Scheduling Etiquette

Hour clock illustration

When people need your time, do you know when to give it to them and when to keep it to yourself? You cannot afford for either your time or money to slip your mind. It’s extremely useful to make good choices with your schedule.

At the expense of sounding patronizing, I want to help others make better use of their lifetime. Time isn’t literally money, but you should think of it as your most limited resource. If you think I’m talking down to you with my following suggestions, then I guess you have life figured out. I’m happy for you, but for the rest of us, I hope to solve problems before they happen.

Other people need you to be reliable, so here’s how.

  1. Read your schedule at least twice daily. Once in the morning, after you have coffee. You want to let it lead you through the day that’s before you. There’s no point in starting the schedule if you don’t make plans to follow it, so this is the most essential action to take. Late in your day, review your progress and add new events as necessary.
  2. Count on work taking 30% more time. You have a job from 8–5, but the time it takes to perform your work expands. If you think your next project will take 2 hours, anticipate that it will actually take 2 hours and 36 minutes. Because the unexpected delays happenall the time. If nothing else, your body needs a break because we aren’t cyborgs. Yet.
  3. Give good estimates of your timeline. Managers and peers are dependent on when you can complete projects. Make a habit of observing how long it takes you to process your design work. When someone needs to know, you look very unprofessional if you can’t give them a good answer. Don’t rely on others to estimate work assignments for you, or you will lose all control of your work load and outcome.
  4. Be punctual. Other people have great respect for time-sensitive professionals. One sure fire way to please others is to show up when the appointment is set. A sure fire way to upset your clients and peers is to show up late. If punctuality to you means scheduling to arrive 15 minutes early to all your meetings, then do it. Best to be on time and never late.
  5. Be flexible for others. Unless you are someone else’s boss, you can’t apply the standards to them that you live by (even if you’re someone’s manager, you should be careful which policies you enforce…). The best you can do is concern yourself with adjusting your schedule as necessary; changing your schedule on the go. Make backup plans for various events throughout the day.
  6. Allot time to do nothing. If you are going to be flexible for other people, and yourself, reserve an hour or more each day as padding between your activities. You might have to stop for gas, take a few calls, or order more supplies. These tasks need time, and often they are urgent enough that they will interrupt your schedule. So leave ‘free time’ slots in your routine to make yourself available for the urgent tasks.
  7. Never multitask. I’m always more satisfied with work when I’ve focused. People want your full concentration. If you have a top priority that’s been scheduled in, then the people counting on you deserve and value your focus. If this is a phone call, then don’t do anything while the call is underway. Trying to do more than one thing at a time slows you down at the least, and increases the chances that you will make critical errors. If you have something to design, write, or produce of any kind, focus on doing it with your full concentration.
  8. Help choose the time and place. Often you’ll receive emails for appointments in the making. Someone took the time to write the email, so it’s important to them if not many others. Unless they give you a concrete scheduled event in the email, they are looking for some input from you and others in the message. Same is true in calls and meetings. Whenever someone mentions group projects, be prepared to share the responsibility to set the time, place, and agenda for the group.
  9. Don’t waste other people’s time. Other people have schedules to keep too. If people need your help and you are obligated to, then willingly give them your time without grumbling. Streamline and support the efforts of your peers.
  10. Make time for your family. If you think that work is your life, consider where you would be if work went up in flames. It happens sometimes, and hopefully your family would be there for you. If you matter to them, be courteous to them. Make time for the kids and significant other, as nurturing these relationships with quality time is an important part of your renewal.
  11. Confirm events the day before and again the day of. This doesn’t come naturally, but it is key to the success of your career and lifestyle. The best laid plans are derailed because everyone double-books, looses track of time, or forgets about you. The best way to avoid a ruined plan is to confirm and reconfirm. It’s not always necessary, but you can’t tell the difference between the confirmations that are and are not.
  12. Set time to learn something new, to impress yourself if nothing else. I know no better way than to improve our quality of life than to read, make new acquaintances, exercise, take an online course, or volunteer. Any hobby or side gig needs your time, and the main reason it doesn’t happen is you haven’t made time for it. Self-improvement is low on most people’s to-dos, but that’s no excuse for me. If I want better options for my time on and off the clock, then I need to pick up new skills.

Keeping a schedule is one of the more civilized things I want to be known for. You really do make the world a better place keeping to one, as I’ve seen time and again.

Most of my points concern your time involving others, but you may have noticed that some just concern yourself. I think that these points still fall under “scheduling etiquette” because they are ways you show decency for your own time and limited resources. You ought to show yourself some scheduling deference. Treat your time as equals with the others’ in your life, as it’s no more or less valuable.

When I was making the best use of my time in my past I found the most satisfaction in my life’s work. It’s human nature to look forward to special occasions, like vacation and Christmas. But when I reflect on my past, the parts I appreciate the most are the wise uses of my time.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.