How to Effectively Schedule and Unschedule
University life is often messy and unpredictable, but to excel in it, you will need some kind of structure. There are two main ways of providing such structure: scheduling and unscheduling. Both has their unique benefits and downfalls, so consider experimenting extensively with both before deciding on one to stick to.
Scheduling is the practise of listing all the things you have to do in the coming weeks, from important meetings to all the nitty gritty, then allocate a rough timeframe for these activities. The following image extracted from the Procrastination module from Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) provides an example of scheduling. (And if you happen to be really struggling with procrastination, I highly recommend you to check out and implement their strategies here. Remember to take it slow, and take time reflect upon each module to maximise its effectiveness.)
As you can see, almost everything that you can possibly do is included in scheduling. From when to work to when to take a shower, every step of your life is planned out beforehand.
Benefits of Scheduling
The benefit of scheduling is that it provides absolute order to your life, not a single event, even one as mundane as grocery shopping or taking a shower, will fall out of place.
Drawbacks of Scheduling
Following a strict schedule means that there is little room for error. Any unexpected event that pops up may push back your entire week, especially if the week is scheduled with a lot of important tasks.
Scheduling will also make doing various unplanned activities with friends more difficult, it might take some time before your friends and you find a common free time to hang out or do assignments.
Who should use scheduling?
To excel in scheduling, you must first possess a keen sense of time. You should have a good idea of what things you need to do throughout the week, how often do you need to do them, and how long it will take to do so. Without some accurate estimations, the schedule you come up with would very likely be unrealistic and hard to follow strictly, leading to everything falling apart as you lag behind on important tasks. However that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. Learn from any mistakes that occur and improve upon it, over time you may come up with something that is sustainable and suits your every need.
Unscheduling is the practise of first scheduling all of your necessary activities. Things like uni classes, work, and other important commitments. After that, you will (hopefully) notice there are blocks of free time between these “compulsory” activities. These blocks of “free time” is then used to deal with anything that suits your needs. From catching up with a friend, to clearing out your to-do list. This time period is extremely flexible, and can be used to do almost anything you want. The following image is an example of unscheduling from the CCI.
As you can see, there are blacked-out time period during the week, and the specific tasks that were left out are bolded in the scheduling example above. The tasks include:
- Working on the Procrastination Modules (the main “work” task)
- A short walk
- Pay bills
- Tidy room
- Call family member
Instead of doing these tasks at an assigned time like in scheduling, they can be done in any order, at any time, as long as you complete all of them by the end of the week.
Benefit of Unscheduling
Unscheduling is immensely useful for an uni student due to the unpredictability in uni life. Your mate may want to hang out with you after class, or your study group may want to smash out an assignment a couple of weeks earlier than the due date. Things like this is problematic with scheduling, because these unplanned activities will take up planned periods, and those planned activities will have to be caught up at some point. So what often happens is that everything gets pushed back further and further due to unplanned events continuously coming up, until the point where nothing seems to be achievable within a realistic timeframe, and you give up on it completely.
With unscheduling, unpredicted events flow right into your schedule! You may have wanted to use the free period to work on some assignments, but it’s not compulsory like scheduling. If something comes up, just push it to the next free time period, and all is good!
Drawbacks of Unscheduling
There’s no-one and nothing telling you what to do in the free time slot for unscheduling, what you do is up to you, and so if you lack the willpower or discipline to properly go through some of your important tasks by yourself, then you might find yourself wasting the time away instead.
Who should use unscheduling?
To excel with unscheduling, you need to have a clear goal in mind, and preferably a to-do list at hand to focus on the important tasks. It is easy to procrastinate this time period away, and waste time on miscellaneous activities. So if you know that you have the capability of sitting down and work for a few hours without interruption, then unscheduling may be more beneficial for you.
You will also need to have the skill to plan your tasks according to the amount of free time. You may only have a total of 12 hours throughout the week, but if you have about 30 hours of tasks to do, it is obviously unrealistic to fit these tasks into the week, especially when you could have unplanned activities popping up.
Which One Should I Use?
This is a highly personal question, and it depends on your characteristics and needs. I high recommend you to try out both extensively at some point, to gain a better understanding of which strategy suits you better.
If you are someone who enjoys orderliness and predicability, then scheduling may be the one for you. With some adjustments as you learn more about your habits, you can create a sustainable schedule that nothing in the world can interrupt.
If you enjoy spontaneous events and are involved with a lot of it, then scheduling may make planning your life easier. Any unexpected events will not interrupt your workflow, but you will need the discipline to work during what feels a lot like “free time”.
Also remember that, maybe neither is completely suitable for you, and you will have to make your own version in order to suit your needs best.