Cal Newport’s “Oldest” Productivity Strategy Could Save You Hours Each Week

Fixed-schedule productivity formed the basis for time-blocking and could add more structure to your busy workday. Here are the basics.
Matthew Ritchie
Advice
June 22, 2022
5 minute read

The year is 2008. Cal Newport is a 26-year-old graduated student studying at Georgetown University. He’s written two books and working on a third—mostly aimed at high school and college-aged students. He’s working on several research papers, regularly blogging, contributing to a magazine, and TA’ing between coursework and classes. 

Somehow, he gets everything done, despite his heavy workload.

His secret? Fixed-schedule productivity.

These days, Newport is a New York Times bestselling author, regular contributor to the New Yorker, computer science professor, podcaster, public speaker, and productivity expert known worldwide. 

His 2016 book, Deep Work, became an international sensation, helping millions reclaim their attention by developing a framework for safeguarding their time and focus while they work.

Since then, his productivity strategies, tips, and ideas have been adopted by people in dorm rooms to board rooms.

But it all started in 2008 when Newport came up with a simple, two-part system for getting more work done in less time. 

What is Fixed-Schedule Productivity?

The rules for fixed-schedule productivity are pretty simple, according to Newport:

Rule 1: Choose a schedule of work hours that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation

Rule 2: Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule

That’s it. Simple, right?

Sort of.

Making Fixed-Schedule Productivity Work

Twenty-something Cal Newport is the first to admit that implementing and sticking to rule number two is easier said than done:

“If you took your current projects, obligations, and work habits, you’d probably fall well short of satisfying your ideal work schedule… to stick to your ideal schedule will require some drastic actions.”

Those drastic actions could include:

  • Cutting back on the number of projects you’re working on
  • Culling inefficient habits from your daily schedule
  • Putting an end to procrastination
  • Possibly annoying people by sticking to such a fixed work schedule

Further, to keep to a fixed schedule, you have to be careful with how you go about your day, so Newport says to focus on these seven techniques:

  • Serialize projects by working on one major project at a time and moving to another when finished to maximize efficiency
  • Be clear about when to expect results by making an honest evaluation of when you can get something done by
  • Turn down projects if you’re focusing on too many things and can’t get a potential project done in a reasonable time
  • Drop projects if they end up taking up too much of your time
  • Be unavailable at certain times of the day to focus on meaningful work
  • Turn regularly occurring work into a habit that’s done consistently at a fixed date and time
  • Start early on important projects (and, again, don’t tolerate procrastination)

Seems impossible, right? But fixed-schedule productivity works and would become the inspiration for one of Newport’s most popular productivity strategies: time-blocking.

But let’s be real. Not every knowledge worker can turn down or drop projects, complete tasks on a timeline that works with their schedule, or start early when they’re already bogged down with work.

That said, there are ways to implement some of the basic aspects of fixed-schedule productivity into your daily schedule to safeguard your time and focus at work.

Like anything to do with time management and productivity, it all begins with your calendar.

Fixing Your Schedule 

Most people schedule their work day around specific meetings and hope nothing comes up during their open blocks of time. But that’s rarely the case (and is on the rise).

That’s why, of the seven techniques Newport suggests above, being unavailable at certain times and turning regularly recurring work into a habit may be two of the simplest productivity strategies to implement into your existing workflow.

How does that look in practice?

To start, you want to try and dedicate certain blocks of time to meetings, so that you can devote more time to deep, sustained focus.

With Nook Calendar’s personal booking pages, you can adjust which dates and times you’re willing to have meetings booked externally. (Most people choose a 2 to 4-hour chunk at the beginning or end of the day to keep things simple.)

Once a meeting gets booked, your availability will dynamically update to prevent anyone from selecting a similar time and creating a double-booking. You can also add buffers, so no one books any last-minute meetings.

Next, you want to safeguard your time against someone who may try to book a meeting outside of your pre-determined meeting hours.

That’s where a bit of time-blocking comes in handy. 

In Nook Calendar, you can create events to block out time in your calendar and set them as Busy, so no one bothers you during those times, or Free if you feel more flexible.

That way, if someone tries to book a meeting internally through Nook’s People Bar, they’ll see which spots are available and be directed to book a time that works better with your schedule.

Pretty simple, right?

Of course, multiple uncontrollable variables could impact your workday. 

But, if you follow the basic tenets of fixed-schedule productivity and create more of a defined structure for your workday, you’ll probably be more productive in the long run.

“This type of planning, to me, is like a chess game, with blocks of work getting spread and sorted in such a way that projects big and small all seem to click into completion with (just enough) time to spare,” Newport once wrote about time-blocking, saying it saved him upwards of 20 hours of work each week.

Game on.

Learn more about fixed-schedule productivity from one of Cal Newport’s recent podcast.

For more tips, tricks, and strategies on how to be more productive and manage your time at work, check out our blog.
Download Nook Calendar for free on iOS, Android, and Desktop. (P.S. We’re working on a new app that could save you an hour a day…)

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.  
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