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Introduction to Planning

While calendars have been widely used for events and appointments, scheduling tasks has proved to be an effective productivity hack, especially for busy professionals. People who succeed in this method find themselves significantly more productive. In fact, research has shown that amazingly, you are two to three times more likely to succeed if you use this method. Recently, this method has been popularized by the author of Deep Work, Cal Newport. “The main benefit of time-blocking is that it helps users achieve more in the same amount of time”, says Newport.

Nevertheless, scheduling tasks is not an easy job. Most people find it quite tedious. Many people end up rearranging their calendars, pushing tasks they’ve missed to the next day, flooding tomorrow’s to-do list. The workload increases all the time whilst capacity remains the same. Projects get overdue, daily tasks stay incomplete, and then we wonder  — “Where did my day go? I haven’t stopped all day.”

SkedPal is made to address the challenges of today’s knowledge workers. The following features make SkedPal a unique solution. Once you invest time in learning how to use SkedPal, it’ll be helping you maximize your productivity. It’ll work if you do the work!

Fuzzy Planning

In the conventional way of scheduling your tasks, you would normally schedule a reminder on a specific day OR at a specific time. And, those who use time-blocking, would schedule the full duration of the task.
In SkedPal, you can schedule a task based on the natural way you intend to complete it.
For example, I need to call Dave sometime on Thursday morning.
Or, I need to spend 2 hours preparing my presentation on Thursday afternoon.
Or, I need to review the docs I received from Jane by Friday. This is going to take about 2 hours and I prefer to work on it any afternoon from Wednesday to Friday.
This is pretty much like the way you would ask your executive assistant to make your schedule. Isn’t it?
Notice that you’re avoiding being too specific with the time. This will give each task some slack to find the best time to get scheduled.
So, SkedPal will automatically find the best time to schedule each of your tasks based on your intended time frames.
At first glance, your calendar looks pretty much like a regular time-blocked calendar.
But, there is a big difference!
If you couldn’t get the task done at the scheduled time, or if other priorities pop up, SkedPal uses the available time in the time frame to automatically reschedule the task to another date or time WITHIN your intended plan.

This also applies to recurring tasks. You’ll be able to ask SkedPal to schedule time for exercising 3 times a week. You don’t need to be specific about dates and times. SkedPal finds the best dates and times. And, if you can’t do a session at the scheduled time, it reschedules the session for another time while keeping 3 times a week goal – as much as possible.

Realistic Planning

One of the many benefits of using SkedPal is that it gives you a realistic schedule. We all often tend to overestimate our available time and underestimate the time needed to complete our goals and projects. This is known as the planning fallacy. SkedPal works as a smart gatekeeper for you to ensure you get a realistic plan. SkedPal is aware of every busy or available time slot on your calendar, and it’s also aware of your previous commitments and priorities, as well as your goals in maintaining a healthy work-life balance using Time Maps. Therefore, if you add a new project or task, SkedPal first checks your schedule to see if you have the bandwidth to complete this new project. And, if it finds that you don’t have the bandwidth, it offers a suggestion for a more realistic date.

Time Budgeting

You cannot save your time for later! You must spend your time. The clock is ticking and you can’t stop it. But, you CAN decide what to spend it on. We have 168 hours each week that must be spent. The real game is to allocate these 168 hours to the right things. We must realize saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else. Time is a zero-sum game. And, our productivity is not about doing more things; it’s about doing the right things.
SkedPal is going to help you become much more conscious of this zero-sum game. You’ll be able to define your custom Zones of Productivity. For example, the ‘creative work’ zone, or ‘necessary evil’ zone. Once you categorize your tasks into these zones, you’ll be able to set up your desired budgeted time for each zone. For example, if you feel you’re overspending time on chores and admin work during the week and would like to allocate more time to your deep work, you can set up your goal in SkedPal and your schedule will be produced based on your desired allocation.

Prioritizing

Prioritization is one of the most important elements of a good time management system. Our productivity is not about doing more things; it’s about doing the right things. So, we should always think of the opportunity cost when we are planning our tasks. For every task that is scheduled earlier, some other task has to wait for later. That is why it’s very important to be conscious of our selection of tasks for scheduling. This is the purpose of SkedPal’s prioritization board.

Flexible vs Time-Bound Planning

When you have a task, you either have an external commitment with a specific due date or you don’t. For cases where there is no hard due date for a task, it is highly recommended to use the Flexible plan option instead of giving your task a time-bound plan. Then, use prioritization to decide which task should get scheduled first.

Here are some examples:

I need to finish my painting as soon as possible.

The correct plan: Flexible

Why: There is no hard due date. Although it has a very high priority for me, there is no specific date attached to it. I just want to do this as soon as possible.

Need to pay my bills.

The correct plan: Time-bound (e.g. due by Mar 31)

Why: There is a hard due date for this.

In the above examples, there is no assumption that your time-bound task is going to get scheduled first. Your painting task with a flexible plan is going to get scheduled first if you give it a higher priority.

You will learn more about how to prioritize your tasks later.

Time Blocking

Time blocking is a powerful method to get deep work done. But, not every task is deep work. There are many tasks that do not require as much concentration and cognitive power. So, treating them like deep work is overkill. The big difference between time-blocked tasks and others is that time blocks are like appointments on your calendar. They start and end at fixed times. This is ideal for deep work and you’ll mentally prepare yourself to deep dive into the task while minimizing all distractions — just like an important meeting. But, this will not work if everything is a time block from morning to evening — at least not for most people.
In SkedPal, you’ll be able to define what tasks or projects will be time blocked. The rest of your tasks will still be scheduled but they will be batched together as a knockout list (bundled) on the calendar.

When you’re first starting out time-blocking, you shouldn’t be blocking more than 2 to 3 hours a day. It takes practice to master the discipline. You can gradually increase the hours time blocked during the day but do not start with more than 2 to 3 hours a day. This does NOT mean you should only schedule 2 to 3 hours of tasks during the day. You will have a mix of time-blocked and bundled tasks during the day. So, the rest of your tasks will be bundled tasks.

To summarize, SkedPal offers two types of scheduling:

  • Time Blocking – Each task will take a full event on the calendar.
  • Bundling – The open spaces between fixed events or time-blocks are used to tackle other to-do items that do not require as much discipline in start and end times as time-blocked tasks. These tasks are bundled together and inserted in between fixed events and/or time blocks.

You will learn more about task properties and how to plan a task so it gets scheduled as time-block or bundled. We recommend setting your default scheduling method to bundling and then selectively setting important projects that require deep work to time blocking.

You can sync your time-blocked tasks with your main calendar in Office 365, Google, or iCalendar. This will enable you to block your colleagues from booking you in meetings during your time-blocked hours. And, just like other appointments, you’ll be able to set default reminders for your time blocks.

Hard Due Dates (Deadlines)

In SkedPal, there are two distinctly different task properties for giving a date to a task:

It’s important to understand the difference between the two. While the plan is the basis of scheduling the task, the deadline (due date) is merely a reference date in the task. So, the following situations can happen:

  • A task with a deadline but no plan – This task does not get scheduled because it doesn’t have a plan.
  • A task with a plan and no deadline – This task gets scheduled.
  • A task with a plan that ends after the deadline – This task may get scheduled after the deadline. This is particularly helpful for situations where you want to keep the deadline as a reference in the task and continue working on the task even though it’s past due date.
  • A task with a plan that ends earlier than the deadline – This task is meant to complete before the deadline and leave some safety buffer or slack before the deadline.

When you set a deadline for a task without a plan, SkedPal automatically adds a plan that matches the deadline. However, if you make amends to the deadline or the plan, these two values will change independently of each other.

Fixed-Time Planning

You can choose to plan your task for a specific date and time; e.g. tomorrow at 3 pm. Fixed-time plans do not get rescheduled like other tasks with fuzzy planning. They are like fixed events. The only exception is if you miss your fixed-time plan and the auto-defer is active for the task. In this case, your fixed-time plan turns into a fuzzy plan.

“Update Schedule” Button

When you’re planning a number of projects or tasks in SkedPal, your changes are not immediately reflected in the calendar. In other words, your changes are being saved in the Outline as task properties. After you click on the “Update Schedule” button, SkedPal will start a process to take all your inputs and produce a schedule for you. This might take between a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes depending on the amount of data you have.

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