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Time Management Worst Practice: Overscheduling and Overorganization

Overscheduling is the practice of trying to plan your days, weeks, or projects with too much detail.

Overscheduling is usually an overcompensation to doing little or no planning by going to the other extreme. The problem with this practice is that the extra details being added to your plans don’t add any real value—they don’t make the plan any better—and in fact make it confusing and overly complicated.

Complicated plans and schedules tend to be inaccurate and difficult to follow leading to frustration. Here is an example of an overscheduled day:

-       Wake up at 7:30am

-       7:30am Shower (10 minutes)

-       7:40am Breakfast (10 minutes)

-       7:50am Commute to work (20 minutes)

-       8:10am Read email (20 minutes)

-       8:30am Voicemail (20 minutes)

-       8:50am Faxes (10 minutes)

-       9:00am – Call Steve regarding memo (5 minutes)

-       9:05am Prepare memo for John (15 minutes)

-       9:20am Coffee break (5 minutes)

-       9:25am Research for presentation (20 minutes)

-       9:45am Call Mike about presentation (5 minutes)

-       9:50am Prepare presentation (1 hour)

-       10:50am Bathroom break (5 minutes)

-       10:55am Prepare for team meeting


You get the idea. People not familiar with daily planning can easily fall into the trap of attempting to plan their time this way.

There are several problems with this schedule:

  • It contains irrelevant tasks (shower, breakfast, commute, bathroom break, coffee break) that don’t add any value to the plan. These tasks don’t have to be included in your schedule since they are either part of your normal routine (shower/breakfast) or not relevant (bathroom break).

  • Many entries in the schedule are for small tasks that would be better of scheduled as part of larger projects. For example, the tasks ‘Research for presentation’, ‘Call Mike about presentation’, and ‘Prepare presentation’ are all part of the ‘Marketing Presentation’ project. The extra level of detail in the schedule does not add significant value as long as these tasks are recorded as part of the project plan (see Using a More Effective To-Do List.)

  • The entries are scheduled in a way that makes it very difficult to adapt the plan to changing circumstances. The tiniest interruption at the wrong time could throw off the entire schedule. Try to leave some extra buffer time around scheduled activities to account for unexpected interruptions. Using project blocks as part of Weekly Planning is a good way to do this.

  • The estimates leave no room for error. If a task takes just a bit longer than the specified amount, the whole schedule is thrown off. This is another problem of scheduling specific tasks rather than projects.

No wonder some people claim they have no time to plan, or that planning doesn’t work for them, or that it’s too restrictive.

If this is what their plans look like, all of these things are true.  The best practices of Effective To-Do List, Weekly Planning and Daily Planning help you plan your time without overscheduling.

As we’ve seen with overscheduling, when you take a good practice to the extreme sometimes you get a worst practice.

Overorganization turns practices like planning, writing things down, and thinking things through into liabilities that hinder, rather than enhance, your productivity.

Overorganization is a good example of gold‑plating, trashing and drifting into trivia applied to organization and time management.

When you spend all your time planning and organizing rather than doing, you are gold‑plating your time away just like when you play with fonts instead of writing the report.

An example of overorganization while planning is breaking even a simple task down into smaller and smaller steps. In theory, you could continue breaking up tasks into smaller steps almost indefinitely. At some point, you just have to stop planning and start doing.

For example, you could break down the task of sending an email into: researching the contents, creating an outline, first draft, editing, proofreading, and sending. The question you need to ask yourself is this: does breaking this task up into smaller steps add any value? In this case, it does not.

Overorganization is one of those activities that may seem important—you are planning and getting better organized after all—but on closer inspection is really a waste of time because the extra effort is not helping you achieve what you want.

The main causes of overorganization are the same ones as gold‑plating. Overorganizers may enjoy the practice of planning and organizing so much that they continue doing it  even when it starts distracting them from other more important activities they should be doing instead.

They are  more interested in feeling organized than getting things done.

Overorganizers may also use the excuse of planning and organizing as a way of avoiding an unpleasant task, or as a way to avoid confronting an uncomfortable issue.

Finally, overorganization may be a sign of perfectionist tendencies where a person feels that they need to plan every single detail and prepare for all possible contingencies in order to avoid making mistakes.

Overorganization can easily lead to the condition known as analysis paralysis, where you get stuck planning, organizing, and preparing and never get around to doing anything. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying “The maxim ‘nothing avails but perfection’ can be spelled PARALYSIS.”

To stop overoganizing, you first need to be aware that you are doing it. If you feel you are susceptible to overorganization, use questions to catch yourself during your planning periods. "Is my planning adding any value?" If the answer is no, then it is time to stop planning and start doing.

For many people, overorganization is just a bad habit. The good news is that, like any other bad habit, you can replace it with a much more effective habit once you are aware of it.

Related Articles (time management guide):

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If you'd like additional help, time management coaching and life coaching are both a great resource to implement these ideas and improve your time management skills. You can use personal coaching or group coaching depending on your needs.

In a corporate setting, executive coaching is also very valuable to help you be more productive and perform at your best.


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