Planning Your Day

One of the best tools in the productivity toolbox is planning your days in advance. The evening before the next day, take out a pen and paper and schedule how you’re going to spend your time the next day. It’s almost magic.

Rather than procrastinating on your most important tasks for the day until it’s 3pm and you haven’t done anything useful, you get yourself out of bed and straight to productivity. Much better than spending too much time scrolling down social media feeds and reading news as soon as you get up. This is why a schedule is so powerful, it gets you started on those big tasks each day, so you can’t procrastinate. It also sets your day off on great footing, you get into the flow of being productive so it becomes easy.

I’d guess most people have tried to plan the next day in advance so that we know what needs doing and to make sure we’re productive. Though it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of putting too much on our plate, like saying you’re going to revise for 6 hours. Then when the next day comes, you only manage to get through half an hour before getting distracted and failing to get back on track.

Planning days in advance is a great tool for being productive when you know what’s happening that day, but it doesn’t tackle the problem of motivation. How do you stay on track with the plans you’ve already made?

There's a simple trick that works wonders. Rather than planning a day so that you get everything you want done, plan a day that you want to have. Of course, you have to be responsible and set aside time for things other than leisure. At the end of each day, you want to be in a better place than you were yesterday. So, schedule the tasks that need doing or should be done, but also schedule in time where you’re going to relax.

You need to negotiate with your future self here. How much time are you willing to take out of each day doing things that aren’t uncomfortable? How much time are you willing to give your future self to unwind? For some people, getting 30 minutes of productive time in is a struggle. For others on the other end of the spectrum, getting in 30 minutes of rest seems criminal. It’s a balancing act, and you’re the one who should discover the point of equilibrium. If you don’t like where you land on this scale, you can try to slowly shift it to a productivity-relaxation ratio you’d prefer. Though it is most important to focus on what you can manage now.

So, say if you want to revise for 4 hours the next day. In your schedule, create a 4-hour block starting at a certain time. If you’re revising for a difficult subject that is mentally taxing, add a 30-minute break in the middle — so you stay productive during the second half, and to stay motivated. If it’s very challenging consider having two or three breaks, or even use the Pomodoro technique.

Here’s an example schedule, which is the schedule I made for today. The end time of each block is the starting time of the next one.
09:00 – Wake up
09:30 – Duolingo
10:00 – Reading articles online (not news)
10:30 – Write a blog post
12:30 – Lunch
13:00 – Revision
14:00 – Meditation
14:30 – Review goals
15:00 – Relax
16:00 – Revision
17:00 – Go for a run
17:30 – Shower
18:00 – Revision
19:00 – Dinner
Optional tasks for after dinner: reading, work on programming the website, socialising, or relaxing.

I like this plan because it schedules time for the tasks I want doing, e.g. Writing blog post & revision, but also sets aside time for relaxing and taking things slow.

One other thing I’d like to add is to not treat schedules as prisons. Allow flexibility in your schedule, for surprises that take you off course, or for when certain tasks take longer than expected. Have contingency plans for when things go off course — mine is usually to move tasks that overrun or get missed to after dinner time or to the next day, once tasks are rescheduled then return to following the schedule for the current day as best as possible.

And finally, if you fail to keep to a schedule you have made for yourself, don’t beat yourself up about it. Either something came up that threw your schedule into tatters, or you didn’t negotiate with your future self well enough. If you put too much on your plate, it’s a lesson for the next time you plan your day ahead. Remember, plan a day that you want to have, and plan one where you’ll be in a better place at the end of it.