My last post was all about planning your week. It was an overview post. Today we are going to overview planning every day. Again, this is how I do it and it won’t work for everyone. I also want to note that I am not very good at what I am about to outline. The process is evolving and needs more work.
Why plan your day?
This should be fairly obvious if you have read my views on week planning. The same reasons apply there so I invite you to re-read that. But, when it comes to daily planning, there is a slightly different aim and so there are some other reasons why it is so important. Firstly, energy levels and other factors come into play for daily planning. When you plan your week, you cannot have perfect foresight so you cannot know that by the time you get to Thursday you are going to be feeling like you’ve been hit by a freight train. When you do daily planning, you can take this into account. Secondly, and this is really key, planning your day is a very good idea for making sure you actually achieve the things that you set out to at the start of the week and can actually keep some kind of a measure on how you are doing. However, I want to stress at this point that most of us, myself included, tend to plan our time with the view that we are Superman and that we will also get green lights all the way. This can be very dangerous for our health if this is our consistent approach as we go through the day feeling behind and stressed, we end the day feeling a failure and our work will be shoddy as we always rush things. The adrenaline makes us feel like we are really busy and have a really high capacity but this is not a good thing. This is where the rubber really hits the road on the title of my blog. EFFECTIVE FAITH. It’s why I prefer the term effectiveness to productivity. A lot of people are very busy, but they are not effective. It is very hard to be effective when we don’t have a plan and when we work in a reactive state rather than a proactive one. We may be getting a lot done, but really we aren’t doing much that is important.
How to plan your day — Set realistic expectations
Disturbances. Distractions. Crises. They happen. Your co-worker empties a waste toner cartridge down the sink as he thinks that’s what needs to be done. (It’s really not!) You get called in to the kitchen as there is a leak, only to discover a vegetable leek sitting on the sink. Your boss drops a massive load of work on you at 3pm. You get the idea. So this means planning needs to be realistic. And it needs to prioritise what is important. So I aim to set myself 2 or 3 objectives for each day. These are the three things for the day that I decide will have the biggest impact of all the things planned for the day. These 3 things must get done and there is very little that will deviate me from this. In order to aid my focus — I do some stuff. Firstly, my objective colour is red. In my task manager, I use a red priority label. Normally, this is the highest. In my daily plan, I make the text red. And in my journal/notebook, I write out my objectives, again in red. This keeps me focussed, or at least that is the idea. Now you may be thinking that three tasks isn’t a great deal. Well, it depends on the task doesn’t it. I work in church management but my involvement goes deeper than this. If I am leading a small group, an objective for the day might be preparing a Bible Study or it might be, preparing a budget presentation or implementing a new building maintenance plan. The idea is that these tasks are big impact. That normally means they require time and focus, but not always. There have been times when my main objective was to buy coffee for the office. Not hard, not time consuming and requires little focus but this can have a massive impact. The year after coffee came to Europe, the reformation happened. (1 Sam 14v29b).
How to plan your day — Manage your time, your attention and your energy
So, we all have 24 hours in the day. See my previous post. But we cannot go all guns blazing for 24 hours. I have read elsewhere that talking about time management is wrong. We cannot control our time as the amount of time we have is fixed. Instead we need to manage our energy and our focus. I understand the principle behind this idea. I think it is right, but I also think it is a little bit pernickety. Though I don’t criticise people for making this point. In reality, we need to work to manage all 3. Time, energy and focus or attention. In practice there are proactive and reactive elements to this. You need to have a plan and you need to be able to adapt that plan on the fly. It is worth working out when you are at your best and brightest and planning to do the difficult things that require more energy or focus at those points or the big impact tasks mentioned above. I tend to schedule a lot of small easy tasks for mid-afternoon or my 3 o’clock slump. We also need to look at our calendar for the day. If we have 5 hours of meetings, that is going to reduce the other tasks we can complete. So don’t bother putting them on the list. All you do is make yourself feel a failure. Depending on the meetings or other things that are happening, you might know that come 4pm though you still have time left in the day, your brain will have been melted and your ability to focus is gone. Maybe, this is a good time for some exercise, or dare I say it, a nap!
So how do I do this. Well, I plan my day in 2 parts. Part one, happens at the end of the day before. I do a quick run through of what is on my calendar tomorrow and the tasks I have previously planned for the day. I also check anything I have not completed from today’s plan. These tasks I reschedule, normally for tomorrow, sometimes later in the week. From this, I do choose my 2 or 3 objectives and mark them as top priority. One of which I choose to be my ‘Daily Highlight’. This is an idea I am experimenting with. I am not sure it will stick. Then, I make sure I have time blocked off on my calendar to complete those tasks. End of Part 1.
Part 2 is the first thing I do the next day. I review my calendar and my objectives, process my e-mail inbox to make sure there is nothing that will take precedence over my plan. Depending on your job, I might advise against doing this, but for me, this is necessary as I am primarily employed to free up other people. Then I select my remaining focus tasks for the day and allocate them to either the morning, the afternoon or the evening. The exact number varies depending on the size of the tasks and what else I have on. This is normally 8–12 tasks. This gives me 10–15 tasks that I have flagged for the day. It is a version of Carl Pullein’s 2+8 prioritisation system.
At this point I will still have some tasks allocated for today that haven’t been flagged. Some of these will be basic tasks that just need to get done but aren’t really that important. For example, I have a daily task to sweep my kitchen floor. Others will be important, but I haven’t flagged them as key for today. What do I do with these? It varies. Sometimes, I leave them on the today list. I’m a little unsure as to how the day will pan out and I might have time for them later on. Sometimes I will reschedule them for another day later in the week. This means that I would still like to do them at some point, but I am content to leave the decision of when to later point in the week. Sometimes, I will remove the date from them completely. This means that I am not going to do them this week and I will pick them up and make a plan for them in my next weekly planning session.
And there you have it. A plan for the day. I want to leave you with words attributed to Mike Tyson. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face!”