Planning realistically is tough but it can be done. The easiest way I’ve found to do it is by using this method.
Get out your planner page for tomorrow. This is going to work best if you have at least a page per day with a schedule. If you don’t, you can accomplish the same thing using a blank piece of paper.
Looking at your schedule, block out what’s already planned. I don’t just mean appointments – I also mean meals, errands, cooking, etc. If you know you’re going to do it at a certain time, block out the time! I almost always sit on the couch around 8:00 pm to quilt and plan tomorrow (or play an iPhone game or two). Even if I don’t do those things, I know I’m not going to be doing anything noteworthy after 8:00. I’m brain dead by then.
Also, my planning pages start a lot earlier than I do so I block off the part I don’t use. I’m a full-time homemaker and not a morning person so I sleep until 8:00 or 8:30 and then stay in bed and check e-mail and read the news. I start on actual work about 10:00. I’ve been doing that for years. I enjoy my morning wake-up time and then I work hard from 10:00 to 8:00. So block off any times you don’t actually use.
Count the hours that remain. This will probably be different every day unless your schedule is always the same. Mine isn’t. When I worked full-time, I did have the same schedule every day and I figured out that I had about an hour each evening after the basics were done. So I planned an hour’s worth of tasks and no more.
But now, every day is different. So when I’m planning this way, I go through this process daily.
In my example, which was my actual day, I had four hours left. This is where it gets tricky. Four hours remaining does not mean you can schedule four hours of tasks and expect to get them all done. Unfortunately, life is filled with lots of interruptions and complications. Things rarely go the way you plan. So plan for three hours – not four. Then if you have extra time you can do more. But if not, you’re not stressed or left with important undone tasks. In fact, if your schedule is really tight, you can review the list and figure out which items could be skipped if you run out of time. Put a small dot next to the item or items. Then if you run out of time, you already know what to skip.
If you happen to have more than you can do in the allotted time, planning the night before gives you flexibility that you won’t have if you plan in the morning. For me, if I have too much to do and can’t skip anything, I can get up earlier or cut into my evening couch time. I try not to do it, and I definitely don’t want to, but I have that option. Planning ahead and realistically allows you to be sure you can actually get done what you need to.
Have a back-up list in case you have extra time. If you only plan for three hours but you actually end up with four, or you get other tasks done more quickly than you expected, a back-up list can keep you from wasting the extra time.
And that’s one way to balance your time budget. Have you ever tried this? How do you make sure your task list matches your time available?