Scheduling actions – hard or soft?

A common question that we hear when discussing task management in workshops is 'When should a task be blocked out as an appointment in the calendar'? Blocking out time, or what I call ‘Hard scheduling’ is a great strategy for putting traction into your action, but if overused or misused, it can work against your productivity.

In Smart Work, I talk about the difference between meeting and task workload. Meetings are ‘fixed’ commitments that we have with other people, tasks are ‘flexible’ commitments that we have with ourselves. Meetings need a scheduling tool that allows specific scheduling for both date and time. But tasks, given their more discretionary nature, need a more flexible system to manage them effectively.

So, in a good scheduling system, where meetings and tasks are managed together in a holistic way, meetings are hard scheduled into your calendar, and tasks can be soft scheduled into a dated task list. The difference is that although both are scheduled by date, only meetings are scheduled with a specific start and finish time.

But, I believe there can be a case for hard scheduling tasks into your calendar, sometimes. If you choose the right circumstances to do this, and you honour the time that you block out, this is a great strategy to make sure the important work gets done in a timely way.

Here are some circumstances where I will hard schedule tasks into my calendar:

  • Any task that will take more than 1 hour of concentration time
  • If I have pressure on my schedule from others, and need to protect time for the task
  • If the work is something I am likely to procrastinate about
  • A task that need to be complete by a specific time in the day i.e. a report due by midday
  • If the task requires me to go somewhere outside of the office

I reckon that your calendar and task list are both designed to help you get things done at the right time. The calendar is by nature more time focused, so is worth using in these situations. But be careful not to overuse the calendar for task workload. There is a risk that you may end up ignoring the reminder that pops up for the activity, and end up leaving work behind in your inflexible calendar. If you schedule it, do it, or prioritise again and reschedule the activity.

Posted on July 11, 2016 .