Daily planning is important. For everyone?

Explaining what factors should be taken into account when planning.

Everyone wants to be more productive. At work, study, and personal life. Especially when heavy workloads become a regular part of our everyday life. 

We try to squeeze more and more tasks into our schedules, planning meticulously every hour of every day. Time waste, even minor, becomes a major cause of anger or frustration. And everybody will tell you the more you plan, the better your life will be.

But is scheduling really a panacea? Let's dig deeper and find out. 


Janna Koretz is a Boston-based psychologist. She helps clients with C-level jobs to deal with:

  • burnout
  • hardships of making decisions under stress
  • problems with effective leadership, etc.

She says that people struggle a lot with the overload of tasks and the amount of information they need to deal with. Whether it’s about the work or things you should be doing in your free time. Kids` schedules, grocery shopping, or even how to work best from home in the post-pandemic world... It’s just a lot of information – many things to deal with. And people try to find a “magic pill” in rigorous planning.

Countless books and training programs claim that strict time management improves people’s lives in many ways. Also, all the media shout in your face that you must plan everything all the time. And if you don`t do that, you are probably a careless, lazy person. The pressure is real, indeed.

Paul Scharf is the head of the engineering department at a time-tracking software company. And he is a scrupulous time-tracker. He loves to plan things thoroughly. Scharf worked remotely long before the expression "work from home" entered everyday life. He has been tracking his working hours for the past 7 years. Paul`s story was told in the BBC article

At first, he only wanted to see how many hours he was working. But it led to evaluating how he splits time between different tasks and interests. For Scharf, it became a way to avoid multitasking and be more truthful with himself. Once he started tracking, he never stopped.

Paul always schedules at least a day in advance. He plans everything down to his breaks, mealtimes (even menus), and 30-min daily walks. Scharf firmly believes that arranging the micro-details of his day helps diminish decision fatigue. “I don’t want to be sitting there at lunchtime thinking, do I want a sandwich or a salad?” he concedes.  

But even such a hyper-organiser like Paul is conscious of the line between organising time to magnify productivity versus viewing it as an end goal. Or as an indicator of a life well spent. “When I’m with family or involved in a leisure activity, productivity isn’t the goal. I actually greatly value time away from schedules,” he says.

But where is that line exactly? Is rigorous daily planning so essential? Some experts suggest that tight daily plans don't suit some tasks. Especially creative ones. Strict scheduling can even make people enjoy such tasks less.

Not A Panacea

You might be surprised, but research shows that scheduling some errands could decrease our ability to perform them, as well as our enjoyment of them. And you also need to keep in mind the emotional impacts and consequences of hyper-organisation, especially when something doesn’t go as planned. A strict schedule can provoke a distorted perception of time, anxiety, and irritability. Also, structuring our lives too much robs life of its natural spontaneity and enjoyment.

Dr Brad Aeon, a Time Management Researcher, explains that scheduling days tightly can influence a sense of time pressure. Obsessive planning might help with efficiency but not necessarily increase your performance. It means that you can achieve some acceptable results in a short period. But if you are willing to create a masterpiece, it is not going to work.

He also points out that hyper-organising our time might make us less patient. In some cases even less likely to help other people out. To prove this point, he mentions the Good Samaritan experiment. It revealed that feeling a shortage of time significantly reduces our capacity to care about others.

In his article, performance psychologist Juilliard alumnus and faculty member Noa Kageyama mentioned another study by the University of Rochester. It was aimed at figuring out how having daily goals and plans for achieving them would impact students` study habits. They split the participants into three groups:

  • daily plans group,
  • monthly plans group,
  • no plans group.

The “no-plan” group was given common tips such as “take breaks of 5-10 minutes after every 30-90 minute study session.” But the “daily plan” and “monthly plan” groups were guided on creating simple, achievable goals. They were also given planning worksheets to assist with the process. The researchers believed that those who designed specific daily goals and plans would demonstrate better study habits by the end of the 11 weeks.

Well, this is one of those cases where the results appeared to be more interesting than the predictions. Participants from the “daily plan” group reported spending less and less time studying as time passed. They even stopped filling out their planners after about a month – only 1/3rd of the way through the program.

On the other hand, the “monthly plan” group, which focused on bigger chunks of activities, reported studying more than any of the other groups. They also admitted more “effective” study time than any other group. And they were less likely to delay or avoid studying. Many continued monitoring and reporting their study time during spring break, even though they weren’t asked to. None of their peers in the other groups did the same.

The researchers gave possible reasons for such results:

  1. The planning itself became a burden. The necessity to create specific daily plans became too time-consuming or stressful.
  2. Trying to force order on a naturally unpredictable day may have backfired. As when you set strict ambitious criteria for success, you’re also setting yourself up to fail in different small matters during the day. And with time, watching yourself fail to reach your daily goals can become very demoralising. Such discouragement can lead to quitting.

Another study on the relationship between time management and performance at work also revealed mixed findings. The researchers examined the influence of a time-management training program on 44 employees. They were obligated to conduct self-reports of:

  • time-management behaviour
  • control over their time
  • job satisfaction
  • stress responses.

Also, supervisors gave their ratings of these workers' job performance. 

Opposite to expectations, participants did not report more frequent use of time-management behaviours. Neither more job satisfaction nor less job-induced tension, compared with those not receiving training. And their job performance did not significantly change after training.

Summarising all these interesting insights and reviews of the literature on the subject, the link between strict time management and work performance is not so promising. And the connection of meticulous planning with people`s well-being looks even less optimistic. For example, research by professor of marketing Selin A Malkoc revealed that scheduling ‘fun’ leisure tasks could even decrease people`s enjoyment of them.

Possible Solution

We can’t go through life ignoring schedules and planning completely. So, what could be the alternative action plan, that can mitigate some of the downsides of time management? What might help us stay on our course without feeling shackled to our planners? 

Try to figure out the approach according to your personality type.

Some people flourish with minute-to-minute schedules. Others work better by mapping only long-term goals. By identifying your chronotype, natural rhythms and lifestyle, you can create a perfect program just for you. But it takes trial and error and a great dose of knowing yourself.

Do not schedule your time too tight.

Decide what activities you want to do without attaching to a strict schedule. For example, going to the market on Saturday and seeing the family in the evening. Go with the flow a little bit more – as long as you keep your goals in mind and stay open to giving a try to other ways of getting there.

Like Brad Aeon says: “Ultimately, organising our time can certainly make our lives better. But that depends on what you manage your time for.” Good luck!