Career & Finance

This Time Management Method Promises To Declutter Your To-Do List—But Does It Work?

we put it to the test
written by KILLIAN LOPEZ
Source: Élevae
Source: Élevae

I think we can all agree that time management is an important life skill. It is, however, not a skill that comes naturally to me. I’m more of the “wait until the last minute, then dart and dash” kind of woman. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you, like me, always find yourself desperately scouting the mall for a new pair of shoes one day before your vacation, longing for a way to bring order and ease into the chaos. 

Not too long ago, as I waded through my to-do list wondering if there was “a better way,” I was reminded of a trend I’d seen on Instagram: micro-scheduling. I decided to give it a shot for one full week so I could report back to any fellow hopefuls, looking for a way to declutter their to-do lists.

What Is Micro-Scheduling?

Micro-scheduling is a form of planning where you block your day out by 15-minute increments. It’s meant to help pace you out so you can complete your tasks in smaller chunks over a longer period of time. You’re essentially mapping out each baby step in the process of a task and jotting it into your calendar. Hence, the “micro” schedule.

My Experience

If the fact that I’m turning in this article one day early is any indication, I’d say this experiment was a success. After just one week of micro-scheduling, I can honestly say it completely altered my stress levels around my to-do list. Breaking tasks down into bite-sized pieces and seeing them time-stamped on my calendar made each item on my list feel more feasible, which kept me from procrastinating. I did find that I was able to get more done over a shorter period of time without feeling rushed through it all. 

So, the short version is that I highly recommend this process and plan on integrating it into my daily life. Of course, my feedback doesn’t come without a few caveats. For example, I found myself living in my calendar far more than I ever had before. If you’re not someone who enjoys using a calendar to manage your day, this isn’t going to be for you. 

I also noticed that by the end of the week I started modifying the process to meet my specific needs—because, frankly, life gets in the way of even our greatest intentions. For example, by the end of the week, I wasn’t blocking my entire day into 15-minute increments. That felt more laborious than helpful, but I did take the opportunity to sprinkle in 15-minute blocks to break up my more daunting tasks into manageable pieces. 

If you’re looking to elevate your time-management style and want to give this process a go, read on for a few tips that will make it a little more adaptable for real life.

My Best Micro-Scheduling Tips

Plan on blocking in time for blocking in time.

As I alluded to in my takeaway, the biggest “life change” I experienced while trying micro-scheduling was my reliance on my calendar. Blocking tasks out in such small steps takes time. The biggest mistake I made from the get-go was thinking that the actual planning part wouldn’t need to be blocked into my day. So each day, I gave myself a 30-minute block first thing in the morning to review my calendar and add or rearrange my tasks as needed. And yes, instead of 15 minutes, I chose 30. Maybe I’m just a slow mover, but not every task can be accomplished in 15 minutes. I decided to be realistic about how long I’d actually need for each task. I get a little triggered when I feel like I’m falling behind, so by buffering a little extra time, I’d often finish a task a little bit early, which felt like a win!

View your calendar in 4-day increments, not a full week—and definitely not a month.

The best part of this whole process, for me, was how it allowed me to be more present with each day. Before micro-scheduling, I kept a running list of to-dos in the notes app on my phone. I sometimes arranged them by priority and always checked them off as I completed them. The problem with that strategy is that my brain was constantly fumbling over the bird’s-eye-view of EVERYTHING that needed to get done in my life, which is overwhelming at best and completely debilitating at worst. By using my calendar and only allowing myself to see four days ahead, I noticed my nervous system felt way more relaxed. Turns out life feels pretty doable when you’re not agonizing about everything all at once. Though I might have blocked a couple of items in my schedule further out to accommodate future deadlines, I only needed to see my life in four-day increments when I viewed my calendar. Everything else was out of sight, out of mind.

Give yourself more time than you need to meet a deadline.

As I noted earlier, by far the hardest part of this process is making sure you’re realistic about how long each “baby step” task will take. We want things to move swiftly, but life has a way of dragging things out. For example, you might block out 15 minutes to call your insurance company and find yourself on hold for 45. Don’t let it discourage you if your micro-tasks take longer than you hope. The best way to avoid complications is to either sprinkle in 15-minute “catch-up” blocks, extend a 15-minute block to 30 (like I did), or give yourself a slightly longer runway for completing a task. For example, if you have a work assignment due on a Thursday, try blocking out your micro-tasks for that assignment so that it’s completed by Wednesday. This gives you a little wiggle room when those baby steps turn into a crawl.

Expect unforeseen events.

I had an entire day squashed because of a sleeper sofa delivery gone awry. When the delivery people couldn’t get it through our hallway and the reality set in that I was going to have to send it back, I panicked. My mom was coming to visit for Thanksgiving and I’d put tons of research into getting the best pull-out couch for her stay. I ended up spending the better half of that day doom-scrolling the internet for sleeper sofas that could be delivered before the holidays.

I ultimately decided that getting a couch we liked was better than settling on something that was available, so Mom air-mattressed it instead. My point is that an entire day’s worth of tasks got derailed because of an unforeseen event. When this happens, don’t beat yourself up. Unexpected annoyances are part of life, as much as we all wish they weren’t. This is why blocking time first thing every day to reevaluate your calendar is so helpful—if you weren’t able to knock out all the items on your list from the day before, you have time to rearrange everything to catch up.

Leave blank space in your calendar each day.

This kind of goes against the whole point of micro-scheduling, but I found when I packed my day TOO full, I was less likely to get as much done because as soon as I felt like I was falling behind, I’d give up. However, when I gave myself dead space in the middle of the day (or even blocked it out as “free time”) it allowed me to use that time to my advantage. If I needed rest, I’d rest. If I needed to use that time to catch up on the morning’s tasks, I could. Not every moment of our day is going to be predictable, so blocking in buffer time is key to ensuring your best-laid plans are realistic.

You don’t have to micro-schedule your entire existence—you can use it even for just one aspect of your life!

To be honest, my biggest gain while micro-scheduling has been my meal planning game. Writing in what meals I intend to make on any given weekday helps me stick to the plan and ensure I block in time to not only grocery shop but also meal prep and cook. It has made cooking nearly seamless. If there ever comes a time when I get tired of micro-scheduling every other aspect of my life into my calendar, I will most definitely continue to use it for meal planning purposes. So if you feel like you’re generally an organized person but need a little boost in just one area of your life, micro-scheduling could be a great way to nail it down!

Know that it still takes discipline to stay on top of it all

The great thing about micro-scheduling is that by sitting down each morning to set up your calendar, you’re already in the zone to stay on top of it. But like anything in life, it’s about putting on your proverbial shoes. My least favorite aspect of this process is that you don’t physically check off your tasks—as time passes they simply fade into your calendar’s history. This means you really have to stay on top of which tasks get completed and which need to be transferred to a future date. It doesn’t take a ton of effort, but it can feel like you’re married to your calendar. If you don’t like that feeling, this won’t be a symbiotic relationship for you. 

Be kind to yourself

If you’re like me, you start each new habit with excitement and enthusiasm, but the moment you get derailed you get hard on yourself. Let this be your permission to take it easy on yourself! New habits take time and life happens. I’ll admit it feels pretty awesome when you get through a day of micro-scheduling and all your tasks actually get done, but there are going to be days when you’re in the flow and days when you’re not. If you accept that it’s a ride with ups and downs, you’re more likely to stick to it long-term.