Sticking to a schedule is really hard, isn’t it?
It is for many of us, and I’m right there with you. I’ve always felt like some people were simply made to schedule their time and some weren’t. Actually, after some research, you’ll find that’s not too far off from the truth.
But all is not lost, fortunately. Keep reading to learn how.
Personality and Keeping a Schedule
Everyone has a set, determined personality based on the Big Five Aspects Scale. These aspects are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each of these aspects has 2 sub-aspects that go into deeper detail.
Conscientiousness is defined as your carefulness or vigilance. The sub-aspects of conscientiousness are industriousness (your ability to work hard) and orderliness. So if you rank high in a main trait you will likely rank high in the two sub-aspects.
It would make sense that an orderly person would want every hour of their day to be structured and set. Planning a schedule is not only easy for them, but seemingly enjoyable. It doesn’t hurt that they’re adept at working hard, either.
Build Your Conscientiousness
But what if you’re not particularly high in conscientiousness? Personally, I’m average level conscientiousness, and I have usually have a terrible time keeping a schedule. So for people like us, it seems easy just to give up and not schedule at all!
However, the benefit of scheduling is so obvious that we need to find some creative way to make it easier for us instead of simply giving up on the benefit the scheduling has to offer.
Simply put, just not doing anything isn’t going to cut it. So what do we do if we have lower conscientiousness?
First of all, don’t despair! Luckily, conscientiousness is the one Big Five Aspect that can be built up and increased over time. Unlike the other four aspects, conscientiousness is the easiest aspect of personality to change and improve.
How can you increase your conscientiousness? You guessed it… plan your time and keep a schedule! It seems like a bit of a “chicken or the egg” situation, but indeed the very act of maintaining a schedule will eventually and gradually increase your conscientiousness. The difficult part is starting and making it a habit, which creates a positive feedback loop that will increase our ability to work hard and habitually focus on what’s important.
Knowing that part of our personality can be improved by sticking to a schedule, we need to learn how to make that happen without being overwhelming, leading to eventual quitting.
One of the best ways to do that, I found, is to know what makes us fail and then implement strategies to avoid failure and push us toward success.
How To Stick To a Schedule: Know Why You Fail and Do What Works Instead
Before diving into how to a schedule, even more than how to succeed you need to know why you are failing to stick to a schedule. Knowing a bunch of techniques but not the pitfalls will almost guarantee you slip off your intended path and not even notice until it’s too late and you give up on planning until January 1st.
Your brain, at least on a pure survival level, is perfectly content with your current routine. It enjoys knowing and expecting what’s going to happen tomorrow, then is validated when it does happen. You’re alive and have made it this far in life so your brain is content to just carry on as it always has because doing what you’ve done thus far has kept you alive.
However, we’re human and more than simple survival machines, we need to thrive and have meaning in our lives or we start to take on a whole host of problems like depression and nihilism.
Meaning in your life comes from taking on responsibility. The easiest way to take on responsibilities you actually would look forward to doing is by having goals. Logically, then, many people start coming up with a plan to achieve these goals only to realize planning consistently is really tough!
There’s a couple of key reasons it’s difficult to keep a schedule. I’m going to go over the common ways people struggle and fail to keep and maintain a schedule, then how to fix those particular issues.
Issue #1: Too strict with themselves, especially at first
Ever get a sudden burst of motivation or inspiration? You’re ready to take on the world and do anything to make a change in your life and start achieving your goals. In that moment you tell yourself all the things you’re going to do tomorrow and plan the most intense, productive day possible.
When that day arrives, however, you quickly realize the sheer amount of work you left for your future self. You also realize that the feelings you had yesterday didn’t seem to carry over to today. So you gave yourself too much work, and you don’t even feel like doing the work… it’s not too much to assume you will just do what you’re used to and comfortable with instead.
How to fix this issue:
This mistake is common, and easy to remedy. Know that when you schedule your time, you’re signing up your future self for work that they are not used to. It would be the same as your boss coming up to you in the morning you’re about to start work and say “Hey, we’re going to give you double the responsibility and workload today, but pay you the same amount we always have.”
That would leave anyone upset, and since you ARE your own boss, you can easily deny the new workload when it’s time to actually get it done. The trick here is you must negotiate with your future self. Your present self is the boss, and your future self is the employee that will be doing the eventual work. When you are planning your day, you have to plan one you’re actually capable of doing, so only a slight rise above your usual workload is best at first. Then, lay out your reward system. Know that your future self will benefit from the new increased workload with something fun at the end of the day, and that your efforts are slowly putting you on the path to success and accomplishment.
Issue #2: Your life is ruled by your distractions
This one was hard for me to grasp, especially at first. Our seemingly simple, harmless, and common daily habits are actually ruining our lives, destroying our potential, and hurting our ability to get anything worthwhile done. These distractions are anything you do that doesn’t benefit your life in any discernable way, but you seem to do every day without question.
The list of distractions can be huge and vary greatly from person to person. If it’s something you do every day that doesn’t keep you alive or enrich your life, it’s potentially a distraction. While the list of distractions can be huge, some common examples are:
- Social media
- Constantly checking current events (and discussing them online)
- Sports (watching live and highlights, discussing online, fantasy league, reading about players, etc.)
- TV, Netflix, hulu, movies, YouTube, etc.
- Playing video games (reading about upcoming games, checking reviews, discussing online, etc.)
As you can see, distractions are dangerous because while the core idea of the activity may not appear time consuming, the extra activities you can do along with it can make a one hour break of fun into 4 hours of pure time wasting.
The difference between a distraction and something you simply enjoy is distractions typically have an addictive system built right in to them, and always have fresh content to consume even when you think you’ll be done.
Addictive qualities + infinite content = distraction
Netflix episode done? Well the next one starts in 5…4…3…2…
Just 2 games of PUBG/Fortnite? Well, I lost in 5 minutes both games… a few more won’t hurt…
I read everything on reddit! Let’s explore some new subreddits…
These things have no end, and that’s by design. They don’t DO anything for your life, so why do you let them book up all the time in your precious days?
How to fix this issue:
To beat these distractions, you must first admit to yourself they are distractions and you must be aware of when they are happening.
If you’re using our Daily Planner to schedule your days, you’ll see that an entire section is dedicated to the distractions you will write down and attempt to avoid throughout your day. The act of writing them down will later send a signal to your brain when you’re about to engage in a distraction, and will let you choose something else from your Important Tasks on the left to do instead.
The more you are aware of when you receive your trigger to do a distraction and replace it with something useful, you’ll find you have more time in your days to get things done and will stop wonder where the day has went.
Issue #3: You’re actually pretty comfortable with your current lifestyle and can’t make big change
Another tricky one that can be hard to get your head around. Even if you really want to make a change in your life, you just can’t seem to make any of them happen consistently. Many people say that they can never break routine unless it’s through absolute necessity. That makes sense, too, because your brain doesn’t want to do more than it is doing unless it perceives your goals as a matter of life and death.
Don’t get mad at yourself and judge yourself harshly for your brain doing what it has always done to keep you alive and survive. In fact, your brain being the way has gotten you this far in life!
How to fix this issue:
Every problem has a solution. This problem must be attacked from different angles and slowly chipped away and worked on. You will always be in constant battle with your brain because your brain is mostly concerned with your survival and achieving homeostasis.
So, in order to get your brain adjusted to the newer productive days you desire, make the gradual change by doing the following:
- Have a clear idea of a future you actually want, and remind yourself every day is your chance to get a little bit closer to those goals (affirmations)
- Be content and satisfied with completing even ONE important thing for the day that puts you closer to your goals
- Don’t get down and mentally punish yourself for failing short term, each day is a new opportunity to get back on track
- START SLOWLY. Your brain has to slowly change and adjust to the type of days you want to have.
- Plan to plan. This may sound ridiculous to some, but setting a time each day to plan your next day can be extremely helpful to building your new habits. If you use a Habit Tracker you can even log each time you’re successful to help see just how consistent you are.
Issue #4: You are naturally low in conscientiousness
Back to the personality topic, some people are just naturally low on conscientiousness. While that may seem like a handicap in today’s world that is obsessed with productivity, understand that high conscientiousness has its negative side, too. If you are low on conscientiousness, you don’t freak out with unexpected and unplanned changes to your day, you don’t directly value yourself based on your work, and you don’t stress out easily over little things. There’s plenty of benefits.
Still, building up your conscientiousness and having the ability to work toward goals in a consistent manner will benefit your life in ways being low on conscientiousness simply can’t make up for.
How to fix this issue:
As we talked about earlier, keeping a schedule, execute on your plans, and do this consistently. Start slowly at first, as slow as you need to go to write anything down. It will build up your conscientiousness over time. Don’t worry about not being top percentage of conscientiousness levels in the population, you don’t need to be there to make your dreams come true and live a great life. Just build your habits, and continually work and NEVER GIVE UP.
Issue #5: You harbor negative thoughts about yourself
Life can be hard at times. Our brains are constantly seeking validation for our views, thoughts, and ideas. If our lives are not exactly where we want to be, and we only compare ourselves to others, we have thoughts like:
- “I should have a house by now!”
- “All my peers make more money than me!”
- “Everyone has a nice car and I drive a piece of trash.”
- “Why am I in such terrible shape!?”
Rather than see our temporary circumstances as something we can solve, we validate our unhealthy thoughts by accepting the notion we are weak, incapable, stupid, or just a bad person undeserving of anything good in life.
This is just a band-aid to cover up and make excuses for circumstances that barely satisfies. All it does is absolve us of the responsibility of having to work for what we want, and because responsibility is what gives us our sense of meaning, we only get more depressed and no where closer to our ideal future.
How to fix this issue:
Accept who you are in this exact moment. You can get what you want, in time, if you work toward it. It may not be 100% chance of success, but giving yourself even 1% chance is better than the 0% of not trying.
Realize you have all the tools you need right now to get where you want to be. If you’re reading this, you are on a computer with internet access, so you have access to everything you need to improve your personal situation.
Exercise appreciating and liking yourself. You only dislike yourself and punish yourself mentally because it answers the question of why you aren’t living a more ideal life. Stop comparing your life to others and realize all change in your life starts with you.
Knowing why you slip into your unproductive routine and having planned tasks to replace them, I think, is the best way to avoid falling into a bad routine and building a positive one.
For lower conscientious people, our Daily Planner tries its best to make writing a daily schedule easy. You list out your goals, responsibilities, distractions, and fun activities for a day and you try to get at least one important goal done and avoid your distractions as best you can.
That, along with every other planner template on the site can be found and downloaded for free.