Best Pieces of Advice I’ve Received: Scheduling the Day

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This is the first post of an occasional series that will touch on some of the best pieces of advice I’ve received throughout my life.

A fall day, sophomore year of college, behind a goalie net with two other goalies, chatting while the forwards were being given directions in the drill (our mission was straight forward – stop the ball!) – this was when I received one of the best and most transformative pieces of advice, not just for college, but for life.

My teammate, Lynn, was sharing that she scheduled her school day like it was a business day.  Classes were business meetings you couldn’t miss, homework in the library or academic building was scheduled between class meetings, and she worked as hard as she could between 8am and 5pm. The rest of her day was left for field hockey practice, friends, and other extracurricular activities.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was where I first learned about the power of scheduling and the benefit of working intensely rather than working longer. It was probably a year later that I implemented this concept, when I was struggling with harder classes, too much on my plate with the activities on campus, and consequently not getting enough sleep. My Google calendar became my best friend because I could access it anywhere with my laptop and wifi (this is pre-smart phone!).

Here are a few things I’ve learned about scheduling my days:

  1. Scheduling is useless without prioritizing. What good is an assignment with a due date if it isn’t done on time?
  2. Break down tasks into realistic chunks of time.  Three hours straight of one task is too much to take mentally – a short break every hour can help refresh and re-frame.
  3. Write down what needs to be done and allot time for it, whether it is for 15 minutes, an hour, or done a little bit each day for a week.
  4. Leave time for fun and relaxing. This makes the hard work worthwhile as a reward at the end of the day.

There are other tools I utilize to help make this scheduling work, like keeping a detailed and dynamic to do list, putting personal appointments on the calendar to make something “more real” as a need to get done, and collaborating and communicating with others to make sure I am in touch with changes.

The scheduling of appointments and work time is important to work and, back in the day, college success. Some beneficial outcomes I’ve experienced as a result of attentive scheduling include:

  1. Becoming known as a high performer and high-level producer
  2. Make a name for myself as someone who “gets it done”
  3. Gaining reputation for reliability
  4. Creating balance and consistency in my own life
  5. Producing higher quality work that isn’t rushed

Sometimes I use my calendar, sometimes I handwrite my schedule, and sometimes I use Excel to break the day into 15 minute chunks to make sure I am realistic about how much time an activity or task takes. The flexibility with the tools I use to make the theory work in practice is key to success. While structure is good, the scheduling itself is the structure I need. How I design my day isn’t as important as if I do it at all.

Scheduling my day made sure I got the important things done when they needed to be with proper attention to detail. It also brought me balance and peace and developed my habits for the workplace.

What was one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received that’s stayed with you for a long time?

 

Being a Voice, But Also a Learning Ear

Last week I had the opportunity to serve my alma mater and its Greek community (fraternities and sororities) as a member on the career panel for the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Greek Alumni Council’s Career Night Panel.  It was an honor to be asked to share my experience with the students, but truly an opportunity to be able to LISTEN to what other panelists had to say.  Three decades of graduates were represented, including two representatives of the Class of 1986 and a graduate as recent as 2015 (we were missing the 90s).

There were a few key takeaways for me that are worth sharing with a wider audience, and helpful for more than only college students to think about:

  • Be curious!  Ask lots of questions, always.
  • It is important to differentiate yourself. You can do this based on your activities, interests, and intellectual projects.
  • Confidence is important – even if you have to fake it.
  • Always follow up after interviews or meetings.  Handwritten notes are best; handwritten notes that accompany a timely email are best.  
  • Commutes matter – your ability to enjoy work and your life as a whole depends on it.
  • Expect that the career path you have in two, five, ten or more years later may be very different than you had at graduation, and that is okay.  It will continue to change over the course of your career. Plans are great, but stick to them hard at your own peril.
  • Take the opportunities that come to you that are interesting, exciting, and relevant to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that might come to you – time is finite and not everything is truly important to you and your goals.
  • Networks are extremely valuable – and so are your network’s networks. Stay connected with people by sharing articles, congratulating on positive changes, and even asking some people for coffee.
  • Mentors and other “guiding” relationships (like those with professors, for students) are important for opening doors and helping you focus on aspects you haven’t been investigating or addressing. People who hold this type of role in your life are valuable at every stage, whether new or experienced professional.
  • First impressions matter.  From attire, to handshakes, to eye contact, to the ability to hold a conversation, it is hard to reverse someone’s negative (or less than 100% positive) first impression of you

I would have loved to have had the same guidance as an undergrad instead of fighting for my own path and finding out everything the hard way over time.  Even without having it, I love the chance to share my own life story and successes by volunteering a few hours with these students.

If you have the opportunity to speak at a career night, jump at it!  The opportunity to practice public speaking and engaging with an audience is hard to pass up, and you are also an audience to a set of peers who have sage advice to offer.