I’ve got about twenty projects on the go at any one time. Some are long term, some are on hold pending outside responses, some are at the proposal stage, and some are at the wrap up stage. I’ve tried every method under the sun to stay on top of my work. But they have all failed in one important way: they never stopped my mind from wondering “What should I be working on now?”

For me, that awful feeling of being out of control is a total work killer. How can I be creative when a good portion of my brain in whirring away, trying to stay on top of next actions and deadlines?

I felt totally out of control. My next-action lists were long and my calendar was full, but I had no real idea where I was going.

Until I started using my calendar. REALLY using it. For some reason, I never made the leap from next-actions to SCHEDULING next-actions. As soon as I did that, calm returned, and productivity went through the roof.

I now schedule EVERYTHING. As a result, very little gets missed. I’m still using next-actions, but I’ve added the step of mapping them out on upcoming weeks. This way, I can relax, knowing that I’m going to get them done.

Of equal importance to me as a freelancer though, is the fact that I can feel more at ease about my availability to take on new work.

Like many of you, I have a hard time saying no to job offers. As a result, on a number of occasions I’ve wound up being way too over-committed. Now, that’s impossible.

This isn’t exactly rocket science here. I’m sure many of you do this already. But it’s amazing that a relatively intelligent, committed person like myself didn’t figure this out sooner. I’m betting I’m not the only one (gee, I’d sure feel silly if I was).

I’ve included a shot of my schedule below, so you can really see what I mean.

screen shot of my calendar

45 Comments on How I learned to stop worrying and love my schedule

  1. Nick says:

    Great post. One of the (solvable) problems I see with really sticking to your schedule is estimating the time each “next action” or project will take, which affects future scheduling.

    Any tips on how to estimate your time on each action or project?

  2. Chris says:

    I cannot tell you HOW MUCH I have recently been enjoying your website! The content here is SO relevant to so many of us independents. I was psyched to read this article today because this is the VERY thing I have been struggling with for so long now! I too, consider myself to be a smart worker – my mind always jumping from one project to the next and worrying about deadlines and realistic expectations and client relations and ARGH! It’s enough to make your head explode.

    At least I felt that way until I started reading the helpful tips you share here on the site and I have already noticed my productivity increasing. Quite a bit, actually! I plan on trying to use the scheduling methods you talked about. I am excited to think of the possibility of getting more done while stressing a lot less.

    Thanks for sharing all the helpful info! Keep up the great work!

  3. Chris says:

    Nick, raises a good question and I wish I’d asked it myself. This is something else I struggle with – estimating time. I flat out SUCK at it, to be honest. I look forward to hearing your response!

  4. Jeff says:

    Good post. It would be beneficial, to me at least, to see a real-size screenshot of that calendar to understand the kind of thing you’re doing better. If you have to blur out names/companies, so be it, but it would be appreciated.

    I have yet to really come up with a system overall that I consider to be working well. I don’t use any system for my income-producing job, as it oddly doesn’t really need one at all. I never have meetings or deadlines really. I do, however, use a mish-mash of things for my personal life. One thing I have found greatly beneficial is setting future alarms for one-off items that need to be done on a certain date. I’ll set one for the day before as a reminder, one for the morning of the day it needs to be done, and one for 10 minutes before the actual event. This completely clears my mind of the task. Not revolutionary, and I suppose this is at the heart of “GTD ticklers”, but there it is.

    My problem is discipline when faced with a bunch of tasks that have no required deadline. They are things I would like to have done, but really do not want to do them. An example is: “fix gutter leak on carport” Yeah, I’m Getting Right On That… :(

  5. Tim says:

    Concur, please let us see a big screenshot with the appropriate names scribbled out (or some false info populated).

  6. Matt Turner says:

    That’s a great idea, i’m trying it out now. Where did all those groovy colours come from i can see on your ical screenshot ?

  7. Yzabel says:

    In a weird kind of coincidence, I was pondering doing that earlier ontoday, way before your post even appeared in my RSS reader. I’ve come to realize that I’m one of these people who NEED deadlines–the more I have, the tighter they are, the better I perform. When I don’t have any, when I wake up in the morning and can’t tell myself “I need to do this, this, and that today”, the whoel day goes to waste. The more time we have on our hands, the more we procrastinate. It’s a terrible truth.

    To be honest, as laughable as this may sound, I’m even considering scheduling housework and laundry tasks. No kidding.

  8. The Need for Deadlines

    I must be psychic somehow. I had been toying with this revelation for most of the day, slowly putting it into words, when, guess what, my RSS aggregator picked this post at To-Done. Well, it doesn’t matter: I still feel the need to write down al…

  9. Jeff says:

    Nothing’s laughable if it helps you get them done.

  10. Great post! I was just curious as to which planning software you are using?

  11. masukomi says:

    it’s iCal from Apple. Only works on macs. There’s always Sunbird of you don’t have MS Outlook.


  12. Erin says:

    This is fabulous, but I also could use some pointers on dividing up projects into chunks of time. I do freelance copyediting and indexing, as well as fiction writing.

    My usual next-actions are chunked by amount: copyedit one chapter, index 30 pages, write 1,000 words. My projects are entered into iCal using the “all-day” check box; they span the total time I have for the project. That’s useful for indexes, for example, where I know I have two or three weeks, and if I do the set amount each day, it will handily be done in time. It’s less useful for projects without firm deadlines (one of my current copyediting projects, my writing).

    Please help us all by talking some more about how you divide these long-term projects into bits of time and slot them into your calendar. How you estimate time on short projects would be useful, too.

  13. Rick says:

    Put me down for a larger screenshot as well! Thank you for a great post. “Beats” the hell out of frying an egg!

  14. Back in September

    The summer is in full swing now and with three days left before holidays, I am determined to at get some sort of tan this summer. On that note, I will be cutting back all internet use to the bare-bones until after labour day. I will only be using the…

  15. slackah says:


    Nice article about scheduling: How I learned to stop worrying and love my schedule (To-Done). I had similar experience a while back. I probably should start doing it again *looking at my to-do list*. I’m currently using nCalendar as my primary c…

  16. Peter Flaschner says:

    Wow – what a fantastic response! Looking at my calendar, I see I’ve got a meeting coming up in a few minutes. I do have some flex time after that though, so I’ll be writing a follow up and including full sized screen shots.

    Stay tuned…

  17. Henry Bowman says:

    Well how would something like this work if most of what you do is support? Most of my tasks are reactionary in nature as opposed to project based.

    Any tips for people like me? I tend to just “wing it” most of the time.

  18. Aaron Asay says:

    Do you use some kind of PDA to track that calendar? I also use iCal and would like to have a portable reminder…

    Does any one use iCal with a PDA?

  19. Frank Manno says:


    I use a Treo 600 that syncs with iSync to grab any iCal entries. It works great!

    Peter: looking forward to the next entry!

  20. Bob says:

    The first request I sent to Apple during their “beta” iCal release was to let me drag to-dos into the calendar to schedule them. Mine still doesn’t let me do that–do you manually add events unrelated (in the program) to your to-dos?

  21. Kelly says:

    Hey, good stuff! This is a biggie for me in my freelance work as well. I kind of sidelined iCal a while back, but I think it’s time I invested in it a bit more.

    In your screenshot, it looks like you have nested calendars. Is that only available in Tiger, because I’ve never seen that before!

  22. Peter Flaschner says:

    Bob: I started using iCal in Panther, and have been able to drag to-dos out to the calendar. It’s a bit frustrating that there is no link between them. By contrast, if you drag a calendar item to the to-do pane, the new to-do will have date and time info associated with it. Too bad it doesn’t work both ways…

    Kelly: I’m on Tiger, but I think it’s available on Panther too. Try holding down shift when you click the new calendar button – you’ll note the icon changes. Why they hide it is beyond me, as it’s a really useful feature.

  23. Courtney says:

    ALSO: Please include larger, full size screenshot. Thanks!

  24. Erik says:

    Apple lists calendar groups as being a new feature in Tiger.

  25. Kelly says:

    Thanks Peter, but it looks as though Erik is correct. Yet another reason for upgrade time.

  26. Bill Gray says:

    This article is spooky. I had been doing exactly the same thing (scheduling EVERYTHING) for quite some time. Then, I ran into a little utility called TaskLine that automatically completes the scheduling directly from the task list. Ever since I started using TaskLine (which integrates with GTD BTW) I ahve been in scheduling heaven and AM getting things done. Here I thought I was a hedonist .

    Link to TaskLine…

    Check it out! For me, it compliments GTD Outlook VERY well!

  27. How I learned to stop worrying and love my schedule

    Personally, I had read and implemented much of David Allen’s Getting Things Done principals, but found that the methods either weren’t right for me, or I was “special” and had too many projects to manage using the GTD system. I

  28. mOses says:

    i noticed sub calenders on your iCal screenshot with items indented below them.. Try as i might, i cannot find how to create these sub sections…

    Also, a larger shot would be great.

  29. John Finnan says:

    I have been doing this manually for many years. I used a hypercard application many years ago to assist. I have been wanting to create an app that facilitied this and recently have been looking to a web-app. I just checked out Taskline and that looks promising for Windows users. What I want to creat actually combines this with the functionality of Franklin-Covey apps that allow you to keep notes associated with your tasks and appointments. I need to not only schedule my tasks, but also keep track of all the data associated. Anyone want to help this effort?

  30. mOses says:


    Found it!

    Create a new calendar group: Shift-click the Add (+) button.

    i never knew that this existed.

  31. Jenn's Place says:

    I’m still trying to decide

    I’ve been struggling with my schedule and my to do lists and what I want from life and everything else…

  32. Happy Links

    Stanford offers free video snippets from uber-entrepreneurs Larry Page (Google), Guy Kawasaki (Art of the Start), and Fern Mandelbaum (Monitor Venture) on high-technology entrepreneurship. (Click the links at the bottom of each for more videos by each …

  33. Trev says:

    Like a previous commenter, I too have a support type job where I can be interrupted at any moment. It would be impossible for me to schedule everything. Implementing GTD has been a big help for me, because when the interruptions occur, it is easier for me to get back on track once I return to a task.

    However, I’m finding that it is still difficult to work on bigger items that require a period of concentration and focus. My approach to dealing with this has been to look for patterns in the interruptions, and I’m noticing that certain days and times are worse than others. I try to schedule work on the more difficult tasks for periods of lighter activity – while this does not always work, I’m finding that I have a better shot of completing the bigger tasks when I try to schedule this way. The patterns are there, it just takes a little time to figure them out.

  34. WHAT?! You can group calendars in iCal? OMFG, and I’ve been suffering in need for alarms in OmniOutliner.

    Thanks Keith, you’ve made my life easier.

  35. I’ve tried scheduling everything – and in my super busy times it helps me feel more on top of things, but often I just can’t meet my own expectations, which is frustrating. I’m always having to push things back and I feel like I’m loosing ground. This often has to do with the nature of writing and grad school. Usually I’m doing something I’ve never done before and I can’t know how long it will take. The scheduling itself is quite satisfying though.

  36. Get Your To-Dos Done

    This is a great blog and when Keith Robinson mentioned setting times for his to-dos, it hit home. This is something I mentioned a few podcasts ago and Keith show examples from his calendar. Go take a look and make sure and bookmark his blog.

  37. Mike Rohde says:

    I’ve experimented with a system kinda like this — except the planned time is created in a different calendar all together, named “Estimated”.

    What I do is block out time for things in the ‘Estimated’ calendar group (say in a gray or other color to indicate clearly it is estimated). When I actually get there, I convert those actual times (whether changed moved or removed) into the appropriate normal calendar group.

    BTW, tried shift-new calendar in Panther and it’s non-existent. I think this must have been a Tiger-based improvement in iCal. Another reason to move on to Tiger. :-)

  38. Open Loops says:

    Make an Appointment with Yourself

    How I learned to stop worrying and love my scheduleOne of the cardinal rules of GTD is the 2minute rule. Once picking up an item from our inboxes, we are to decide if it is actionable. If it is, the

  39. Tom says:

    What is the calender you’re using?

  40. Peter Flaschner says:

    Hi Tom, it’s iCal. It’s part of the OSX operating system from apple.

  41. o says:

    I also track my time, and have become at times quite obessive about it. I also know that there are times I want to sit with “open time” and just do whatever. Maybe it’s surf the net and find sites/blogs like this one for example. Scheduling every minute of your life can also be a problem. There is such a thing as overscheduling.

  42. J says:

    I really like this idea of splitting the to do list into the calendar. I was a to-do lister and it was driving me crazy. I had a main to do list, that was prioritized, then also a daily to do list, then my notes of more to-dos to add to the lists.

    I was spending a lot of time just managing the lists. It was a burdern, and even looking at the lists made me exhausted.

    I started using iCal, and the to do list feature (in Panther) was so-so, and it kinda forced me to split into a psuedo to-done. Calendering more items, using the to-list as a general list, but now i still have 15 stickies at my desk, and various to-do lists for various projects.

    I am still struggling with the scheduleing and to-do listing within projects, but I am more at ease with the overall situation. I will try to further employ the ideas embodied on this site.

    I also need to get better about toggling between the day/week/month view on the calendar – that’s a major obstacle to getting to a zen “To-Done” place – I like to see the monthly view, but need to live in the daily view more often if I want to move the true to-do list into the calendar.

    thanks for the site,

  43. How to structure up your life

    Have you ever been at that point when your calendar is full, your task list is falling apart from all items jotted down? Well, thanks to To-done and the How I learned to stop worrying and love my schedule article I have begun laying out all tasks in t…

  44. larrydag says:

    I am an Industrial Engineer and I am always looking for online tools that will help with productivity and time savings. I especially like the ones that promote free software and sharing of ideas. Thanks for such a great website.

  45. Christopher says:

    I have written a short logical comment at:

Leave a Reply