Schedule vs. Structure: Is your calendar really to blame for your failed to-do list?

How many times have you created an intricate, color-coded, time-blocked schedule and not stuck to it? Bought a new planner and given up on it not even a week later? Rolled your to-do list over from week to week because you never actually do any of the things on it?  I’m not alone here, right? […]

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How many times have you created an intricate, color-coded, time-blocked schedule and not stuck to it? Bought a new planner and given up on it not even a week later? Rolled your to-do list over from week to week because you never actually do any of the things on it? 

I’m not alone here, right? It feels awful to lose that integrity with yourself. 

Now, what if I told you those things have nothing to do with your willpower? That there’s a reason for your broken schedule that doesn’t actually have anything to do with poor planning or the lack of time in your day?

The truth is, forcing yourself to be productive is incredibly…unproductive. When you micromanage your time and fill your schedule with an endless series of tasks and to-do items, there’s very little room to actually live. You never find the time to actually question the validity of your to-do list, and it’s really easy to break color-coded time blocks on your schedule when they don’t actually matter. Sure, you think you can convince yourself that they do, but your subconscious mind knows better.

So why do we do it? Why do we overprogram ourselves and then get angry when we fail? More often than not, it’s because that beautifully coordinated schedule is trying to hide an extreme fear of success and some chronic self-sabotage. In fact, your schedule is probably the last thing stopping you from reaching your full potential. The only thing standing in your way is your subconscious mind and the resistance it’s putting up because it’s scared.

“That sounds crazy!” you may be thinking. “Of course I want to do ALL THE THINGS and succeed!” Wrong. All your brain wants is for you to stay safe, and your brain only has one idea of what safe looks like– the same. Your brain wants to keep you in your comfort zone because the possibility of the unknown is simply too much for it to handle, and your perfectionist scheduling only widens that divide. Even though you feel like your goals are in alignment with your desires, your brain may not feel that way…at all.

For example, say you’re trying to get your health and wellness on track. It can be a minefield of resistance! Maybe, subconsciously, you worry that working out and eating well will make you unrelatable. You’ll have to be difficult and suggest different restaurants. You won’t be able to complain about your body with your friends anymore! Maybe you worry that scheduling time to go to the gym will detract from your work. Or that this will end up like all the other times you tried to get healthy and didn’t, so what’s even the point?! (All real beliefs I have had come up in my hypnotherapy sessions, by the way!)

You need to make friends with your resistance and make sure your goals are in alignment with your true desires. Make sure you’re getting healthy for the right reasons. That you’re creating a new lifestyle that you love, whatever that looks like. And make sure that you’re communicating with your brain in a way that works. Otherwise, no amount of daily workout classes penciled into your calendar is going to get you where you want to go. 

Your brain will prepare you for whatever reality you tell it to, regardless of whether it actually exists.

If you tell yourself you’re too busy for the things you really want, your brain will create that reality. And sometimes, if those desires feel even the slightest bit scary, being “too busy” can be pretty convenient. Your brain hates change, so your brain is happy to stay where it is. If being “too busy” keeps it there, your brain will happily find more busy work for you instead of helping you prepare for the future you claim to desire. 

I’ve had a long time of making friends with my brain, and my favorite productivity brainhack is to ditch the perfectionist scheduling altogether. I used to keep mile-long to-do lists and color-coded agendas, but now I focus on structure instead. While schedules are confining and rigid, structure is liberating and fluid in all the best ways.

Structure ensures that your days are set up in a way that gives you the spaciousness to actually do the things that are truly important to you and to enjoy doing them. Being busy makes it easy to come up with excuses for why you’re not doing things, but once you slow down just a little, you begin to realize that all of those excuses were just that. You begin rebuilding your integrity with yourself and stop the self-sabotage spiral that comes when you fail to complete specific tasks. 

Nixing the traditional calendar in favor of a more fluid structure has really helped me realize where I have been subconsciously sabotaging my own success. I know a fear of success sounds crazy, but we all have it. We worry success will change us and make us unrelatable; that it will lead to change we don’t know how to prepare for– a horrible world where our success is rewarded with higher taxes and less people that like us!

For me, I thought success had to look like a perfectly planned day and a militant adherence to your to-do list. Every time I broke my schedule it felt like a moral offense and yet another reason I was never going to be “successful.” I began creating that reality for my brain, a reality where I wasn’t “successful” despite some external evidence to the contrary. It felt like a horrible place to be. In reality, I was scared of taking the big action I needed to take, and resigning myself to, “Well, I’m just not perfect enough to be successful” was a really easy cop-out!

When I finally stopped to ask myself how someone might become successful even without a perfect Pinterest schedule, I realized that the answer was simple– she just did the things that would actually get her there. And I set out to do just that.

Now almost all of my days look the same and provide me the structure I need to thrive, but the details change constantly. Decision-fatigue is a productive person’s worst nightmare, so in an effort to nix it from my life, I work Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 3 pm. Yes, even though I’m an entrepreneur. Yes, even though I started a business for the “freedom.” Freedom for me is knowing I have the time to do the things I want to do. Fridays are overflow days. If I have it off, great. Otherwise, I can catch up on the week.

At 3 pm, I close my computer and pick up my boys from school. From then until bedtime, I joke that I become a pumpkin. I started a business to spend more time with them, so I make it a priority. I’ll check social media and respond to comments during this time, but for the most part, this time is ours to enjoy.

Here’s what has truly been a game changer for me: I no longer have a daily to-do list. Instead, I give myself a maximum of 3 things to do a week. Anything else goes on an “Idea Park” I keep next to my desk. I know that feels crazy small. I know you’re thinking, “But I can handle so much more!!!” Can you though? If you pick 3 needle-moving activities, you shouldn’t even need more to experience huge growth. 

If one thing doesn’t get done that week, it has a chance to make it to the next week. Doesn’t get done that week either? It’s obviously something I’m not inclined to actually do, for one reason or another. Is it fear? I work through why I’m scared. Just not aligned? Then it goes either into the garbage or on to the Idea Park for a better time.

Do my days still get inundated with tiny little things that pop up unexpectedly? YES! Which is the whole reason for my 3 things rule. Stuff comes up, so build in that buffer. This week my 3 things were to promote my new program by doing daily lives, prepare the details for a meeting I’ve been looking forward to, and onboard a new team member. Three big things that actually propel my business forward and don’t involve Canva. 

I had a friend ask me what I did in my free time. “Do you like, make a snack? Go to the bathroom?” Yes! Exactly. Instead of preparing for a new launch in the extra 7 minutes I found throughout my day and beating myself up when that didn’t happen, I started doing the kinds of things that 7 minutes actually allow you to do…i.e. Absolutely Nothing.

And an incredible thing happened. I found that when I wasn’t trying to cram a million activities into each day, in my free time, I actually had time to do just that: be free. 

When it comes to creating structure over a schedule, I’ve found it most helpful to batch your time for each of the large activities you need to complete each day. You can batch working hours, exercise hours, family hours, and so on, but all the details come in the in-between. Rather than pre-determining each day when you’re going to complete your tasks, you eliminate the big decisions and make time and energy to focus on the little decisions that come up. 

I’ve found more often than not when I schedule my days and then don’t complete the tasks I thought I would, I’m frustrated and disappointed. When I loosely focus on my week instead, I don’t lose integrity with myself and actually wind up getting more done.

In the end, if you’re breaking your schedule and not following through with things you thought you would, you’re not just flaky, inconsistent, or unreliable. It’s not your fault, and in fact, it’s probably not your schedule’s fault either. It’s probably just your fear of success and self-sabotage that are keeping you from fulfilling your entire potential. 

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