How to Create a Daily Schedule for a Calm and Focused Day


When it comes to designing a daily schedule, people often fall into the trap of thinking they need to block out every minute of their day with a specific task. They believe they must have a fixed lunchtime or take only a few minutes for breaks. Such a rigid approach to scheduling can quickly become unsustainable and lead to burnout, ultimately derailing their efforts to be more productive.

A daily schedule is more than just a to-do list or a collection of appointments. It's a framework that helps you prioritize your goals, manage your energy levels, and ensure that you're making progress on the things that matter most to you.

In this post, we'll explore how to create a daily schedule that works for your unique goals, priorities, and lifestyle. Whether you're a chronic procrastinator, a workaholic, or simply someone who wants to make the most out of each day, this blog is for you.

Before you read more, here's the thing: there's no one "right" way to create a daily schedule. What works for one person may not work for another, and what works for you today may not work for you six months from now. That's why the key to creating an effective daily schedule is to approach it with a spirit of curiosity and experimentation.

1 — Decide a start and end time for your workday

Your brain craves consistency, and your body thrives on rhythm. When you start your work at the same time each day, you're sending a powerful signal to your mind: it's time to focus, to engage, to create.

But the benefits extend beyond work. By setting a clear start time, you're also protecting your personal life. No more letting work bleed into your precious morning hours. Instead, you permit yourself to focus on what matters most to you, knowing that when your start time arrives, you'll be fully present and ready to tackle your professional challenges.

A fixed start time also improves your communication with your team. Letting your team know when you'll be starting work each day manages expectations around your availability and responsiveness.

Just as a well-defined start time is crucial for productivity, an end time is equally essential for maintaining balance between work and life.

An end time is a daily reminder of your agency. In a world that's always demanding, always pulling us in a thousand directions, your end time is a declaration of control. It's a way of saying, "After this, it's my time, and I choose how to spend it."

When you know your end time is coming, you work differently. You prioritize more effectively. You focus more intently. You make better decisions about what truly needs your time and attention.

To find optimal start and end times, pay close attention to your daily commitments, energy levels, and habits for a few weeks. As you're going about your workday, ask yourself questions like —

  • When do I feel most focused and energized? For example, if you realize you're most focused and energized first thing in the morning, you might choose to start your workday earlier to capitalize on that natural energy surge.
  • When do I start to feel my attention and motivation waning? If you consistently notice that your attention and motivation dip in the late afternoon, but you need 6 hours of work, start early and wrap up by afternoon.
  • What personal and professional commitments do I have today? Maybe you've got to drop the kids off at school in the morning or hit the gym in the evening. Factor these things into your daily schedule, and be realistic about when you can start and end your day.

Approach this process with curiosity and an open mind. Don't judge yourself or try to force yourself into a schedule that doesn't feel natural. The goal is to work with your own unique rhythms and energy levels, not against them.

Once you've got a rough idea of your optimal working hours, it's time to let your colleagues or clients know when you'll be available and when you won't. You can adapt your start and end times as needed to accommodate fluctuating demands or unexpected circumstances. Have a baseline that you aim for most of the time.

In Sunsama, we have a daily shutdown ritual that is designed to help you end your workday on time, celebrate and share your progress, and avoid burnout.

During your daily planning, you'll be prompted daily to choose your shutdown time. Or you can set a specific time in your settings.

At the time you choose, an in-app notification will remind you to stop working. Clicking it will start the daily shutdown flow:

  1. Review your completed tasks and time spent.
  2. Reflect on your day and optionally share progress via Slack.
  3. A 'Done for the day' screen prompts you to step away from your laptop.

You can then surrender to leisure instead of obsessing about how to make the best use of a small window of time.

Consciously shutting down for the day through a reflective ritual helps you disengage psychologically, leave work-related stress behind, and be more present in other areas of your life.

2 — Bring all your tasks to one place

With multiple project management tools and communication apps, our action items don't reside in one place.

As a busy professional you might have client tasks scattered across Asana and Trello, emails that require action languishing in their inbox, and personal reminders tucked away in Todoist or their favorite note-taking app. The cognitive load of remembering where each task lives and the time spent navigating between these tools can quickly add up, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and less productive than you'd like.

Consolidating your tasks into one list makes it easier to organize and prioritize them. This leads to focused work as you spend less time searching for tasks and more time actually working on them.

How to consolidate all your tasks using Sunsama

Sunsama seamlessly integrates with tools like Asana, Trello, Jira, GitHub, and Todoist. This means that any tasks or projects you have in these tools can be dragged into your task list in Sunsama, eliminating the need for manual data entry and ensuring that your task list is always up-to-date.

Sunsama also integrates with email clients like Gmail and Outlook, and apps like Slack. You can easily turn messages and emails into actionable tasks without the Sunsama app. For instance, if a client sends you an email requesting a project update, you can convert that email into a task with just a few clicks, ensuring that it doesn't get lost.

When you plan your day in Sunsama, you'll be able to pull meetings and events from your calendar into your task list for the day.

Sunsama's meeting import feature automatically syncs your scheduled meetings from your calendar (Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar) with your daily task list, giving you a comprehensive view of your commitments and helping you manage your time effectively.

You can choose any of the three methods to import your meetings:

1. Automatic import: Once connected, Sunsama automatically imports your scheduled meetings and displays them alongside your tasks in your daily plan, without the need for manual entry.

2. Import during daily planning: During your daily planning session, you can choose to import meetings for that specific day, allowing you to see them in the context of your daily tasks and make necessary adjustments.

3. Drag and drop functionality: Sunsama's intuitive interface allows you to easily drag and drop meetings and tasks to rearrange your daily plan, accommodating changes in priorities or scheduling conflicts.

When you consolidate all your tasks in Sunsama, the task list you build will be your source of truth and guide for the day. Find out more about how it can help and sign up for free today.

3 — Prioritize your task list

Prioritization is fundamentally about making choices and allocating your limited time, energy, and resources to the tasks and activities that matter most.

Effective prioritization helps you focus on activities that have the greatest potential to help you achieve your goals. As you focus on what matters most, you reduce the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do and too little time.

To prioritize effectively, focus on three key elements — mindset, habit, and skill.

  • Effective prioritization starts with the right mindset. This means internalizing the belief that not all tasks are created equal and that focusing on the most important and impactful tasks is crucial for productivity and success.
  • To be effective, prioritization needs to become a habit - a regular part of your daily or weekly routine. This might involve setting aside dedicated time each day to review and prioritize your task list, or consistently using a particular prioritization framework like the Eisenhower Matrix. The more you practice prioritizing, the more ingrained the habit becomes.
  • And lastly, prioritization is a skill that you can develop. It involves techniques like goal-setting, breaking down complex projects into manageable tasks, estimating time requirements, and adapting to changing circumstances.

To put these three elements of prioritization into practice, it's essential to regularly assess your tasks and commitments with a critical eye. Take a hard look at your daily schedule and ask yourself three powerful questions about each activity:

  1. If this task disappeared, would it make any real difference? If the answer is no, then why are you wasting your precious time on it? Cut it out.
  2. Are you the only one who can handle this, or could someone else do it just as well (if not better)? You were hired or are working by yourself because of your unique skills and impact. Don't get bogged down in tasks that others can handle. Delegate them.
  3. Which tasks are time-sensitive and need to be tackled urgently? Some tasks may not be the most impactful, but they have hard deadlines that can't be ignored. Identify these time-sensitive tasks and give them the attention they demand.

Your time and energy are finite resources. Every minute you spend on something trivial is a minute you could have invested in something truly meaningful. So be ruthless in your pursuit of what matters. Focus on the essential, delete, or delegate the rest.

Begin with small steps and leverage tools like Sunsama to support yourself. Even incremental progress in prioritization can lead to significant long-term gains in productivity.

4 — Use timeboxing to create your schedule

Once you have your prioritized task list ready, you might be tempted to dive right in and start tackling your tasks one by one. But there's an important step before that: timeboxing your tasks.

Timeboxing is the practice of allocating a fixed period of time to a specific task and then completing the activity within that time frame. It is especially valuable for people who have lots of meetings (or other timed obligations) and need to figure out how their daily work fits into those constraints.

Key components of timeboxing are:

  1. A fixed duration is determined before starting the task.
  2. The timebox has a specific start and end time.
  3. Work stops at the end of the timebox, regardless of whether the task is complete.
  4. Progress is reviewed at the end of the timebox to determine next steps.

Be realistic about how much time each task requires, but also challenge yourself to work efficiently and stay focused. Then, as you move through your day, stick to your timeboxes as much as possible. If you complete a task early, move on to the next one. If a task takes longer than expected, evaluate whether it's worth continuing or if it's better to move on and come back to it later.

Timeboxing is a simple technique that can help you stay focused, avoid distractions, and make the most of your time. It is also a great way to combat procrastination and perfectionism. Setting a limit for how long we work on something, stops us from trying to make everything perfect, which can slow us down. When we know we only have a set amount of time, we focus on finishing, not on being perfect. This way, we keep moving and get more done.

Timeboxing from a paper task list or digital notes can be challenging due to a lack of flexibility, difficulty tracking time, and no visual representation of your day. These limitations make it harder to adjust timeboxes, stay on schedule, understand your daily plan, and coordinate with your team.

An easier way to implement timeboxing is to use tools like Sunsama.

With Sunsama you simply choose a duration for each task and drag it into an empty timeslot in your calendar, and it will show up as an event in your underlying (Google or Outlook) calendar (aka timebox). If you need to change the duration or start time of a timebox, you can easily do it with drag and drop.

Sunsama also provides a timer that tracks your progress on each task, helping you stay aware of when your timebox is coming to an end. Claim your 14-day free trial of Sunsama here (no credit card required to sign up).

Timeboxing is a powerful tool, but it comes with a challenge: we often misjudge how long tasks will really take. The solution? Build in a buffer—a bit of extra time between each task. And here's a pro tip: as the day wears on and your batteries start to drain, give yourself a bigger buffer. Your focus and energy aren't the same throughout the day, after all.

How to actually stick to your schedule?

Creating a well-crafted daily schedule is only half the battle. The real challenge lies in actually sticking to it.

Yes, you might have unexpected work emergencies, family obligations, or simply need a mental health day. When this happens, do not beat yourself up and give up. Try again.

View your daily schedule as an act of self-love, an investment in yourself and the things you care about.

When you create and stick to a daily schedule, you are sending a powerful message to yourself that your goals, aspirations, and well-being matter. You are declaring that you are worthy of the time and effort required to cultivate the life you desire. This mindset shift can be transformative, providing the motivation and resilience needed to overcome obstacles and stay committed to your daily routine.

One powerful exercise to stick to your daily scheduling habit is to imagine yourself six months into the future, having successfully maintained your desired routine. Write about how you feel, what you've accomplished, and the positive impact this routine has had on your life. Visualizing success can be a potent motivator and help you stay committed to your daily schedule.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, wisely said, "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems." By creating a daily schedule that works for you and approaching it with flexibility and self-compassion, you are building a system that will support your growth and success in the long run.

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