The old adage of “Fail to plan and you plan to fail” may be a simplistic way to look at things, but I have found if I don’t plan my day, my time will get sucked by everyone else’s priorities or I’ll spend far too much time with my head in PowerPoint trying to perfect a slide that was good enough 45 minutes ago! If you’ve ever felt like this, read on to find out a simple way to plan your day and get the stuff done that means most to you.
What you will need:
Step 1: Work out how much time you actually have
When does your day start & when would you like it to end?
When I’m planning my day, I’ll give myself 20 minutes to put the plan together and start the time slots from the end of the planning time. I’ll usually start about 8:30 and finish around 2:45 for school pick up, so on these days I have 6 hours 15 minutes to play with.
Step 2: Get everything out of your head and onto a page
What tasks do you want to complete if you had all the time in the world?
Don’t make your list fancy, or categorised at this stage, just write everything down, not just work activities, but breaks, snacks or other errands you need to do whether you’re at home or in the office.
Step 3: Fill in your non-negotiables
In the left hand side of your paper write a schedule, so it fits the entire length of the page. I usually split by 30 minute time slots, but if you have a meeting that you must attend, create a time slot for that e.g 10:00 - 11:30 Weekly Review Call. Do the same for anything else with a fixed time so you know how much “free” time you have to play with.
Step 4: Estimate the time it will take you to complete each activity in minutes
When you first start out, your estimating won’t be perfect, but as you continue to plan this way, you’ll start to become more accurate.
Step 5: Decide which tasks you really need to do
To make this decision, there are many ways to look at which tasks you should prioritise. You could use an Important vs Urgent quadrant, focus on the outcomes you want to achieve today or this week or base your decision on whether the task is on the “critical path” of getting something larger done. Bear in mind how your energy changes throughout the day, and match your tasks to them.
Step 6: Slot your most important tasks into your schedule
Whichever way you decide to prioritise, this step is for you to fill in the gaps left around your non-negotiables. So if you have 60 minutes before your first call, what is your most important task that you can start in that time. I often like to get something worthwhile, but relatively easy done as my first task of the day to get some momentum going and avoid procrastination.
Step 7: Plan in extra time
Make sure you plan in time for overrunning meetings, breaks, lunch and generally give yourself a little buffer in case of distractions. I like to add give myself 5-15 minutes at the end of each larger task to allow myself a comfort break, drink or just to get my head around what’s coming next. This can help you feel less stressed if meeting do overrun or tasks take a little longer.
Step 8: Delegate, delay or delete
If you can’t fit in everything on your initial list, you need to choose whether you want to carry it over, give it to someone else, or just not do it.
Once you have you day planned out, just work through your plan as you have designed it. Of course distractions will happen, or something urgent may come in, but on the whole planning in this way helps give clarity on what you want to achieve and gets you some way towards achieving it.
What do you find helps you most to stay on track? Share your productivity tips in the comments below.