The Best To-Do List Is Actually Your Calendar

Follow this secret advice to better manage your schedule and time.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #375

Some of us yearn to get everything on our to-do lists done. We pride ourselves on your amazing lists. And then we add things to them faster than we can possibly do them. The mountain of tasks grows, bursting out of our office like a new volcano rising from the North Pacific—only instead of being populated with Palm trees and indigenous peoples, our mountain is populated with checkboxes and blinking "past due" dates.

This isn't how life has to be. Consider entrepreneur Richard Giles Whiting. He doesn't have an English accent, but he should. He's chill. Very, very chill. Although he pretends to be an American businessman, I'm convinced he's a Secret Agent in real life. Only a secret agent could stay so serene and composed while battling nefarious evil masterminds, running his own company, and maintaining a relationship with his very own shmoopie. I asked him recently how he manages to get it all done without the olives sloshing out of his martini.

Everything Takes Time

Richard began by explaining that everything takes time. Well, duh! I knew that. Even if you're falling into the event horizon of the gigantic black hole in the center of our galaxy, you appear to freeze forever, but from your point of view, time keeps ticking.

If everything takes time, he says, then you'll actually end up doing it during a block of time. (So far, I'm enthralled with the brilliance of his explanation.) And since everything belongs in a time block, Richard puts it on his calendar the moment he decides to do something. By deciding in advance which time block he'll use for a task, he makes sure everything fits in his schedule.

Scheduling Forces Discipline

This is how he looks so serene. Since he has to find a time block before he can say "Yes" to something, if his schedule is filling up, he sees it immediately. When someone asks him to please be on the board of a non-profit devoted to saving flightless waterfowl that live beneath bridges on the Thames, he can immediately see that there are no free time blocks in his schedule. He knows he's full, and "no" is the only viable answer. This is very unlike many people's strategy, which is to say "yes" and then spend the next several years feeling horrible about not being able to give the job the commitment it deserves.

If everything takes time, he says, then you'll actually end up doing it during a block of time.

Schedule Personal Time

It's not just professional time that gets scheduled. What else takes time? Pondering, daydreaming, and letting your brain be wildly creative. Rather than leaving open spaces on the calendar, Richard fills every minute with an appointment, even if it's an appointment with himself to think, read, or clip his toenails. His personal life—which apparently still takes time—also ends up being subject to the same discipline as his professional life, and his toenail are smashing.

I think it must be awfully stressful to schedule every waking minute. But no. He assures me that this way is actually less stressful, since he knows he has built-in time for the things that are important to him in more than just his work life.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.