What do all of your most productive days have in common?
Whether you’re a student, a seasoned professional or riding the waves of self-employment, we all know what a productive day looks and feels like (even if it’s a bit different each time). For the most part, they’re planned out. You know where to start, the most pressing items on the to-do list and by the end you feel like you’ve accomplished something substantial.
Productive days are rarely ever by accident. They require the right amount of preparation. Without it, you’re always guessing what’s next, but too much of it can feel rigid and actually prohibit you from making a dent in your tasks. The trick to finding the perfect middle ground is to look at your day before it even begins.
The right tool makes this even easier. The Ink+Volt Today Planner puts everything you need in one place so you can crush even the busiest of days. An hourly planner, plus a task list and space to look at the next day, makes it simple to keep track of your progress.
So how do you make a plan that you can make the most of? It only takes a few steps.
1. List all appointments & meetings
The first step to conquering a busy day is perhaps the most obvious: Start with the big things. Appointments, meetings, deadlines. When it comes to daily tasks, these are the things that are most set in stone. Other tasks you may be able to fit in elsewhere, but these are what makes up your daily schedule, so list them first.
Seeing your day hour by hour helps you visualize what you are capable of. Without a clear idea of big events, it’s easy to overbook or, conversely, procrastinate throughout the day. With an hourly planner, you can better judge your gaps in time and fit more throughout the day.
If you’re planning in advance, consider time-blocking, which is a surefire way to squeeze more into your schedule. It works like this: You block out your schedule in increments, ranging from highest priority to lowest. So if you have a coffee meet-up with a client in the morning and a 1:1 with your manager in the afternoon, you can work the rest of your to-do list around them.
The rest of your tasks may be small, individual items (like sending multiple emails or researching a variety of topics). Instead of squeezing them in as you go – an email here or an email there – you’re committing to one block of time for emails.
You may decide to clear out your inbox before your morning meeting, make phone calls afterward, work on a project after lunch, then report to your meeting and finish the day by tidying your work space or running errands.
The result of this method is that you feel more focused on what’s in front of you because you’re not constantly switching your attention around to different tasks, which can end up taking a lot of time out of your day.
2. Keep your to-do list close
Most of us have a running to-do list, and it’s not unusual to have to roll items over to the next day. Aligning that list with your daily schedule can really help keep you focused on getting through each task.
With the Today Planner, your to-do list is built into the page and you’re also able to see your next day at a glance, so if you think of something that’s not urgent and can wait until tomorrow, you can add it there. It helps in not over-packing your day.
While you’re arranging your list of tasks for the day, try prioritizing them. Marking them a ‘1’ for most important, a ‘2’ for moderate importance (think of these as important, but not urgent), and ‘3’ for least important. 3s are the items that could most easily be rolled over to the next day.
Prioritizing tasks this way will ensure you’re meeting deadlines and not procrastinating important tasks.
3. Look ahead
Once you’ve started planning your days with an hourly planner, it’s a lot easier to start looking ahead. Think of it like this: Mastering all the little things that get thrown at you on a daily basis will help you better plan on a macro level.
At the end of the day, make sure all of your big items for the next day are recorded and your to-do list is orderly. Prioritize accordingly and know that if more items come up, you’re always able to change things around.
Chances are this will help you start your day on the right foot and keep you in motion. It may also help relieve stress and allow you a better night’s sleep. Instead of worrying about what the next day will bring, you will have a plan.
4. Reflect & adjust
Having a productive day isn’t just about getting stuff done, it’s also about realizing how it happened so you can make the necessary adjustments to make tomorrow even better.
Humans aren’t perfect, so no two days will be the same. Unexpected tasks will arise. Deadlines get moved up. Plans fall through. Conquering a busy day is easier done when you have some flexibility, and revisiting what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day is a good way to celebrate your success and make tomorrow an even better one.
Take note of what you did finish and what seemed to drag you down. Knowing where you can make improvements will help you actually make them.
Finally, don’t get too down if you didn’t have a perfectly-planned day. Reaching a stride takes some time, but studying your days will help you get there faster. Over time you’ll begin to realize which tasks are better suited for mornings or afternoons, when planning meetings makes more sense and when to pencil in some deep-focus work. It’ll just take some fine-tuning.