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 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. 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 that combines short bursts of work with short periods of rest — a way some people try to get more done in a day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
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 — 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!