3 simple strategies to help you plan your day

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If you take the time to plan your day, you’re going to be much more likely to be able to squeeze in some writing time…

By Ann Gomez

You can plan all you want, but sometimes life just happens. The meeting runs late. You receive an urgent request. The dog throws up. And sometimes this happens all at the same time.

It doesn’t matter how much you plan — the universe sometimes has other ideas.

When unexpected events throw you off, it may seem like it isn’t worthwhile to plan your day. I see this differently. If we know we’ll encounter curveballs, it is in our best interest to prepare (as much as we can) for them – even if we can’t exactly predict what those curveballs will be.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how your Main Action Plan captures all your work, ranging from tasks due tomorrow to the project you want to launch next year. On a more immediate front, your daily plan grounds you in what you want to do today.

Here are three strategies you can use to plan your day.

1-Plan for tomorrow – today

Ironically, the best time to plan your day is the day before. Don’t wait for the morning to tackle this crucial task. As you are wrapping up today’s workday, you already have a good idea of what you want to tackle tomorrow. Capture those thoughts in a written plan to help close out today and set yourself up for success tomorrow.

Writing down our plan for tomorrow allows us to park our work and release the mental load of dwelling on it.

When I was writing my latest book, Workday Warrior, I found a study that showed those who wrote down tasks they needed to complete the next day fell asleep significantly faster than those who wrote about what they had already completed. And the more specific these lists were, the faster the individuals fell asleep.

2-Limit yourself

I admit I’m often tempted to over-commit myself. But I’ve come to accept we need to leave some buffer room to respond to email, return phone calls, and follow up on meetings. I generally recommend allowing two hours a day for these incoming requests, but of course this will vary based on your role. Regardless, we cannot plan for every inch of our day. Unrealistic daily plans set us up for defeat.

I recommend the 3+3 approach. Identify three items you must complete. Then identify three items you’d like to complete. If you have a longer wish list, you could certainly list those items below your 3+3, but you want to celebrate success after completing each round of three items. It will feel amazing when you cross these items off your list! (Confession: I do occasionally add already-finished items to my list only to cross them off — truly one of life’s simple pleasures!). And truthfully, anything beyond these 3+3 tasks should probably be moved to your MAP so you can tackle them another day.

[Related: Why is 3 the magic number for top priorities?]

3-Eat your frog first

In the words of Mark Twain, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.”  Culinary choices aside, Twain’s frog is an analogy for our hardest task. The best time to tackle our most difficult item is at the beginning of our workday when we have fresh energy.

I recommend identifying your hardest task and pairing it with your sun-kissed, fresh morning energy. Once you complete your hardest task, the rest of your day runs so much more smoothly.

Of course, planning your day is not a precise science. We want to be flexible and allow room for the truly unexpected. You can always adjust your plan as needed. But this is much easier to do when you are starting with a solid plan.

For more on how to set yourself up for success using a plan, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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