When life gets busy, our instinct is to rush through the day and get as much done as possible.
We jump from one task to the next, answer emails as they arise, and push aside our work to respond to our client’s or office’s urgent requests--all without a concrete plan.
It’s easy to slip into this reactive state because the idea of taking a moment to strategize and create a plan seems like a waste of time. And when you’re just trying to get things done, time feels like a precious commodity that you can’t waste.
But this haphazard way of approaching our tasks can actually deplete our time and energy. And we actually risk doing more work or repeating steps because we’ve glossed over the details or skipped steps. Planning for a day is similar to reading a recipe beforehand. By seeing what you need and in what order, you avoid any potential mistakes or having to duplicate your work.
Whether you love a good to-do list or you’re looking for ways to be more efficient, you’ll benefit from our tips and exercises below. You’ll walk away with a solid plan for hectic days, which can help you feel like you have more time than you initially thought.
Identify your top tasks
When creating a plan for your day, it’s essential to identify your top tasks.
But when we have a lot going on, it can be hard to determine what our actual priorities are, especially since *everything* seems like a big priority. But trust us, not every task and assignment is urgent and important. In fact, a lot of these tasks that seem super-urgent can actually be scheduled for a later date.
Here’s how you can identify your top priorities:
Set aside a few minutes and get everything down on paper. That’s right, do a brain dump of every assignment, deadline, errand, and mundane task that you need to complete.
Now, review your list and ask yourself:
- What are the most time sensitive items? What must I absolutely finish today?
- What tasks/assignments have firm deadlines?
- And what tasks/deadlines are flexible and can be completed at a later date?
Put a star next to the tasks that are time sensitive and have firm deadlines. These will be your top tasks. Everything else, schedule for the next day or later on in the week.
The more streamlined your to-do list, the more likely that you’ll stick with it. See if you can narrow down your to-do list to your top 3 priorities. If you feel like you have the energy, you can expand it to 5-6 priorities.
Create specific to-do lists
So you’ve selected your top tasks, now it’s time to make a specific to-do list.
When it comes to planning and organizing, you need a to-do list that’s specific and gets down to the nitty gritty. You’re less likely to commit to your to-do list if you just write “finish work project.”
Instead, you want to get specific and granular so that you have actual items to complete. Don’t worry if your to-do list items seem super small, like “deposit check” In fact, if you knock off a bunch of super small tasks, it will make you feel confident and productive, giving you the momentum to accomplish the bigger tasks.
Here’s how to create a better to do list:
Vague: Powerpoint presentation
Specific: Sales presentation for team meeting (key people: VP Sales, CEO)
Then you can break down this task into smaller, easier chunks:
Task: Create sales presentation by Tuesday for Wednesday team meeting
- Create 10 slides or fewer - highlight projections for VP Sales, align with company values for CEO)
- Select images and graphics for each slide
- Write copy for each slide
- Edit each slide for grammar and clarity
This works in all areas of life; not just at work. Whether you’re making a plan to run errands, creating grocery lists, or designing a workout routine, make sure that it’s as specific as possible. When you focus on the details, you ensure that you’ll get everything done and that you’re well-prepared for the day ahead.
A detailed to-do list also informs you of what tools and supplies you’ll need on hand or in your bag when you’re heading out for the day. It can feel like a wrench is thrown in your plans when you set out to run a bunch of errands only to realize that you’ve left a grocery list or bag of library books back at home. Prevent any unnecessary headaches and plot out the details beforehand.
Sequence your tasks
Now that you’ve identified your top tasks, it’s time to create an action plan and determine their order of operations.
Creating a schedule and sequence for your day can help make it more streamlined and organized, saving you from having to take any extra steps or repeat any work.
One productivity strategy you can use is to batch tasks. The idea behind batching is that you group similar tasks together and accomplish them all in one block. So, if your to-do list includes:
- check emails
- submit invoices
- update calendar
Rather than doing these things throughout the day or at various times when you have a few minutes for each, you would batch these tasks together since they’re both admin oriented and easier to do all together.
Take a look at your list and see what tasks are similar in nature. Batch those tasks.
For example, if you need to go for a hike and also pick up dry cleaning today, you might want to batch those items together since you’ll be out of the house anyway.
Here are other ways you can batch tasks:
- Go for a hike
- Grocery shopping
- Pick up dry cleaning
- Pick up kids from school
- Update your social media
- Buy a gift online
- Do online research for a project
- Send emails
- Submit invoices
- Deposit a check via mobile banking
- Update your Google calendar
- Catch up with a friend over Zoom
- Have a networking call on Skype
Batching can help save you time and energy. By doing a group of similar tasks in a row, you can knock a lot of items off your to-do list, without going back and forth between items.
Strategize and plan your route
If you have a busy day of errands, you can save yourself time by planning your route in advance. This way, you can maximize your time outside and prevent any extra trips or hassle.
When it comes to planning your route, see if you can make the most of your commute and “kill two birds with one stone.” Here’s how:
Plan your route by geography. Go to stores/locations that are all within close proximity. This is the travel equivalent of “batching.” Maybe the stores are within walking distance of each other or a short car ride away or off the same train line. Another strategy is to go to the store/location that’s farthest out and then make your way back home. By determining your destinations in advance, you can make your busy day of errands that much easier.
Check the schedule. Make sure to check the store hours before determining your route. For example, let’s say you need to run errands at two different stores. If one store is open at 8 am but the other store doesn’t open until noon, then you’ll want to plan accordingly so that you’re not waiting for hours for the next store to open.