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Ever noticed how days are just passing by and you don’t feel that anything special has been accomplished?
That’s why it’s important to have a plan for a day. If you have a plan then you see a clear checklist of tasks that need to be done. And at the end of the day even if you haven’t finished all of the tasks, you’ll still get a sense of progress by looking at the tasks that you managed to check off your to-do list.
As I have found from experience, planning a day is a continuous process. You can’t just sit down in the morning and write down some tasks out of the blue.
Here, I’ll describe a system that has worked well for me at work and home. It’s a combination of writing down the tasks as they appear and then planning them into my schedule.
Write down your tasks
Any planning can start if you have more tasks than you can do in one day.
Just imagine. You wake up in the morning and make your bed. You notice that it’s time to change the sheets. You go to brush your teeth, and the toothpaste runs out. After breakfast, you check email and have some new client work to do. This is not a small project, it will take you 3 days and can be broken down in 6 separate sub-tasks. And this goes on, day after day.
How do you keep track of this all?
You need to write down tasks, otherwise you’ll either forget some of them or will go crazy.
Writing down the tasks calms down the anxiety. Things that are written down are easier to manage. And you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.
Personally, I use Trello to list all my tasks. It’s super handy to have an online tool, as it can be easily edited. And it’s always with me on the phone, so anytime a new task appears it can be captured.
So this is the first part of planning. Just have some dedicated place where to write down tasks as they appear so that you can deal with them later.
Review and update the daily plan
This is the part that shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes daily. Choose a predictable time when to do the planning for the day ahead. It can be either the previous evening of the morning of the day which needs to be planned.
I find it better to plan in the morning, as the plan gets me excited for the upcoming day. And then I just know what needs to be accomplished and get on with it.
Now that you have a list of the tasks, have a look at them. Not all of the tasks are equally important, right?
That’s why you need to prioritize them.
Here are some criteria to understand how urgent the task is:
- Is there a deadline?
- Does it take a long time and needs to be started ASAP?
- How bad are the consequences if this task is delayed?
- Do you need to schedule the task at a specific timeslot e.g. like a meeting or a doctor’s appointment?
- Does it actually need to be done?
It’s funny how some of the tasks always find them at the bottom of the list and never get done. And nothing bad happens. It turns out you don’t have to do EVERYTHING, just enough is fine too.
Determine how long does each task take
Give your estimates to the tasks. Does it take 30 minutes to finish or 2 hours?
The time can be added in the task list, or you can just keep it in mind. This will help you not to schedule more tasks in the day than there are available hours to do them.
Check the free time slots during the day
When looking at the day ahead, you probably will already have some time blocks that are reserved for something particular and can’t be moved.
Many people have dedicated working hours which should fit all of the work-related tasks. You may have a doctor’s appointment or some other meetings already planned beforehand.
What is left over is the free time for scheduling your tasks from the to-do list that you have prepared.
Schedule the tasks
Now it’s time to actually add some tasks to your daily plan.
You already have a list of things that you need to do. They are ordered according to their priorities. You also know how long the tasks will take, and how much time you have to accomplish them.
There are just a few suggestions you might want to take into consideration:
- Is there a task that must be done today? Make it a priority. But don’t overuse this. Everything can’t be a priority.
- If there are some tasks that will likely cause you to procrastinate, try to do them first. That way you will be done with the unpleasant things and the other stuff will be easier to finish.
- Don’t try to squeeze out all that you can from a day and put uncountable tasks in your plan. Think realistically, what can you accomplish. It isn’t motivational if you just have some task which keeps being postponed from one day to another.
- Count in some buffer time in case some task takes you longer than anticipated.
- Think about work-life balance. Add some physical activity and social events to your plan as well, don’t fill your days only with work.
You can do the scheduling on a paper or online.
Some people like the act of writing out the plan on paper and then striking out the things that they have finished. It’s a great feeling and might motivate you to get more done.
However, I prefer Google Calendar for blocking out my time for different tasks. Here are some advantages for online day-planning tools:
- They are always with you on your phone or computer.
- You can add tasks as reminders, or use task functionality – that way you can also get the joy of seeing them marked with a strike-through when accomplished.
- You can easily schedule planned events far in the future, so that you don’t forget to renew a licence after five years or make a doctor’s appointment after a year.
- Reminders and events can have recurrence, which can be set automatically.
- Some events may be shared with other people’s calendars.
Make planning your day a habit
We’ve all been there. You plan a day. And plan the next one. Then skip a day. After that you plan some more days, but keep skipping others.
It’s hard to do the productive thing, if it requires additional mental energy from you.
The trick is to make planning your day a habit.
It doesn’t have to take much time. If you apply the tips above continuously, it’ll take just a few minutes to make a plan that’s easy to stick to.
Just write down all the tasks that come up during a day. And when your dedicated planning time comes, take the most important tasks first and fit them in your free time slots. It’s that easy.