How to make a schedule when you’re not taking classes

Structure reigns supreme. In college, you’ve got X number of classes to fulfill your core curriculum, Y number to fulfill your major, and Z to graduate. These classes inform how you structure your week and by proxy, spend your free time. A similar phenomenon occurs when you join the working world. The problem (or opportunity, depending on how you look at it) is that I am no longer taking college classes nor am I, strictly speaking, holding a proper job. So what now? How do I structure my time? Below are a few things I’ve learned as I thought about how to make the most of a large chunk of time.  

Identify what your goal is. In other words, if you’re not going to be working or attending class, what are you going to be doing with all your free time? I knew that I was going to be spending the next three months primarily learning to code, but also carving out some time to meaningfully write. On top of that, I wanted to start going to the gym again regularly. So those main activities are the lens through which I’ll then block out my calendar. It’s obviously easier to plan if you first know what you’re planning for.

Get a calendar and make it happen. Once you’ve identified how you’re going to be spending your time, start blocking space out on a calendar. I use a combination of GoogleCalendar and iCal – largely to account for syncing issues between my phone and computer. If you’re going to do that, make sure all your calendars on GoogleCalendar are properly synced with iCal – I still haven’t done this yet and it’s biting me in the ass. 

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As for how to determine what weight you place on different pursuits (e.g. length of time spent, how often it occurs during the week), that is up to you. I’ve been wanting to write regularly for some time, so I blocked out space quite frequently (noted in gray) throughout the week – same thing goes for gym time (in red). Of course, my primary time is spent learning to code (in green) and thinking about the design of my project (also in green). I tried not to get to granular here – no sense in beating myself up if I don’t adhere exactly to the schedule – but kept it focused to the point where I had a clear expectation of what was going on when.

Special thanks to one of my mentors Scott Britton for the suggestion to block off time for things you want to do - because if you don’t, they won’t get done. 

With this in mind, I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of switching up not only your environment, but your context (i.e. what you’re doing) as well.

Staying accountable. Cool, so you’ve planned out your calendar and you’re well on your way to climbing Mt. Everest, being in shape physically for the next Iron Man, or mentally for next year’s Burning Man…how do you keep that momentum up? Noah Kagan wrote a brilliant piece on psychological triggers, and I’ve already referenced it in past posts, but it’s relevant to this as well. Essential to staying consistent with your schedule is to identify the triggers associated with each block on the calendar. For the gym, it’s me leaving my gym shoes out the night before so I’m reminded to get ready to get physical in the morning. For coding/product design, it’s leaving my Moleskin open to a mock-up I had been working on. And for writing, it’s the simple thought that I’ll have a set period of no distractions full of creative release.

I’m also keen on believing that a somewhat similar framework can be used when trying to accomplish personal goals around dating, or eating healthy for example. Will report back later if this is true.

How do you schedule things out? Trouble staying accountable? Give me a shout on Twitter (@jcap49)

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