The year is 2008. Cal Newport is a 26-year-old graduated student studying at Georgetown University. He’s written two books and working on a third—mostly aimed at high school and college-aged students. He’s working on several research papers, regularly blogging, contributing to a magazine, and TA’ing between coursework and classes.
Somehow, he gets everything done, despite his heavy workload.
His secret? Fixed-schedule productivity.
These days, Newport is a New York Times bestselling author, regular contributor to the New Yorker, computer science professor, podcaster, public speaker, and productivity expert known worldwide.
His 2016 book, Deep Work, became an international sensation, helping millions reclaim their attention by developing a framework for safeguarding their time and focus while they work.
Since then, his productivity strategies, tips, and ideas have been adopted by people in dorm rooms to board rooms.
But it all started in 2008 when Newport came up with a simple, two-part system for getting more work done in less time.
What is Fixed-Schedule Productivity?
The rules for fixed-schedule productivity are pretty simple, according to Newport:
Rule 1: Choose a schedule of work hours that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation
Rule 2: Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule
That’s it. Simple, right?
Making Fixed-Schedule Productivity Work
Twenty-something Cal Newport is the first to admit that implementing and sticking to rule number two is easier said than done:
“If you took your current projects, obligations, and work habits, you’d probably fall well short of satisfying your ideal work schedule… to stick to your ideal schedule will require some drastic actions.”
Those drastic actions could include:
- Cutting back on the number of projects you’re working on
- Culling inefficient habits from your daily schedule
- Putting an end to procrastination
- Possibly annoying people by sticking to such a fixed work schedule
Further, to keep to a fixed schedule, you have to be careful with how you go about your day, so Newport says to focus on these seven techniques:
- Serialize projects by working on one major project at a time and moving to another when finished to maximize efficiency
- Be clear about when to expect results by making an honest evaluation of when you can get something done by
- Turn down projects if you’re focusing on too many things and can’t get a potential project done in a reasonable time
- Drop projects if they end up taking up too much of your time
- Be unavailable at certain times of the day to focus on meaningful work
- Turn regularly occurring work into a habit that’s done consistently at a fixed date and time
- Start early on important projects (and, again, don’t tolerate procrastination)
But let’s be real. Not every knowledge worker can turn down or drop projects, complete tasks on a timeline that works with their schedule, or start early when they’re already bogged down with work.
That said, there are ways to implement some of the basic aspects of fixed-schedule productivity into your daily schedule to safeguard your time and focus at work.
Like anything to do with time management and productivity, it all begins with your calendar.
Fixing Your Schedule
Most people schedule their work day around specific meetings and hope nothing comes up during their open blocks of time. But that’s rarely the case (and is on the rise).
That’s why, of the seven techniques Newport suggests above, being unavailable at certain times and turning regularly recurring work into a habit may be two of the simplest productivity strategies to implement into your existing workflow.
How does that look in practice?
To start, you want to try and dedicate certain blocks of time to meetings, so that you can devote more time to deep, sustained focus.
With Nook Calendar’s personal booking pages, you can adjust which dates and times you’re willing to have meetings booked externally. (Most people choose a 2 to 4-hour chunk at the beginning or end of the day to keep things simple.)
Once a meeting gets booked, your availability will dynamically update to prevent anyone from selecting a similar time and creating a double-booking. You can also add buffers, so no one books any last-minute meetings.
Next, you want to safeguard your time against someone who may try to book a meeting outside of your pre-determined meeting hours.
That’s where a bit of time-blocking comes in handy.
In Nook Calendar, you can create events to block out time in your calendar and set them as Busy, so no one bothers you during those times, or Free if you feel more flexible.
That way, if someone tries to book a meeting internally through Nook’s People Bar, they’ll see which spots are available and be directed to book a time that works better with your schedule.
Pretty simple, right?
Of course, multiple uncontrollable variables could impact your workday.
But, if you follow the basic tenets of fixed-schedule productivity and create more of a defined structure for your workday, you’ll probably be more productive in the long run.
“This type of planning, to me, is like a chess game, with blocks of work getting spread and sorted in such a way that projects big and small all seem to click into completion with (just enough) time to spare,” Newport once wrote about time-blocking, saying it saved him upwards of 20 hours of work each week.
Learn more about fixed-schedule productivity from one of Cal Newport’s recent podcast.