I have been using this “system” to plan out my days for about the last two years. It has resulted in:
- Increased productivity
- Increased output in all major areas of my life
- Much, much better time management
- Elimination of days where I get little/nothing done
I don’t claim any kind of superiority for my way of planning, rather I wanted to share what I’ve done so far but also to strongly suggest that you start planning out your days.
If you only take one thing away from this post make it: if you go from not planning out days at all to doing some (any) kind of planning, you will see a massive improvement.
Now what I do is pretty simple:
- I have a text document on my computer that is my daily schedule
- Every evening I fill it in as best I can for the coming day
- The next day I follow the schedule from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep
I like to keep it as simple as possible while still including everything necessary to make a “blueprint” of the day. I include all major activities (work, gym, class when I was a student) as well as time for eating meals, and habits that I follow or am trying to form. I also include one-off things that I might otherwise forget.
Here’s an example daily schedule from when I was following 30 Days of Discipline:
It’s just like a blueprint for the day. With a schedule like this you never need to spend time thinking “What should I do now?” because you just go to the next item on the list. All the thinking is done in advance, so when the time comes for action you just follow the plan.
Here’s what a more normal schedule might have looked like from when I was a student:
So a couple things I would recommend:
Start right from the moment you wake up
Even if you do basically the same routine every morning (I do), write it down anyway or at least have it there in front of you. This gets you into the “mode” of following the schedule right from when you wake up, making it easier to continue throughout the day. It also helps for forming the habit of following the schedule in the long term.
Give yourself some flexibility for timing (especially as it gets later in the day)
Some things will likely take longer than you think, and this adds up as the day goes on. By 7pm you might find you are an hour “behind schedule”; this is perfectly fine. It’s pretty easy for an hour’s worth of unforeseen events to happen in a given day. So include that extra time and allow for some flexibility.
Give yourself options (sometimes) to make it less restricting
You can give yourself a couple options for what to do at a given time so the day doesn’t feel so rigid. For example you could write “work on project A OR work on project B” “stretch OR foam roll” on the schedule. If it doesn’t matter in the big picture which one you do, then just leave it open and decide in the moment. (I actually think this is really important so you maintain some freedom and don’t start feeling like a slave or something)
Include “chill” time to relax/do whatever you want
This is time for “neutral” activities that are not necessarily productive but that allow you to relax and switch off. I usually schedule this right after the gym because this is when I’m most tired (physically and mentally) and just want to chill out. This is where you read blogs, listen to podcasts, look at social media, watch Game of Thrones, take a nap, whatever. While this isn’t stuff that directly helps you towards your goals (necessarily), it shouldn’t really be things that are detrimental either.
Don’t worry if you don’t get everything done
The schedule is a blueprint but it’s not exact. Each day you should complete all of the major items (otherwise what’s the point), but don’t worry if you miss something minor. For example if you forget to make your green juice one day then don’t sweat it. But if you write in “go to class” and you skip class, then you clearly haven’t followed the schedule.
For “work” keep a separate list
When I first started making daily schedules I would write the work I needed to do right on the schedule. I’ve since found it’s better to keep a separate list for work. When I was a student I kept a separate list for my class work, and I do the same for the projects I have now. This way when you sit down to work you can close the daily schedule, open the “work” list, and focus purely on that.
Again I am not suggesting you follow this exactly, and by no means do I think it’s a perfect system. I just wanted to share what I’ve been doing so far and give people some ideas.
The most important point I want to make (again) is: if you go from doing nothing to planning out your day at all (and make a reasonable effort to actually follow the plan) you will see a very noticeable improvement.
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