My daily planning takes 5 minutes in the morning and helps me build my to-do list, prioritize my tasks, and have a clear plan for every day. It focuses on the most important areas of my life and solves the “where do I start”, “I can’t keep up” and “am I forgetting anything” problems.
I love to-do lists, both digital and handwritten. Recently, I switched to my own little routine which allows me to have it all on one piece of paper. There are a few important steps I want to share with you that are especially useful after a weekend, vacation or any time you need to get back to your workflow.
1. Life Areas
The first column is for the life areas, goals, and habits you want to stay on top of. The template you can download below has editable fields for you to fill with your own list (you can use Acrobat Reader or Preview to do so). In front of every row there is a status space marked with one of threes symbols: a check mark if it’s good for today, a right arrow where an action is required, and an exclamation point for special attention. As you go through your list, write down the specific actions in the “To-Do List” column on the right.
2. To-Do List
List all things to be done for areas in the first column. You can add tasks from the day before and whatever else is on your mind. The goal is to collect them all in one place, with no particular order for now. To keep my to-do list dynamic, I start with a blank page every morning and discard the paper at the end of each day.
Once you have everything out of your head, it’s time to set your priorities in the half-column on the left from the to-do list. As a general reference, I use The Eisenhower Matrix. The life areas you marked with an exclamation point in step one are the most critical ones you want to start with. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So if ignored, those will cause anxiety and won’t let you fully commit to other important tasks. Here are some questions that help me better define my priorities.
4. Estimated Time
Estimating time can be very insightful and bring a lot of clarity to the structure of your day. Sticking to time limits, tracking time and challenging myself with deadlines makes the biggest difference in my productivity score. Write down realistic estimated times in front of each task, then calculate the total time to complete the entire list. If there are any less important tasks that don’t fit in your schedule today, you can cross them out now. This will help you realistically structure your day around your priorities.
5. Plan of the day
Now, you have everything you need to build an actionable plan. Unlike some pre-scheduled organizers, I like to write the time frame for each task manually. If some tasks take under 5 minutes, I complete them immediately to get them out of my system and have fewer things to process. Otherwise, add the most critical priorities on your to-do list first and move down to less important things. Don’t forget to include time for lunch, meetings or other plans in your agenda. The more accurate your schedule is, the easier it is to stick to it.
If you come up with any thoughts you don’t want to forget, or to-dos to complete another day, write them down in the bottom right corner of the sheet. Saving such things in a secure place for later helps keep your head clear and stay focused on current action.
This sheet is the only time of the day I allow myself to make planning decisions. Once my schedule is set, I fold it in half and it becomes non-negotiable. The best thing you can do next is to focus on one action at a time, in the exact order without a second thought and without compromise. I also recommend tracking the actual time and marking it next to the completed task. It can be very motivating to stay focused while training yourself be more conscious about time in general.