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There is nothing more rewarding than accomplishing a task that’s on your schedule ahead of time. So, why do you insist on punishing yourself for completing tasks, rather than giving yourself your just reward?

Developing an effective time management system How to Create the Last Perfect Time Management System You'll Ever Use How to Create the Last Perfect Time Management System You'll Ever Use Productivity is a constant search for more organization with less work. A way to accomplish everything you dream to accomplish, without losing out on sleep. Can this automated time management system do it all? Read More is extremely difficult, but at the heart of that system is the schedule. In my own system, the schedule is the final “output” of the time management system, assigning an exact day and time when you’re committed to getting that task done.

Rob Nightingale outlined one of the best ways to manage scheduling called Time Blocking Time Blocking -- The Secret Weapon For Better Focus Time Blocking -- The Secret Weapon For Better Focus Are you looking for a more efficient way to organise your work-days? Try Time Blocking. This time management tactic can help keep you on track while keeping distractions, procrastination, and unproductive multitasking at bay. Read More . This is a good method that you should use when filling your schedule, but there’s a second technique to follow after you complete your tasks — essentially emptying your schedule and refilling it with fun things.

Why Would You Refill Your Schedule?

The fact is that the hardest part of any time management system isn’t organizing your tasks, it’s actually getting the tasks accomplished. Some people struggle with that part, so much so that there’s a popular technique called Pomodoro Pomodoro Web App Tomato.es Is Time Management Made Simple Pomodoro Web App Tomato.es Is Time Management Made Simple Can't focus? Get to work, now. Tomato.es is a free Pomodoro timer you can use directly in your browser – and it's possibly the best such app I've ever used. The Pomodoro technique is simple:... Read More that combines short bursts of work with short periods of rest — a way some people try to get more done in a day.

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Whatever your technique, getting motivated to actually sit down and get started on a task and stay committed to it through to completion can be difficult. The truth is that it doesn’t need any tricks beyond what Ivan Pavlov himself discovered over 100 years ago in his experiments with dogs.

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The scientist discovered that although dogs naturally salivate whenever they see food, he could force the same salivation reflex by training the dogs to associate the sound of a bell with food.

Eventually, he could force the dogs to start salivating with only the sound of a bell — not even in the presence of food.

How does this apply to your schedule? It’s simple — the reward system works. You need to associate fun things with accomplishing work.  Take, for example, a small block of time in my full schedule.

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Let’s say it’s Sunday night, and I’ve got some free time. I could choose to watch a movie, or I could choose to tackle some of the tasks that I have scheduled for the week. Instead of laying on the couch and watching a movie, I decide to prepare for a meeting coming up later in the week. With that done, I can now remove that task from my Monday schedule, creating an empty space.

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What if you used your free time on Sunday to do all the tasks you had set up for one full day during the week? Now you have an empty schedule during the week to do whatever you want.

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This is the point where most supposedly “highly-productive” people make a mistake. They think that to be more productive, you should refill those empty spaces with more work.

The mistake is that over time, you associate getting work done early, with doing more work. The reward in that case might be a raise or a promotion, but those are short term rewards. You will eventually burn out or get sick.

How to Manage Your Personal Reward System

Instead, you should have a ready supply of Pavlov’s dog food. In your case, this will be a new sheet you’ll create in your time management system called “Fun Times”.

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On this “Fun Times” sheet (or page — whatever system you use) list 4 or 5 columns of the activities you love to do the most. For me, that’s playing video games, reading books, watching movies and outdoor activities 10 Fun Outdoor Games To Play Using GPS Enabled Smartphones 10 Fun Outdoor Games To Play Using GPS Enabled Smartphones If you're looking for something new to do that will get you outdoors, use your smartphone and get involved in some great activities, you've probably considered playing some sort of GPS game. Since there are... Read More .

Under each of these headers, you can list 4 or 5 specific items that you would LOVE to be able to do if you had the time. For example, if I had the time, I would play Wolfenstein: The New Order, or I’d finish reading Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome.

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Now you have your goody bag ready.

Every time you finish a task ahead of time, go to this goody bag, choose one of your favorite activities and copy it. Then go to your schedule and fill in your new, empty space with that fun activity.

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So now, on Monday, since I finished getting ready for my meeting and have freed up a couple of hours, instead of filling that time in with more work, I’m going to spend that time with my family, watching the movie Watching Offline Movies From Google Play? You CAN Do That On A Chromebook! Watching Offline Movies From Google Play? You CAN Do That On A Chromebook! Today we take a look at one area where a lot of people still harbour many misconceptions about Chromebooks - offline movie playback. Read More Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

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After a while, your brain will start to associate getting tasks done ahead of time with having a lot more fun during the week. You will enjoy the prospect of getting through your scheduled tasks quickly so you can start opening up those fun slots during the week.

Refill Your Schedule for Fun and Health

The bottom line is that it’s actually the rest and relaxation that you fit into your schedule that’s going to make you more productive over the long haul. Pulling all-nighters in order to finish as much as possible this week, is not the answer.

By emptying your schedule and refilling it with the things you love, you’ll maintain your mental and physical health Depression & The Internet: Welcome To Your Temporary Support Group Depression & The Internet: Welcome To Your Temporary Support Group Talking is important, and sometimes the Internet is a good substitute when your real life friends aren't around. Here are three sites I recommend for less formal depression-focused conversations. Read More — allowing yourself to stay ultra-productive well into the future.

What’s your technique to reward yourself when you get work done? Do you try to fill in open slots with more work, or more fun? Share your techniques in the comments section below!

Image Credit: Zest for life Via Shutterstock, Amy Rene via Shutterstock

  1. Francis Wade
    February 19, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    This is a fascinating insight - thanks for sharing it. The interplay between the use of a schedule and how our minds think is a topic I addressed in my recent book, and I only wish I had access to this post a few months ago, as I would definitely have included it.

    Thanks also for using the practice and sharing the results. Empirical data trumps fancy ideas any day.

    • Ryan Dube
      February 20, 2015 at 1:19 am

      Thanks Francis! What's the name of your book by the way? I'd be interested in checking it out.

  2. Saikat
    February 17, 2015 at 6:45 am

    Especially true for creative workers. You need to daydream and procrastinate sometimes to come up with great ideas. Even boredom is good for idea generation. Quite a few studies have pointed it out.

    And just imagine, with a small tweak, the "Fun Time" can be easily changed to "Family Time". That's gold.

  3. Rob
    February 16, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    I second Jessica's point. Being productive at the detriment of downtime is more often than not, counter-productive, and simply leads to burnout. If you can associate completing tasks with this kind of downtime, you're onto a winner.

  4. jeni
    February 16, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    This is great new concept for me! I like it!

  5. Jessica C
    February 16, 2015 at 8:17 am

    While I'm not going to take up your spreadsheet time-management technique, there's a really valuable lesson in this article that most productivity posts miss: Don't try to be more productive for productivity's own sake.

    Be more productive so you have more free time to do what you love with the people you love.

    After all, it's not like we're born on this Earth to just to work ourselves to death.

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