I had the great pleasure of working at Franklin Covey for several years where I learned the importance of daily planning. Although I practiced and tried to implement all of their fantastic planning techniques, I failed over and over. Talk about feeling like the odd-ball. My brain patterns were far too abstract and hyper-active to conform to the prescribed system. Once I discovered that I needed my own strategy for daily planning, life got better. Here is the simple four-step strategy I use. Since I have been doing this for many years, daily planning takes less than five minutes a day. To be honest, most days it takes less than 1 minute.
Here’s how this four step process works:
Allowing the brilliant right-hemisphere of your brain to do it’s magic, think of all the many, varied and important ideas/tasks that need your attention. Don’t try to sequester any limitations on what comes up. For example, don’t try to think of only those things that need to be accomplished today, think of all the ones you can that need your focus. Using sticky notes or small scraps of paper, assign each idea or task its own little note. DO NOT multi-task on the sticky notes. Only one item per sticky.
Step Two – Sort:
Utilizing your equally brilliant left-hemisphere, let it drive the convergent thinking process. Meaning, now that we have a pile of sticky notes, let’s start comparing the “value” or urgency factor of each. We do this by sorting all the notes into one of three categories. (Down-load the Today or Not Today template here) We have three choices:
Today – Critical is the category for those tasks that if they are not completed by day’s end, we feel discomfort. Only use this category for items that honestly fit this level of urgency.
Today – Not Critical items are for those tasks that would be nice to complete, but can wait if necessary. In other words, this is the category for the “nice to do” versus the “have to do” items.
Not Today items are fairly obvious. This is the holding tank for all the other things you’d like to accomplish yet find it more fitting for them to wait their turn. This category also serves as that place where you can store new items/ideas that pop up during the day. Tomorrow these items join the collection of sticky’s that compete for the Today Critical spots in tomorrow’s planning session.
Step Three – Sequence:
This step involves two major components.
The first is to take all the items that landed in the Today-Critical category and give them an order. Meaning, list them out according to what should come first, second, third and so on. Once you do this, estimate how much time each item will take to complete and write that estimation on each sticky note. Be cautious during the estimation process. Research has shown that we underestimate how long something will take by as much as 40%.
The second is to then assign all those items that require more than five minutes of focus time an actual spot on your schedule. Yes, stop and put each item into the sequence of your daily schedule. If something takes an hour, find that hour and assign it to that item.
Any item taking five minutes or less can remain on your Today – Critical sheet. This will then serve as your task sheet. When you get a free minute during the day that is not already assigned to any particular project or event, go to this “task list” and knock out something waiting for your attention! Everything else that was categorized as “Today – Critical” that takes longer than 5 minutes should have already been assigned a space in your day.
Step Four – Accomplish:
This is the final step of the process. For me accomplish means that I consistently do two things. First, I consistently do what I said I would do, when I planned to do about 90% of the time. I give myself wiggle room to not try to be perfect according to doing everything just exactly as I had planned. I’m looking for progress not perfection, excellence not perfection. I don’t want to end up hating my planning system. I want it to make me happier and more productive.
The second thing I always do with this phase is to reward myself. No other human being understands what it takes for me to stay on top of my schedule and tasks like I do. So when I do what I said I would do, when I planned to do it, I get a small reward. Sometimes high-fiving the crumpled sticky in the garbage is reward enough. Sometimes the dopamine releases when I see the “way to go” bubble pop on the app. Other times I need that cup of tea or a walk around the block, or a moment to listen to some music. You decide what your rewards are and give them when you earn them. This small activity puts “jet fuel” in your pack so you can keep going.
This is my process. Many of my clients have adopted it; some have even morphed and tweaked it into a more individualized system that works even better for them. I encourage you to try it out for yourself, but do give it at least two weeks to settle in before you move to the weekly planning strategy I outline in the next blog.
Want to geek out on some more research documenting how poorly we estimate the time it will take to perform most tasks? These two sources will get you started:
We Know Why You’re Always Late – The Wall Street Journal
Underestimating the Duration of Future Events: Memory Incorrectly Used or Memory Bias? – American Psychological Association
I like this time-tested book as well for an over view of how to get things done:
To Do, Doing, Done by G. Lynne Snead – Find on Amazon Here
Concerning the book mentioned above, I had the privilege of interviewing one of the authors G. Lynn Snead. She served as my mentor at Franklin Covey when I learned Project Management. Here is a discount code to that podcast if you feel inclined to listen in:
HeadTrip Audio 10 Project Management
Use discount code “5BWMUT” during your checkout process.
Another of my focus management related audio programs is found here at a discount if you use this link:
HeadTrip Audio 11 Managing Time and Focus
Use discount code “MBXA7X” during your checkout process.
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