Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Front-Load Your Week + 3 Other Stress-Busting Time Management Strategies

We know that creativity can flourish when our minds are free to wander during unstructured time. However, a completely open calendar can lead to a day consumed by reactionary work. This is why, paradoxically, the secret to maximizing your freedom of choice is to increase the structure in your day-to-day life.

When you make essential daily activities automatic, like answering email and moving forward on major projects, you’re creating the equivalent of a waterslide for your time and energy. By simply going with the flow, you know all of the must-do activities will get done on time or early thus avoiding stress-inducing backlogs. This then frees up more mental energy and space in your schedule for free-form creative exploration or impromptu adventures without needing to put any boundaries on yourself.

Here are four strategies for reducing your number of daily decisions so you feel a greater sense of control and can transcend from scrambling to keep up on the mundane to savoring the sublime.

Strategy 1: Make Processing Automatic

If you struggle with keeping up on communications, rituals for processing email, voicemail, and snail mail can do wonders. Putting this time into your calendar as a recurring event takes the angst out of deciding when you will reply, allows you to complete the task efficiently, and frees you from guilt surrounding a major backlog. Here are examples of different types of processing routines that I’ve seen work well depending on your relationship with processing:

  • If you strongly dislike responding to communications: aim to make it the first thing that you do when you start your day. Go through a checklist of the key items that require responses, such as email, voicemail, and new files. Get them answered or turned into a to-do item to check off later in the day. Then give yourself permission to ignore everything but the most urgent communications until the next morning.
  • If you find email and other sorts of communication tempting: you’ll need to take a bit different approach. Instead of getting it all done at the beginning of the day, you’ll want to limit yourself to a 5- to 10-minute check in the morning. Then after lunch and before you leave work, block in 30- to 60-minute time slots to get messages answered. This ensures that you go through new input systematically but that you don’t let it derail your plans.

Strategy 2: Front-Load Your Day & Week

To minimize stress, spend less time worrying about planning exactly how long every activity will take you to do and more time front-loading your calendar by putting your most important activities with deadlines early in the day and early in the week. For example, something due on Friday should start appearing in your schedule by Tuesday afternoon. And your amount of planned to-do items should decrease from Monday to Friday with ideally little-to-no new to-do items on Friday.

Front-loading gives you the ability to stay on top of projects that take longer than expected without getting stressed or working into the wee hours of the night. Since all of your must-do’s are taken care of at least a few days in advance, you can easily move would-like-to-do’s to the next day. Also if a cool opportunity arises, you can make a spontaneous decision to take advantage of it because you don’t constantly have the pressure of racing to meet a deadline.

Illustration credit:

Illustration credit:

Strategy 3: Set An End Time

Although it may seem like a smart move to tell yourself that you’ll just keep working until you get everything done, not setting a time to stop working leads to inefficiency. When you assume that you’ll work late, you reduce your incentive to begin the most important—and often most difficult—tasks. Also, you don’t force yourself to make the hard choices that being conscious of your time budget would require. For example, if you decide that you only have two hours to get something done, you wouldn’t spend 1.5 of those hours surfing the Internet for “inspiration.”

Use the first two strategies to make this third strategy possible. Then to really amp up your effectiveness: plan to do activities you really enjoy after your desired end time. Schedule in whatever makes you really happy (like visiting a friend) and then use that positive pressure to get your work done as efficiently as possible during the time set aside for productivity.

Strategy 4: Reward Efficiency

If the reward for getting stuff done faster is just to do more work, you won’t feel very motivated. This can lead to avoiding starting work or just slogging through the day without excitement or purpose. You can re-energize yourself by setting up the right incentives. (Think how fast you got your chores done when your mom said you could go outside to play with a friend as soon as your room was in order.) For example, if you complete your must-do tasks before your end time, you could give yourself freedom to read your favorite blogs, go to a place you find inspiring, or chat with some colleagues about some of your latest ideas. By giving yourself the promise of fairly immediate pleasure on a daily basis, you have a much better chance of overcoming the resistance to be focused and efficient with your most important tasks.

If you want to maximize your creative freedom, don’t abandon structure—embrace it—and it will carry you with amazing ease toward your goals.

How about you?

How do you structure your day to free you from stress? 

More insights on: Time Management

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at
load comments (28)
  • Alex Schiffer

    Thanks for the great advice. I currently schedule my day by having routines in place, as well as a weekly schedule, which are taped to my wall. The idea of front-loading is appealing, as it provides not just more time, but more quality time, later in the day.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Glad you enjoyed it Alex! Yes, front-loading is helpful in opening up time to be really free to be creative. Also, it DRAMATICALLY reduces stress and the potential of having to stay late.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      • Alex Schiffer

        That’s a really good point. I’ve been thinking about it purely from the perspective of getting more work done, but the fact that it will reduce stress is exciting. I’ve started meditating on a daily basis in order to reduce my stress (and to be more creative and productive).

  • Martijn van de Wiel

    Great article! Any advice on what to do if you only have would-like-to-do’s?

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Excellent question-

      In that instance, I find that this strategy works:
      1) Clarify the next actions related to your would-like-to-do’s. For example, steps toward a website redesign could be: look at current site, search for top five sites in my field, examine sites for patterns, etc…

      2) Define how much time you would like to invest in moving forward on those activities.

      3) See success as doing the proper next actions for the amount of time that you said that you wanted to invest in them.

      4) If you’re still struggling to move forward, enlist a peer, coach, or mentor for accountability on step #3.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • asmithblog

    Great article and advice. I especially like #3.

  • Zoe Heineman

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Great points about efficient use of email, getting the 1st things done 1st, and the toughest things done as early as possible. I save time keeping an old-fashioned, hard copy monthly calendar in plain view while working because it is quicker to just glance at it, to check a date/week/day of the week, than to have to change screens to pull it up google calendar on my smartphone or laptop.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Great tip! Sometimes old-fashioned is best :)

      Have a brilliant day!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

    Sounds good ;)

  • Isabel Herron

    like Cheryl said I didnt even know that a stay at home mom able to make $4491 in four weeks on the internet. did you read this link w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • Aaron Morton

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Great article and something I was working on with my client today. Your first point was very pertinent in our discussion. By finding the economic drivers of the business and then making them systematic will ensure your time is invested well.

    With me, I use Get it done app to schedule my week and look forward on my schedule to firstly see when I have clients and then assess how much time I have after that. Once i know I then slot in the important components of what I need doing that day.

    Most of the time it works well, sometimes it doesn’t, but I acknowledged a while ago I am only human and its as important to cut yourself some slack once in a while than to scream blue murder everytime it doesn’t work out!


    Aaron Morton

    The Confidence Lounge

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Great approach Aaron!

      Planning isn’t about controlling circumstances and trying to make everything go perfectly. What it is about is being intentional and making conscious choices about what’s the best use of time given the current circumstances.

      To your brilliance!

  • Donna L. Woods-Clements

    Thanks, Elizabeth, I needed your insight.

  • Vijay

    Nice article.. i esp like Strategy #2

  • Shona

    Love this short and insightful article

  • Musaed Abrahams

    Thank you Elizabeth for this quick and informative article. Concrete takewaways:)

  • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

    You’re welcome to you and all the other commenters! Glad you enjoyed it!

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Bob Levy

    some good advice here. Blocking out time to deal with email instead of
    letting it derail your productivity is a great idea and something I need to stick to.

  • Amisha Ekaant

    If we want to get things done, we need to set time to finish our priorities and to be brave enough to manage our time and perfection. To develop my time management skill, I use Replicon’s ( ) software.

    It is a simple and very useful time tracking tool which allows to track and analyze the time I spend while working on different projects. I found that there could be no better replacement for this software due to its great flexibility and capabilities.

  • domestica

    Absolutely great advice – I don’t set end-times and often avoid work I don’t like – I’m gonna take thius to heart. Since I’ve started getting up at 5 to answer emails, read a little webstuff and do bookwork, my stress has reduced – not that I’m not still stressing (and Red Bulling it at 3pm), but a definite improvement over lightning strikes of fear at 2AM. I still want to do more each day, + think more routine’s might actually be the road to freedom.

  • swetha

    One interesting thought that I would like to share on “time waster’s”, the one I read from a blog recently is saying to check emails while standing up(which ultimately mean checking emails while taking break). Interesting concept, but the way of telling it makes people remember it, dont you think so?

  • Amisha Ekaant

    Great Post! Stress can affect people in different ways and it can be caused by both good and bad experiences at work. There are a number old techniques that can help to manage stress in our life.

    Effective time management is one of the best technique to manage stress and manage our schedule. Personally I use time recording software from Replicon software ( ) to manage my time and tasks. This application is efficient at making time sheets and tracking my performance over a defined period of time.

  • Ponggo

    Thank you so much for the tips. I would always laugh at the descriptions. I see myself falling into all those traps. I just usually end up loathing myself for all the pending work that’s nagging my brain. Yes, my reward for being able to do a lot of work is…more work. I’ll change that soon! Thank you, thank you for writing this!

  • LittleOddsandPieces

    Boundaries is a term that also describes good time management and work / life balance. The ability to factor in personal time, work time, and relax and do nothing to gain inspiration time. Moderation in all things.

    Always-Elysium Co UK

  • chadbrooks

    I have a sit down meeting every morning with myself to do just this. I also schedule a more intensive session on Sunday evening and Monday morning to make sure my week is really planned out. I try to be done with all heavy tasks by Wednesday lunch. That way the rest of my week is devoted to projects I deem important.

  • Dodszukie Cañonero

    Thank you for your article.
    My biggest challenge is to plan my day – i have a beauty salon – a one man show – but i have loads and loads of admin, my month ends is 5 months behind….. just to name a few! I feel i lost myself somewhere – to put everything together – I do not now where to start. HELP

    • Curiouser

      Hi Benita,

      Sounds like you need a Virtual Assistant or perhaps invest in software that may help you with productivity. What do you mean by month ends? The accounting?

      Good luck :)

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