As I stir my morning cup of coffee I glance down at my phone. Today there’s no time for my usual leisurely trawl through emails and social media: in exactly three minutes and 30 seconds I’ll have to wake my children and start getting them ready for school.
And after that, for the rest of the day I’ll be sticking to a carefully worked out routine to ensure not a moment is wasted. The reason for this clock-watching? I’m trying out micro-scheduling, a new fad that’s all the rage in Silicon Valley.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and SpaceX genius Elon Musk swear by it – they’re both such control freaks they break their days into five-minute chunks. Productivity coaches are hailing it as the perfect antidote to distractions and interruptions such as pinging phones and talkative colleagues who stand in the way of getting stuff done. But will a rigid routine like this work for me, a stressed, working mom of two?
I admit I’m feeling nervous as I prepare to try it out for three days. I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of person, so it’s hard to imagine how I’m going to take my chaotic life and micromanage it into a minute-by-minute routine.
MY PLAN OF ACTION
To avoid potential time wasters such as traffic jams and colleagues popping in for a “quick chat”, I decide to micro-schedule on days I work from home. To get the ball rolling I jot down a schedule for the next day before I go to sleep, leaving it next to my bedside to inspire me when I wake up. Surprisingly, just the action of scheduling tasks makes me feel less anxious. There’s something comfortingly reassuring about falling asleep knowing tomorrow is meticulously mapped out.
Although sticking to a schedule for trivial things such as making tea felt tiresome at first, having a roadmap for my day benefited me greatly. I completed tasks faster and more efficiently than usual because I knew I had a specific deadline and that after that I’d need to move on to something else. My cellphone is usually a big distraction. I’m constantly checking it, responding to messages and scrolling through social-media platforms. I was worried that having it near me would prove too much of a temptation so I kept it in another room with the call volume set on high so I could hear if there were phone calls. Instead of setting alarms on my phone, I kept track of time on a good old-fashioned wall clock.
But although sticking to my schedule was a breeze when I was alone, it was more challenging after my kids arrived home from school. Yet surprisingly my daughters, Katherine (11) and Isabella (7), didn’t mind the stricter schedule. I think it helped that I was able to factor in time to do homework with them, then caught up with work later when they were in bed. But I had less time to spend with my husband, Kyle (31). I’ll admit by the third day I was suffering from micro-scheduling fatigue. I decided to divide my day so I had longer periods of time for work projects with small gaps in between for making tea or eating lunch. This worked better for me. I would absolutely recommend some form of micro-scheduling to anyone feeling overwhelmed by the number of things they have to do. I had my doubts in the beginning but there’s nothing that beats the satisfaction of looking back on your schedule and seeing how much you’ve done.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Johannesburg life coach Debbie Edwards isn’t surprised I felt more productive. “We all have the same amount of time in a day and it’s a simple fact that people who schedule get more things done,” she says. “With no routine you start to drift away from your plans, whereas micro-scheduling moves you forward.”
Cape Town life coach Jurie Wessels points out that structure aids in reducing stress. “Children are comforted by knowing what’s coming and the same principle applies to adults,” he says. But this hyper-organised style wouldn’t be suited to everyone. Those who prefer to live life in a more orderly and organized fashion might love knowing exactly how their day’s going to unfold, but it would probably make more spontaneous people feel frustrated, he says.
Even for a highly disciplined person it would be a tall order to stick to such a rigid schedule day in and day out. “Some individuals would become discouraged if they ’re aware of how far behind they’re falling in their schedules,” he says. This could lead to stress and anxiety and cause them to make careless mistakes which would waste even more time.
South Africans face additional challenges which make micro-scheduling even harder, such as loadshedding, severe traffic in certain areas and disrupted public transport systems, he says. But his main problem with it is that humans aren’t built to act like machines. UK-based psychologist Annette Byford describes the fad as a form of “self-bullying”.
“They’re peddling the idea it’s possible to stay perfectly on top of things,” she says. “Yes, be organised, set priorities, set time boundaries – but that involves saying sometimes, ‘That can’t be done.’ We can’t plan every second of the day and we need time to amble.