Use my project scheduling method to realistically plan your entire year on a FREE project calendar printable PDF download.
The Importance of Project Scheduling
I prefer to start with the ideal and that’s why I haven’t talked about time constraints up to this point. Whatever you desire in your life plan, it’s a nice exercise to work through all your goals and how you can achieve them. However, after creating your project plans, even if they are partial and incomplete, you’ll still have an estimate of time required at the bottom of the worksheet.
Obviously, these are all rough estimates and there’s no way to know if you are estimating correctly or if changes will occur in the future. Actually, it’s inevitable that something will change, so you just have to make educated estimates and plan with the information you have right now. The idea is to be able to outline your schedule on a high-level, so you aren’t fooling yourself into working on 10 projects when you only have the hours to complete two.
How Much Time Do You Have?
So the first thing you need to do is to find out how much time you actually have to work on projects. We often overestimate how much time we will spend working on our goals, because there’s the rest of life and responsibilities going on that take up a lot of time.
When you consider the everyday things you have to do, your job and just resting times, there’s an obvious limitation to how many hours you can devote to projects. The process I go through to figure out the time I have available, is to print out a year-at-a-glance calendar. I have a freebie you can download on my my gumroad but any yearly calendar will do, so that you can mark it up. It’s not something you need to keep forever.
On the yearly calendar, use a black pen or marker to black out the dates that you will NOT be working on projects. These are days you literally are not going to take into account like holidays, birthdays and vacation days. We often put way too much on our plate, so be realistic. For example, once my kids are out of school for the Christmas holidays, there’s no way I’m going to be spending hours on projects. I block out whole weeks, because all the holiday stuff is going on and I will already be super busy.
Maybe you have a day job and you focus on personal projects on the weekends only. Or maybe you want to devote a certain number of hours only on weekends and never count weekdays. First thing is to simply block out all the days that aren’t available.
Then I go through month by month and consider how many hours I have available on the non-blacked out days. We are estimating here, but this will give you a good idea of what is possible for the whole year. After your normal responsibilities and life schedule, how many hours do you actually have per day to work on personal projects? It might be 1 hour day before or after work. Or maybe it’s a half-day on Tuesdays when you don’t work. It’s probably a combination of hours throughout the week, but it is limited.
I use the calendar and do some quick math to make totals for each month. How many hours do I really have each month to work on projects? It’s a lot of scribbling and estimating, but it’s still valuable information on the ideal. So yes, this is ideal, because we often want ourselves to work more than maybe is even possible. When you have an estimate of hours for each month, you should probably go back and knock off 10%-20% of the time you to account for unplanned events, sick days and just downtime.
I realize it might be difficult to make these decisions and everything might feel like a guess, but that is okay. Again, we can only make decisions based on the information we have on hand. So make your best guess and go from there. You will still be much more informed without having done this exercise. And as the year unfolds itself, you can always do this exercise again. Your work schedule might change or a major life change happens, so you just have to re-evaluate and re-plan!
Scheduling Projects on Your Project Calendar
Once I have my available hours and my list of projects with time estimates, then I can start scheduling in my projects for the entire year. When I first completed this exercise, I realized that I had a lot less time than I thought. We often think, whoa, it’s a whole year, I should be able to complete all kinds of projects.
But when you really break it down, you’ll realize there is limited time and it’s better to set a realistic schedule than to always feel behind on a million projects. Honestly, if you literally finish all your projects and have loads of time left, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find something else to work on… so I think that is the last of our worries.
It’s much better to complete what you say you will complete, building up your self-confidence year after year. And even if you fall short, each time you are going learn what your limits are and make better more realistic plans.
Ongoing Versus One-Time Projects
We are all unique individuals and have different goals, so you might have projects that seem ongoing versus projects that are a one-time, get it done and it’s finished kind of thing. Fitness and health goals are often more like building habits that should be ongoing. Whereas planning your wedding or building a website is more or less a one-time project that finishes on a set date.
I think the process can still be similar when it comes to planning and scheduling. You still want to make a list of tasks and prepare yourself to take action. And when it comes to scheduling, you just need to estimate the time required every single day or week or month. You have to account for meal planning or exercise time within your schedule. Ultimately, you have a set amount of hours to use, so schedule things in as you see fit and make sure you aren’t overloading yourself.
For one-time projects, I think of them very linearly. If the project takes 20 hours and in a month I have 25 hours, then I’m probably only going to get that one project done. If you like working on multiple things in parallel, you just have to split the hours and see what fits in your available time. That’s sort of what you are doing with ongoing projects – basically allotting the hours needed each week for that project.
One tool you can use to visually see your schedule before it’s set in stone is Google Calendar or any digital calendaring system. You can create a new calendar that is separate from whatever you might already be using and just block out time to see how things fit. With digital calendars you can shift and move things easily and set reoccurring events for ongoing projects. You aren’t actually scheduling exact times for projects, it’s more just to see how things can fit in the time you have available.
Once you have a rough overview to look at, you can see if what you have documented looks realistic. And this is when you need to set challenging, yet achievable plans. One of the biggest issues I hit upon when planning is not allowing down-time and rest times in between tasks and projects. We sort of think if we have 4 hours that we would be working those entire 4 hours. But honestly, we know that is unrealistic! Literally, you have to go to the bathroom at some point, right? It’s easy to get distracted and switching tasks means you have to switch your frame of mind and it’s not easy to jump from one thing to another.
There’s also the time to decompress when you finish a big project, before starting the next one. It can’t possibly be the very next day!
So build in buffer time and try to be brutally honest of when you can get things done and if the expectations you have are realistic with your life.
I know this process might seem overwhelming at first. I certainly felt a bit of dread at the beginning, mostly because I realized that I really didn’t have enough time to work on all my projects. Ugh! When I blocked out my calendar and estimated the hours per day, my totals per month didn’t really allow for 5 projects a month – hah!
We all have limits and I think it’s important to admit them and force ourselves to be more realistic. Even though you have project plans written out, it doesn’t mean you have to act on them immediately. Maybe order things in priority and see how much you can get through to truly understand your pace from month to month.
And remember that the plan and schedule you come up with will morph and change over time. We can’t predict everything that is going to happen in the coming year, so something is bound to change and shift. That is life!
Ultimately, we just want to be as prepared as we can and have a high-level overview of the direction we are heading in. It helps to calm my nerves and makes me feel less anxious about what I can accomplish in the coming year. I think knowing that really helps with your personal satisfaction at the end of the day.
Year-at-a-Glance Project Calendar
So once you have a general understanding of what projects you have time to work on, use this year-at-a-glance project calendar to write down where each project falls. This gives you a really nice year-long overview of what is happening throughout your year.
I have a box version where you can simply bullet point the projects ongoing for each month. This works well also because each row is one quarter of the year. However, I also created a landscape version where you are meant to write, draw or washi tape in each project in timeline fashion. For projects that are year-long or don’t fit well into being listed month by month, the timeline view might be better.
Use whichever version works for you or both if you want a written version versus a more visual bar graphic version. Turns out perhaps we are creating fancy Gantt charts for our projects!
Free Project Calendar Printable PDF Downloads
I hope this project scheduling process has been helpful for you and at the end of your planning session, you’ll have a nice overview of your projects for the year. I love seeing all my projects on the project calendar printables, giving me a neat and tidy way to see it all at-a-glance.
This free printable is part of a series shared on this blog to help reset your life. Here are the other related posts:
- 2020 printable binder cover
- mantra: I Believe in Progress Not Perfection
- first step: brain dumping printable
- Life Planning Template
- Goal Setting Worksheet
- Project Planning Template
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