Defensive scheduling: Increase your productivity & piece of mind

I am a big, big fan of protecting time in your schedule. I live and die by my Google calendar, because I can always access it, but on that calendar, you’ll find more than appointments.

There are two kinds of scheduling – appointment and defensive. Appointment scheduling is pretty self-explanatory – you have somewhere to be at a certain time, and so you put it in your calendar. These are the kinds of things that people usually use their calendar/schedule/planner for, and of course, it’s useful. It gets you to where you need to be when you need to be there!

But defensive scheduling is a little different. It’s about protecting time, rather than filling it up. You put something on your calendar so you WON’T give that time away to someone/something else. You claim your time before someone else does.

To help clarify the idea a little, here I highlight a few of the many different kinds of scheduling blocks you can add to your calendar to help increase your productivity and your piece of mind.

Morning routine block. I just don’t feel centered and ready to start the day if I don’t: 1) have a cup of a warm beverage 2) do a little stretching 3) have breakfast 4) do my morning pages. So I’ve started blocking time off in the mornings to do just that. It also helped me be realistic about how long I need to get going in the morning, and, following that, how early I need to get up, and then, when I need to go to bed for that to be reasonable.

Transition or buffer blocks. When I was teaching, I dreaded finishing class and then feeling like I had to turn around in 15 minutes and start writing my dissertation. The switch from one headspace to another was brutal, and so I often just didn’t write. Until I realized that I could schedule in some transition time – a half hour or an hour to get something to eat, walk around outside, check my email, get my notes out, settle into a new task. I now use these all the time – between client calls, when I’m trying to switch from admin work to writing, when I need a little space after therapy or time with a friend. If you build in time to transition, you can stop feeling guilty about needing to take it!

Firefighting blocks. This is my newest and most powerful scheduling friend: setting aside time to deal with all the stuff that comes up during the day. I used to have a really hard time getting to my writing, because invariably something would happen (an email that I needed to handle, an admin problem to work out, someone else dumping work on my plate) that would feel more important and urgent than the writing. I started leaving a few hours in my schedule, every couple of days, to deal with all those things that come up. If nothing came up, then hooray! Free hour to do whatever I want! But I always know I have some time set aside to deal with these things, and I can focus just a little bit more easily on the task at hand.

As always, know that new schedules and routines take a while to crystallize, and then, just when you think you’ve nailed down your perfect schedule, and you’re really crushing things…..it’ll change. It always does. But think of these blocks as tools in your scheduling tool belt – pull them out when you need them, or when you want to get to know them better. I hope that they’ll serve you well!

Katy Peplin will be presenting a roundtable at TAA’s June conference entitled “Creative Scheduling: Strategic Tools to Optimize Productivity and Well-Being”, in which she will highlight a variety of scheduling block concepts and a collection of tools to think about time, how you spend it, and how that does or does not align with your life writ large.


Katy PeplinKaty Peplin is a coach, editor, and community builder who works with academics at all stages of the pipeline. From her community of graduate students, Thrive PhD, to her courses on mindfulness and resilience, she works to provide tools and resources to help anyone manage the demands of an intellectually rigorous life in a decidedly human, imperfect world. katypeplin.com