Planning my day ahead of time

In the last post, I mentioned the habit of planning my day the evening (or day) beforehand. This is one of the most high-power ways I’ve found to create a sense clarity and purpose in my life. It takes very little time and it let’s you hit the ground running at the beginning of each day.

Why do this?

That first hour of my day sets the tenor for the hours that follow. When I don’t plan ahead, there’s a good hour or so where I stumble about wallowing in my wretchedness (Putting it lightly, I’m not a morning person.) When I do take the time to plan, I open my eyes with a clear sense of direction.

This morning state is a huge sinkhole of time and motivation. If you’re like me, your tendency is to sit down at the computer to “figure out what to do”. Amazingly, most people use their e-mail inbox to do this (myself included).¬† A big inbox of small things that need immediate attention and distractions pretty much assures that you’ll be put in a reactive mood without any sense of direction for the rest of the day.

In contrast, on the days that I’ve planned out ahead of time, I can exert all of my morning willpower on not opening the damn e-mail, or the web browser, or anything else. I’m able to get a sense of control immediately. This eliminates a huge amount of distractions (those e-mails can wait), it gives me motivation and direction, and it saves me from wasting an enormous amount of time and energy.

So how do you do it? Given these benefits, you would think my day plan was elaborate and impressive. The results is quite the opposite. In general, I’m a mess, so I keep it messy but simple:

My daily list photo

As you can see, the word “plan” is a bit off. What I really have is a list, and at that a short and simple one.

Here’s my process: There’s a piece of paper that stays on my desk the entire day beforehand. (This may actually be the only clean part of my entire house.) Usually at some point that day, it will become clear what one thing must absolutely must happen the next day. In this case it’s to finish the post you’re currently reading. If nothing comes to mind during the course of my day, I force the issue and pick something immediately after work.

Below this first task are 3 things I really want to get done, but that are less important to my life long-range. Today, this involves reading up on a particular stock, handling my finances (I’m switching banks), and giving myself an hour+ for odds and ends, e-mails, and the cleaning I’ve been putting off all week year. These are things that need to happen at some point, but unlike this post, putting them off won’t actually take my long-term goal off track.

I should mention that¬† “go to work”, at least for me, isn’t an allowable task. You’re going to drag your ass to work whether you write it down or not – that system is already in place under the heading of “don’t get fired”. But even if you’re self-employed or your task is work related, it should be something specific at work, such as “Call that important but annoying client.” (If that actually is first on your list, consider switching it to “researching other career opportunities.”)

Other notes:

  • The first thing on my list will often be the task that I’ve put lots of negative reinforcement around. Example: if this blog post doesn’t go up I lose a decent chunk of money thanks to
  • I keep another piece of paper or two on my desk for the following couple days. That way if something comes up that hast to happen on June 28th or June 29th, I can make it my #1 task. I do everything possible to avoid having two #1 tasks in a day. This is a big temptation because I feel that I’ll accomplish more with more tasks, but really I’ll just lose focus.
  • I keep a separate (and much more full) list for odds and ends. This lets me keep my head clear, PLUS I can actually put taking care of those tasks as a block of time on my primary list. Yes this is a cheat, but it helps me distinguish between what actually matters and what I can just apologize profusely for not doing. If something on that list becomes extremely urgent, it gets bumped up to the primary list.
  • This list isn’t a schedule as much as it is a hierarchy. It gives me room to be flexible with everything else I need to accomplish. Example: today after I finish up this post I’ll take care of my morning routine before I go into the optional stuff.
  • I don’t wait until right before bed to do this. For me the best time to finalize tomorrow’s list is immediately after work and before anything else. Otherwise my momentum is gone and I fail.
  • At least once a week try making your #1 task “Long term thinking and goal review.”

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