Aug 19, 2021

Fool-proof method for a productive day

I’ve written extensively about quarterly planning and breaking down how to plan your weeks for a productive life. Now, I want to discuss in further detail my fool-proof method for planning and executing a productive day’s worth of work.

The required tools

I used to do all of my daily planning entirely on paper in a planner except it became incredibly tedious writing everything out the week before, especially when there were a lot of recurring tasks showing up everyday. 

I then switched to an entirely digital approach using Todoist. This fixed the issue of recurring tasks but now I had the problem of having to use a distracting Internet-connected device to manage my to-do list. Checking my to-do list became as bad a habit as checking social media.

The approach I have settled on now, which I have found to be the best, is using both. Todoist (or some other software equivalent) is great for planning the week because all tasks that need to be recurring automatically populate the days they need to. But at the end of each day, I check the next day’s planned items and time-box them in a paper planner.

The paper planner is what I actually look at during the day and at the end of the day I can check those items off in Todoist so I’m not constantly checking my phone throughout the day. 

Timing your day

The key to a productive day starts the night before. Do you want to get up and start your day super early? Then you better be planning to go to bed super early. Otherwise, you’re just engaging in wishful thinking. Getting crappy sleep is not a long-term solution.

I’m personally fine starting my day around 7 so I plan to be in bed by 11 for 8 hours of rest. Maybe you need more or less but figure out what’s sustainable for you.

Once you know what time you’re going to start your day, plan out your first task. Some people’s morning routines involve meditation or physical exercise and I have experimented with all of that but I strongly advise doing your most important work first.

Fancy drawn out morning routines can bleed into procrastinating the hard, important work that you need to do. Your willpower to get shit done is strongest first thing in the morning. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and chip away at it. Allow yourself 3 to 5 hours of uninterrupted time to work. Crushing the most important thing first will energize you to get through the rest of the day because it’s all downhill from there.

After giving yourself at least 3 hours for the most important thing, time-box the rest of your schedule. Make sure to account for lunch and allow some breathing room throughout the day in case something unexpected comes up.

Some tasks that are included in a productive day’s worth of work for me are reading, writing, and physical exercise. Don’t plan for your productive day to take up more than 12 hours. At the end of the day, time-box your tasks for the next day and leave a few hours for yourself to regroup before getting to bed.