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Career Tips

Optimize your schedule

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
December 5, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 44


A person looking at a color-coded schedule with a highlighter pen in hand.
Credit: Shutterstock

Sometimes a major change in your life ripples through everything. You might start a new job, take on a big, new volunteer responsibility, or face a health challenge. When big changes occur in your life, you need to prioritize your obligations, make the most efficient use of your time, and plan for the unexpected.

Prioritize your obligations. Start by listing the activities that take up most of your time—probably work, hobbies, volunteer activities, sleeping, and so on. You may think you know where you spend your time, but keeping a diary for a few weeks may prove enlightening. Review all the activities that take up significant portions of your time, and be honest about whether you want to continue them.

What activities have you committed to on a regular basis—for example, weekly or monthly meetings? Do you look forward to those meetings or dread them?

What things do you continue to do out of habit? Do you still enjoy them, or are they now a chore?

What responsibilities have you outgrown? Have you learned all you can, and it’s time to let someone else take over? Is there something you used to enjoy but is now just a habit?

Do you like the people involved in a particular activity but not the actual work? Can you change roles in the organization?

Are you doing a particular task because no one else has volunteered? Don’t assume you need to wait to leave the position until someone else volunteers to take over. You may need to announce your resignation before someone decides to step up. If no one fills the role, maybe that job did not really need doing.

What have you wanted to add to your schedule? Is now the time to do that? Just remember that besides time, each addition will require some mental energy.

Make efficient use of your time. Once you’ve figured out what you are going to do, you can think about how to do your tasks most effectively and efficiently.

Rearrange your schedule so you do your most important work at your most productive time of day, whenever that is. Start or end the day by reviewing your to-do list to keep yourself on track.

Make better use of downtime. Always have a stack of articles to read or something to do in case you get stuck waiting. Listen to podcasts while you exercise or drive around town.

Automate repetitive tasks or at least shorten them. Set up automatic answers or FAQs for questions you get asked regularly.

Delegate. If you have the money, consider hiring someone to mow your lawn, clean your house, or do your shopping.

Plan for the unexpected. Leave some downtime in your schedule. This can consist of planned relaxation time, like a monthly meeting with a hobby group, or a weekly game night with friends. But it should also include regular periods of time to take care of those unscheduled things that always seem to pop up and need to be done right now.

With any project or activity, you get out of it only what you put into it. Accepting a new responsibility means you are committing to completing that task and doing it well, which means investing the required time. And the only way to do that is to let go of some other things.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (­careers).­


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