5 Hard Truths You Need to Hear About Making a Daily Schedule

Woman at a desk stressing representing a hectic daily schedule
It takes time to make it a well oiled machine

You might think to yourself, “If I can make a razor-sharp, hyper-efficient daily schedule, my life will be accelerated to massive success in a matter of months.”

You watch videos about how the greats live out their days, and your mouth waters at the thought of what you can produce after your cold shower, your mediation, your gratitude, your coffee, and your gluten-free avocado on toast breakfast.

But then you forget to set your alarm, your dog leaves you a gift on the kitchen floor, and you realize just how hard you are starting on the wrong foot. Next thing you know, your day is over, and not much got done.

I’ve danced between these two extremes when trying to make my life more productive.

Through screwing up and experimenting, I’ve discovered some harsh truths about making a daily schedule. Here’s what you need to know about making it all work without going insane:

1. You Won’t Follow Your Daily Schedule

I wanted to wake up at 6:00 AM, but I woke up at 7:15.

FUCK. It’s over. All potential is ruined. I truly am garbage. I’m going back to bed.

That’s the type of thing I would say to myself if I wasn’t on point with my schedule. The harder I tried to adhere to what I wrote down, the more bent out of shape I would become if I made a mistake. I HATED the idea of being flexible.

But that’s what you need to be. Discipline is what maintains a schedule, but being disciplined doesn’t have to mean beating yourself up. Discipline is also allowing yourself to improvise with what the day brings you.

If you get up a little late, you can still crush the day. You might just have to rearrange some activities to be done at different times. Most days will be like this, and you will probably never follow your schedule to an absolute T.

And that’s ok.

Your daily schedule is not a prison sentence — it’s a guide. Try to follow it as best you can, but don’t blame yourself if life throws a wrench in your plans.

2. Your Daily Schedule Won’t Look Like Anyone Else’s

Incredibly successful people have diverse schedules:

  • Navy Seal Jocko Willink gets up at 4:30 AM and works out every morning of his life. He follows this with two hours of surfing, then working on his business, and then training martial arts.
  • Benjamin Franklin kept a balanced schedule of a relaxed morning, four hours of work, a relaxed lunch, four more hours of work, and a relaxed evening.
  • Hunter S. Thompson woke up at 3 PM, snorted cocaine, smoked cigars, and dropped acid until about midnight. He would then write for six hours while doing more cocaine and using porn as background noise. He would finish his day at 6:00 AM eating Dove bars and fettuccine alfredo in a hot tub (no joke).

Sure, you can model your daily schedule off of someone else’s. But there comes a point when you realize that your life is filled with its own idiosyncrasies and unique challenges.

Trying to fit someone else’s model might not work for you. So, you have to examine your goals, strengths, and weaknesses, and base your schedule on those criteria.

3. It’s Not the Hours That Count — It’s the Focus

A principle of Cal Newport’s Deep Work is that a person can stay in intense focus for up to four hours at a time. So, if you split your work into four-hour chunks, you can achieve maximum productivity, right?

But what if you only get a chance to do two hours of deep work? What if something pulls you away? What do you do then?

Instead of trying to hit an hourly quota, focus more on the tasks you have to do. What matters is getting something done, not putting in a set amount of hours.

When you give yourself four hours to finish something, there’s always a chance that you could do it in two. The amount of time it takes to complete a task shrinks or expands based on the amount of time we give ourselves to complete it.

Give yourself ample time, but remember what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to make things happen, not just stick to a schedule.

4. The Best You Can Do Is Carve Out a Habit

Trying to adhere to a newly made schedule is hard. You might only be able to hit 60% of it or less at first.

Instead of punishing yourself for what you don’t get done, focus more on what you do. Focus on how you are putting effort into getting the most out of each day, and even if you get next to nothing done after you sit down to work, you still showed up.

You reinforced a habit you are trying to create. Waking up at 6:00 AM will suck for the first eight days, but when you start automatically waking up around six, then that’s a victory.

The more you try to follow your daily schedule, the more it will become “just what you do.” You’ll still need to put effort into your days, but you’ll be so used to everything that it won’t be such as task.

You’ll feel a little lighter being carried on the wings of your habits.

5. It Doesn’t Have to Always Suck

You shouldn’t hate your days. Your days might challenge you, but being miserable is not the point of making a productive daily schedule. It’s the opposite.

Approach your days keeping in mind who you want to be and the life you want to create. Having a clear view of what you want gives you a reason to keep going, even on the days you don’t want to. Your schedule should be filled with tasks that mean something to you.

We can’t forget fun either. You should dare to schedule fun, or at least give yourself the option. Play a game, watch a movie, smoke some weed, and get cozy. I’m speaking for myself here.

Don’t enslave yourself to your schedule. Respect yourself, and understand that a schedule is meant to serve you and bring you toward the things you want. It’s not a graded performance.

Plan, Execute, and Live

You should love the idea of making a schedule aimed at what you want. It’s exciting. But it’s also messy, and you can ruin your life by making it so strict that no one in history could adhere to it. You’re only human.

To review:

  • You will rarely hit your schedule exactly as you plan it.
  • Your schedule will be uniquely yours, and it doesn’t have to look like someone else’s.
  • Getting things done matters more than putting in a set number of hours.
  • Showing up and rewarding personal effort is the best you can hope to do. What you produce will take care of itself.
  • You should make your schedule meaningful and enjoyable. You’ll be more productive that way.

Here’s a final bit of advice:

I don’t like to waste time, but being obsessed with not wasting time, is kind of a waste of time. You’re just filling your precious moments with unnecessary anxiety.

Time will pass whether you are obsessed with it or not. So make time to be intense, and make time to just be.