How to Plan Your Day to Win

A planner sits open to a page full of writing with a pair of glasses on top of it

How do some people get so much done every day?

There’s a scene in Inside Bill’s Brain, the Netflix documentary series about Bill Gates, where Lauren Jiloty, the senior executive assistant to the Microsoft co-founder, shares his tightly-packed schedule with the camera and says: “He’s got the same 24 hours in a day that the rest of us have.”

That line stuck out at me for two reasons: One, I actually have something in common with Bill Gates! And two, if Bill Gates does get the same 24 hours as everyone else, then how is he able to accomplish so much? And what can we learn from his routine?

While we may not all have the same resources and support system as Bill Gates (or his stamina!), we can still plan our days to win and be productive. After all, it’s not about how many hours we have in the day, but *how* we maximize those hours that sets ourselves up for success. 

Below are some tips, routines, and systems you can use to plan for a successful and organized day. No extra hours needed!

What is your definition of a successful day?

Before you start planning your schedule for the day, first ask yourself, “What would a successful day look like?”

This is what my ideal day would look like:

  • Wake up around 7:30 am
  • Morning coffee and creative work
  • Long walk
  • Client work
  • Read
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Dinner 
  • Catch up on a book or watch a movie on Netflix

Now, I may not get to all of these items, but it’s important for me to sketch out my ideal day so that I have a better understanding of my priorities. After doing this, I’ll notice that my successful day centers around three main themes: creative work, client work, and relaxation/learning. 

What does your successful day look like? Maybe you want to read more. Or maybe you want more time to brainstorm a work project. Or maybe you want a leisurely breakfast. Determine what your priorities are and then use those as tent poles to work towards throughout the day. 

Make your to-do list

After laying out exactly what your successful day looks like, it’s time to write your to-do list. This is the time to get specific and add all the personal and professional things you need to do.  

Your list might look something like this:

  • Do laundry
  • Send client emails 
  • Pay bills
  • Brainstorm for work 
  • Pick up kids
  • Call babysitter
  • Meditate
  • Journal 

Afterward, see if you can lump any activities together under the same theme. For example:

Theme 1: Errands/Chores

  • Do laundry
  • Pay bills
  • Pick up kids
  • Call babysitter

Theme 2: Self-care

  • Meditate
  • Journal

Theme 3: Work

  • Brainstorm for work
  • Send client emails

Next, highlight all the items that are time sensitive or urgent. For example: picking up the kids and sending client emails. 

Then, place a star next to the items that are personal priorities for you: meditate and journal.

By identifying your main priorities and time-sensitive tasks, you’re able to add some definition and boundaries to your day. Also, by grouping these tasks by theme, you identify opportunities to knock off some of these tasks at the same time. 

Not only will having this type of scaffolding help you stay organized, but it will also help you regain focus and pick up where you left off should any unexpected requests or emergencies arise.

Need help creating structure in your day? The Ink+Volt Priority Pad is designed to help you drop your tasks into categories that are based around what's important, what's urgent, what's nice to do, and what's just for you. It makes prioritizing simple, streamlined, and beautiful. Oh, and incredibly productive too!

Identify your peak productivity hours

After writing your to-do list, you’ll want to identify your peak productivity hours. These are the times of day when your creative, mental, and physical energy are at their highest.

If you’re unsure when your peak hours are, try monitoring yourself over the next week and take note of when you feel the most alert or fatigued. You can even set a reminder on your phone to write down a quick note about your energy levels every hour for one full day.

Do you tend to jump out of bed first thing in the morning and then crash in the afternoon? By being honest with yourself and your habits, you’ll be able to better plan for a successful day.

Time blocking

After identifying my peak hours, I like to use my Ink+Volt planner to do some time blocking — the planning method where you set aside blocks of time for your work.

By scheduling my activities around the morning, afternoon, and night blocks, I have a clearer sense of what my day is going to look like. Plus, I am held accountable for finishing the tasks in that time block. For example, if I schedule “write first draft of my piece and submit to editor” in my morning block, I know I have to finish that before lunch. 

If you’re a morning person, you might want to allocate that peak energy time to do your high priority tasks, like creative projects or heading to the gym. If you're more of an afternoon person, do lower priority tasks in the morning and save your meetings for when your energy is highest later in the day.

Next, identify the time of day when your energy starts to dip. You can use this time to check off “easy wins”— any task on your to do list that requires little creative or mental energy.

Here are some examples of easy-to-accomplish tasks you can do during this your periods of low energy:

  • Pay bills
  • Clean out your inbox
  • Write thank you notes you’ve been meaning to send
  • Plan your vacation
  • Send your invoices
  • Organize your calendars
  • Run errands
  • Make a grocery list
  • Clear out photos from from your phone or computer

Once you’ve identified your highest energy and lowest energy periods, try to see if there’s a time of day when you catch a second wind. I usually get a second burst of energy in the early evening, and I might use that time to go for a run, see friends, or finish up any work I didn’t get to earlier. 

I’ll then schedule my self-care/learning items for when my productivity levels are lowest, which is at night.

If I don’t get to all of the items on my to-do list, it’s okay. For me, a successful day is about getting around to my three main priorities that day.

Create templates for your life

Once you create a consistent routine and identify your optimal work states, you’ll be able to spot opportunities where you can streamline and automate your work.

Here are some simple ways you can make your life easier; 

  • Breakfast Prep: If you’re always rushing to make breakfast, try making yogurt or overnight oats the night before, or keep all the ingredients on-hand for easy assembling in the morning. (Get more tips for starting breakfast prep here!)
  • Uniform: You don’t have to wear a Steve Jobs turtleneck every day. Just make sure you always have enough basics on hand so you can save time getting dressed.
  • Entertainment: Keep a notepad or a Google doc with a running list of TV shows and movies you want to watch so you don’t have to spend time scrolling through Netflix.
  • Email and document templates: Keep an invoice template in your Google docs; have go-to email responses for common work emails and out-of-office replies.

You don’t have to be a CEO or a productivity expert to plan for a successful, organized days. As long as you are clear on your priorities and honest about your habits, you’ll be able to set yourself up for success and win the day.

Share Pin it
Back to blog