary.

Unschedule gives you a visual representation of where your time really goes and lets you see what you’ve accomplished by the end of the week. But, most importantly, it gives you a new outlook on life, helps tackle procrastination, promotes deep work, and will ultimately make you more productive.

Jackie Smart
LinkedIn Profile

Unschedule Your Day and Beat Procrastination FAQs

What does it mean to "unschedule" your day?

Unscheduling your day refers to a time-management strategy where you first schedule your free time, self-care, and enjoyable activities, and then fit work tasks into the remaining time. This approach helps create a more balanced, less stressful schedule.

How can unscheduling help beat procrastination?

By scheduling enjoyable activities and breaks first, you ensure that your day isn't just filled with work. This can make your tasks seem less overwhelming and can reduce the urge to procrastinate. It also provides positive reinforcement for completing tasks, as you know you have enjoyable activities to look forward to.

How do I start unscheduling my day?

To begin unscheduling, first, make a list of activities you enjoy and things that help you relax. Then, plot these activities into your schedule before you add in any work tasks. Once you've done that, look at the remaining time for your work-related tasks and prioritize them accordingly.

Isn't unscheduling unproductive?

Not necessarily. Unscheduling aims to create a healthy work-life balance. By ensuring you have time for relaxation and enjoyment, you're more likely to be motivated and productive during your work periods. Furthermore, it can help prevent burnout by ensuring you're not overworking.

How can unscheduling work for busy people?

Even for very busy people, it's important to take time for self-care and relaxation. Unscheduling may actually highlight how overcommitted you are and help you identify tasks that could be delegated, reduced, or eliminated. Remember, the goal is sustainable productivity and personal wellbeing.

Can I use unscheduling with other productivity methods?

Absolutely! Unscheduling can be used in combination with other productivity techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique, where you work in focused sprints with regular breaks in between, or time blocking, where specific time slots are assigned to different tasks.

Can unscheduling help reduce stress?

Yes, by prioritizing leisure and self-care, unscheduling helps ensure you have a good work-life balance, which can significantly reduce stress. Knowing you have allocated time for relaxation can make work periods less stressful and more productive.

Can unscheduling help improve focus?

Yes, knowing that you have dedicated time for relaxation and enjoyment can help alleviate the mental pressure often associated with a busy schedule, enabling you to focus better on the task at hand.

How flexible is the unscheduling method?

Unscheduling is highly flexible. The principle is to prioritize free time and self-care, but how you do that will depend on your individual needs, responsibilities, and lifestyle. You can adjust and adapt the process as needed.

Can unscheduling be applied to both personal and professional life?

Yes, unscheduling can be applied in both personal and professional contexts. Whether you're managing household chores, pursuing a hobby, or tackling a work project, ensuring you have allocated downtime can help improve your productivity and overall satisfaction.

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