How I successfully plan my day

When I first introduced the ideas from Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management all tasks that came in today were added to tomorrow’s list which meant I had a plan of action. However when I realised this wasn’t going to work and started developing my own system I realised I missed the daily plan of action which wasn’t provided with a complete task list which just provided a list of all the things I could be working on. I needed something to lead me through the day in a clear, productive and defined way, so I developed a today planner.

windowslivewriterhowisuccessfullyplanmyday-be2ctodaypage-thumb5.jpg

Morning routine

At the top of the page are the tasks I should complete every morning to ensure I am set up for the day.

The current initiative is an idea of Mark Forster’s, so I will let him describe it:

The idea behind the current initiative is that you start work every day by concentrating on one selected initiative. By focussing on one thing in this way you can move much faster than you could if you incorporated the actions relating to it into the task list.

My definition of the current initiative is ‘what you do first every day’. It is what you do every day before you start on your email, voicemail, paper, tasks and daily tasks. This is a priority spot that is designed to be given only to those things that are important for the future.

Do it tomorrow

There are three parts to reviewing my calendar:

  • marking meetings on to the time bar on the left
  • adding any day specific tasks to the day’s task list
  • adding any repeating tasks for the day to the task list and my inbox

Reviewing my ticker file usually results in discovering agendas or notes for meetings, but occassionaly task related information for that day

Reviewing my waiting for list, phone, email and post could result in more items being added to my inbox.

Before I start work I ensure my desk is clear, removing anything I have brought into the office with me, throwing away any old envelopes from the post, tidying all the papers for the day into useful piles etc.

Today’s task

windowslivewriterhowisuccessfullyplanmyday-be2ctimebar.jpg Using the time bar, I mark on the time I am expecting to start working on tasks and the time I intend to leave the office. Then subtracting the hours blocked out for meetings and lunchtime I calculate the time available for me to work on tasks.

exceltime

For each task I’ve already added to my today chart from my calendar or tickler file I add my estimate for each task’s duration to a spreadsheet to calculate the total duration allocated. I then look through my ASAP task list and add further tasks to the today’s task chart until all my available time is fully allocated, I add a marker on my ASAP task list to show I have added the task to the day planner. I then draw a line under the list making it into a closed list, another idea of Mark Forster.

A closed list is any list that has a line drawn at the bottom so nothing can be added to it. This is in contrast with an open list, which can be constantly added to. It is much easier to work with a closed list rather than an open list.

There are several reasons for this. The most important is that closing a list enables all the items on it to be dealt with without the distraction of new work being added. The list acts as a buffer between you and distractions.

Do it tomorrow

Of course the calculation is not precise, because for instance I could be called into a short notice meeting, a task could take longer than I estimated or sometimes shorter. However it provides me a framework for the day which I then adapt as the day progresses. I also gain an idea of when I have completed the day’s work.

Halving is another concept of Mark Forster,

It consists of taking everything you have to do and dividing it into half over and over again until you have only one thing left – then you do it.

Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play

I am using it here to find the items on my chart which I am resisting the most; I keep halving the list until I find the one task that I want to do least. The plan is then to start with that task and work through all the tasks with ticks so my day gets easier as it progresses. I admit I don’t always follow this guideline because sometimes I want a success to get me started or I have only a few minutes before a meeting and I can get something of shorter duration off the list. However I have found that I can no longer lie to myself that I’m not resisting a task and there are very few days when I haven’t at least made a start on the worst task on my list.

Same day urgent

In Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management, Mark is very keen you don’t distract yourself with incoming tasks because it is disrupting your day by acting reactively. However he recognises that there will always be tasks which you have to complete the same day. My planner provides me room to write these tasks down, which has two advantages:

  1. I don’t have to complete the task immediately minimising the disruption to my flow
  2. I can review the tasks at a later date and decide if they were really same day urgent

Evening routine

Before leaving the office I have a similar routine to the morning which should ensure that as many loose ends are tied up as possible to reduce the getting started time in the morning. AlthoughI have to admit I haven’t been very good at doing this list recently and I need to ensure I use the checklist because it does help.

I developed this sheet when I was spending the majority of my time in office and so all of my tasks were were office based. Now I am out of the office more, contexts play a significant contribution to what tasks to do. However I still find this form invaluable when I am in the office.

EDIT (04/10/07): This template is now available to download

Comments

  1. says

    I especially like your idea that you don’t get distracted by other people’s “urgent” requests. It’s like Brian Tracy says, “the urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent.”

  2. says

    Brad,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I have found it interesting to implement that part of the system especially because most people were used to me helping them out straight away. However I am now more comfortable at saying I will write it on my list and do it tomorrow and I think most people now trust that I will do it when I say.

  3. says

    Kate, I like it a lot. The checklist for making sure the in-box is empty, the desk is clear,great idea. I love checklists! I like the idea of having something concrete to help keep those routine tasks from falling through the cracks. Good job.

  4. says

    Glad you like it Stephen. You will see that the checklists were one of the things I missed most when I tried your calendar page. I know I should remember the list each day, but I find there is just something about seeing it printed each day which works for me.

    Unfortunately my inbox isn’t actually empty at the moment, but it is getting closer.

  5. johnwin says

    Great post. Good to see DIT getting some traction. I’m a GTD/DIT user and find they work very well together.

  6. says

    Thank you for the comment Johnwin. I know what you mean about not seeing much around about DIT, I think the book is one of the most helpful and thought provoking personal development books I’ve read. I hope more people start to realise the benefits of combining DIT and GTD.

  7. says

    Awesome tips! Thanks for going to the effort to post them. I have been implementing parts of GTD into my routine. The Mark Forster concepts look very interesting as well. My issue has been that a lot of the great advice out there is for people who are contractors, or project managers. I am neither. Once I get a system adjusted to the needs of a desk grunt I will share them on my site. In the meantime, thanks again for the great food for thought.

  8. says

    Travis, I’m glad you found my approach useful.

    I am a strong believer that everyone has to develop their own system because no one works in the same way or in the same environment. This was after I tried using other people’s methods and realising that they were never going to work for my job which is very varied.

    I have subscribed to your blog, so I will look with interest to how you develop your own system.

  9. Jon says

    Kate – just wondering if you’re still using this system or have you made changes?

    Your system has inspired me to create something similar.

  10. says

    Jon,

    Yes I am still using this system and haven’t made any changes. However I am considering changing the same day urgent section so I can keep a note of the interruptions I get during the day as well.

    I tried using the same approach at home, but it didn’t work as well so I am developing something different.

    I hope you are developing something successful, I would be interested to know more about how it works for you.

  11. says

    Kate, I’ve just come across your blog and have to admit that I am quite a disorganised planner.
    In another job I used to use software to help me plan – but I’m definitely going to give your analogue system a go and let you know what happens.
    I especially like the method of dealing with people’s ‘urgent’ requests.
    Many thanks and I’ll be back soon.
    John

  12. says

    Thanks for the comment John,

    My system has made a huge difference to my organisation, however I still have the urge now and again to go back to electronic, but for now my paper system is working so well I don’t think I could make it any more effective by going digital.

    Good luck developing your system, I would be very interested to hear how it goes.

  13. Alex says

    Hi,

    I’m late to the party and know that you’re already looking for a new organizing system (I hope you’re making some progress), but did you consider using a simple tally chart for halving instead of all the columns halving takes up in your planner? That would probably save some precious space.

    Your custom-made planner looks great, thank you for the post. I’m thinking about implementing something like this myself, but it would have to be more portable (which is why I’m thinking about saving space).

  14. says

    Alex,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m always pleased to hear comments on my organisation system or what other people do to keep their actions under control. It would be great to hear how you implement your portable system.

    I think the only reason I implemented the halving as I did was to ensure I remembered to use halving and also to make each level of resistance stand out. However, I agree it does take up a lot of room on the sheet that may not be necessary. If I was to redesign this form it is one area that I would consider redesigning.

  15. says

    Hello Dennis,

    Thank you for letting me know the links were no longer working (and sorry for the delay in responding), the files appear to have been removed from the server. However they should now be back so hopefully you can now download the files, let me know if you have any more problems.

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