We’ve all been there, we create this super refined to-do list, make a bunch of exciting plans and feel so positive and motivated. We’re sure we’ll get to do it all tomorrow and are looking forward to this super productive and fun day. And then tomorrow comes and it all goes sideways and we achieve absolutely nothing.
How to plan your day and stick to it
Knowing how to plan your day and stick to it is an invaluable asset that can substantially increase not just your productivity but also your happiness and overall life satisfaction.
These are the 10 steps you need to take to plan your day and stick to it:
1. Do a brain dump
Let’s start by making some space in that brain of yours. If you’re constantly thinking of all the little things you’ll struggle to see the big picture.
Start by writing down all the to-dos, appointments, projects, ideas, errands and little stuff that needs to happen. Don’t overthink it, don’t try to filter it or reason. Just write everything down, no matter how small or obsolete it might feel.
Whenever something new comes up, add it to the list.
Do you feel that massive weight of thoughts and tasks lifting off your chest?
2. Define your goals, values and your why
The main reason we fail to complete the tasks on our to do list is simple – because we don’t want to and we just don’t see the point. Because the tasks do not align with our values and we just can’t answer this simple question – Why?
Weeding through your to-do’s and appointments and having an answer ready for when things get tough is key to living each day to its fullest. You need to know exactly why a task is important to you.
Defining your goals, values and your why will help you quickly weed through the list we just made and identify the things that really matter.
Working towards your goals is what keeps the needle moving. Try to think what tasks bring you closer to your goals and prioritize them above all else.
And if they don’t bring you closer to your goals? Then the next point is for you.
3. Eliminate, delegate, automate
Oh busy work, don’t you love it? Me neither. Yet we all fall victims of it. Do an audit of all the tasks and before you add them to your calendar ask yourself:
- Is this really important or is it just busy work?
- Will this help me achieve my goals?
- Can this be simplified, outsourced or automated?
Eliminate anything that isn’t urgent, important or that doesn’t bring you joy.
Once you’ve cut down on fluff it’s time to start automating. There’s so much technology out there and if you do your research you’ll find out that almost anything can be automated at least to some extent. If there’s an app that does the job, use it. If ordering groceries online saves you time, make the most of it.
Then delegate or otherwise outsource anything that is important, can’t be automated and you hate doing or don’t have the skillset to do well. If cleaning the house is a source of friction between you and your partner, hire some help.
This goes for any area of your life – work as well as life admin and house keeping. Plan better, not more.
4. Block out time
The issue with to-do’s is that sometimes a 20 item long list will take less than 2 hours and other times a single item will take most of the day. It’s important to block out time for each task to ensure there is enough time in the day to achieve them all and to prevent minute tasks from spreading out and taking up more time than necessary.
Planning out your day with a minute by minute schedule and blocking out time will help you use Parkinson’s law to your advantage and allow you to schedule the most important task at your peak productivity time.
Parkinson’s law says that work expands to fill the time available.
If you account for one hour to perform a task, that’s how long it will take you. If you only allow 20 minutes for the same task, you’ll most likely complete it within that time frame anyway. And if you allow for two hours for said task? Yes, you guessed it! It will most certainly take you two hours to complete it.
While it’s important to be realistic with how long a certain task takes, try to leave little to no wiggle room when blocking out time for it. This way you won’t be dragging it out and waste unnecessary time on it.
Batching similar tasks together is a great time management and focus management strategy. This approach helps to minimize distractions and time needed to refocus on a new task.
Time batching is an extremely effective trick to save time and increase productivity.
5. Schedule the fun stuff too
If you’ve identified family as your priority then make sure to schedule family time and have your day planned accordingly. If health is your priority then make sure to set aside time for exercise, rest, cooking and prepping meals.
Use your values to define the way you spend your days to keep moving forward. And you also need some fun stuff to look forward to, so schedule that as well.
6. Get enough rest and downtime
If you’ve been around here for a while you probably think I sound like a broken record but in a society where hustle is the buzz word and sleep deprivation the norm, I just can’t emphasize enough how important rest really is!
Make sure you get enough sleep and don’t fall victim to sleep deprivation. On top of that, schedule your downtime too – and make it a priority. This will make you more energized and ready to tackle your day and stick to your plan.
7. Don’t snooze
I know it’s tempting to roll over in your bed for just 2 minutes, I love to do that too. But hitting that snooze button might lead to your body releasing more sleep hormones which lead to falling back into deep sleep.
When your brain is flooded with melatonin and the alarm goes back off, you’ll feel like someone just ran you over with a truck, reversed back over to see what they hit and then drove off leaving you feeling like absolute shit. In more technical terms, extended sleep inertia is a real bi#$h and it can take you hours to feel better.
If you often feel like snoozing you should probably reconsider your sleeping habits and go to bed earlier.
8. Track your wellbeing and energy levels
We might sometimes treat ourselves like we’re machines, but in reality we’re only human.
Boring, fragile humans.
We have feelings, we can get sick, we can feel a bit under the weather and all this really affects our motivation, how we communicate and our energy levels. While it might be tempting to fight this and try to force ourselves to be productive, doing so will more often than not backfire.
It is important to listen to our bodies and give them some much needed rest when they ask for it.
How to plan your day for optimal productivity?
Try to pay attention to your body and track when you are the most focused, the most creative and when you’re just in need of some pampering and rest. Tracking this will help you figure out what are your peak productivity times and when your body and mind demand to rest.
Scheduling your day according to your energy levels will make you a lot more productive and happier.
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Does that time of the month make you feel particularly tired or emotional? Are you so allergic to pollen that just keeping your eyes open in spring feels like torture? Do you struggle with the summer heat? Do your migraines sync with the moon?
Try to find out what gives you energy and when your energy is the lowest and schedule your days, weeks and months around it.
If you find it hard to focus after lunch, make sure to schedule your most important tasks for the morning and use the afternoon for busy work, self care or go for a walk. If you know hormones play up in certain days of the month try to avoid meetings and important decisions then. If you know pollen in spring is a problem, try to pack up and go on holiday during that time to change the climate.
9. Eat that frog (at the right time)
In his bestseller Eat that frog Brian Tracy advises to tackle the most important task first thing in the morning. I say you schedule it for the most productive time of your day.
Mornings tend to be the most productive time of the day for most people, however they’re not the most productive time for everyone.
Listen to your body and track your energy levels to figure out what are your peak productivity times. Then use them to perform the most important task.
Scheduling tasks in a smart way will allow you to make the most of your most productive times when your energy levels are the highest.
10. Use a planner and have a system that works for you
Ever found yourself surrounded by post it notes and scribbles on scrap paper? Yeah, let’s not do that anymore.
Having a planning system you trust is paramount for successful day planning.
Remember how liberating it was to do the brain dump in step one? Well, that is only effective when you know where to find that info when you need it.
If you don’t trust the system, you’ll subconsciously keep holding onto that information and use precious brainpower when you don’t need to.
Find a planner that works for you and use it daily.
READ NEXT: How to plan your life, work and play
11. Create a procrastination list.
Wait, what? Aren’t we supposed to avoid procrastination?
In an ideal world, yes. But in the world we live in the best we can do is to procrastinate wisely.
It’s almost inevitable, sooner or later we’ll lose control, lose focus and procrastinate the task at hand. You can use this time to scroll through your social media feed, or make the most of it by tackling something on your procrastination list.
Your procrastination list should include small non-urgent tasks, nice to haves kind of tasks. Things that you somewhat enjoy doing (or at least don’t dread) but are not vital, yet they do bring some value.
Here are some examples of what you could include in your procrastination list:
- Call a friend or family member you’ve lost touch with
- Tidy up a little
- Take care of your plants
- Inbox zero (although some would argue this should be part of your daily habits)
- Change that light bulb that’s been out for a week or fix a squeaky door.
And remember, this list is your last resort. Don’t feel like you can avoid your main task just because you’re somewhat productive even while procrastinating.
A procrastination list is good to have, but not needing it is even better.
12. Give yourself a pat on the shoulder and show yourself some grace
Check in with yourself regularly and congratulate yourself when you’ve done well. It’s important to celebrate the little wins as they build up momentum.
There are many benefits of planning your day but sometimes life still comes in the way.
Some days are better than others, and even when we do account for the highs and lows and schedule accordingly, things don’t always go according to plan. If that’s the case don’t beat yourself up too much.
Show yourself some grace and do better tomorrow.
READ NEXT: Make today a great day
BONUS: tips for planning your day
- Set a day every week and make it your planning day. The most common choices are Sunday, Monday morning or Friday at the end of your work day.
- Plan your day ahead of time. You’re more likely to make good decisions if you plan your day the night before.
- Schedule your down time too. Getting enough rest should be a priority in your daily plan.
- Schedule every minute of your day. It might sound a bit extreme but this way you’ll know exactly what’s next and how much time you have for a certain task.
- Have your planner (or calendar) handy at all times. This way you’ll always be clear on what are your plans for the day and can quickly refer back to it.