Has your day got away from you yet? If so, we’re not surprised. It’s a common complaint and despite people’s best efforts to plan their day ahead, all too often they find themselves overtaken by ‘reactive’ issues or other interruptions. Add these to everything else they’re trying to manage, and it’s no wonder they’re not achieving what they should be.
But don’t call it a day just yet. Because although productivity-thwarting problems will always arise, there’s still plenty of prep you can do before the start of each day so that despite the odd wobble, the wheels won’t come off entirely. We’ve therefore put together our most successful sanity-saving suggestions for ensuring each workday goes more or less according to plan. Ready to rein in the reactivity? Then read on:
1. Manage that mental clutter
Record all your general to-dos, ideas, reminders and more into one easily accessible “brain dump” file. It doesn’t matter whether you use an old-school paper notebook or an app like OneNote or Apple Notes – the key is to free up your brain capacity and reduce your own reactive issues. If you wake up at 2am because you’ve remembered something you need to do, then you haven’t got the right system. However, if you contain all this mental clutter in one place, at the end of each day you can easily assess what still needs to be done and when.
2. Don’t confuse tasks with to-dos
Tasks, to-dos – same thing, right? Think again. Your task list should comprise only what you need to accomplish specifically on that day. In other words, it’s a deadline-driven or time-dependent subset of your more general to-do list. And this is where your calendar comes in: use it to schedule your to-dos into your daily task list as required.
What you should avoid is an endless, psychologically defeating to-do list. Why would you include in your Tuesday task list things that don’t need to be done until Friday? The things you didn’t get to will hang over you unnecessarily all week. If, however, you schedule in only what you need to achieve, and can realistically achieve, each day, you’ll manage to cross everything off your list. And we all know how satisfying that is.
3. Take some time to refocus
As true PEP devotees, you’ll already have absolute clarity on your priorities. So, take a few minutes each afternoon to refocus on the three most important tasks you have planned for the next day. Are you ready to hit the ground running? Sticking to a plan is much easier if you start your day fired up, not faffing about.
4. Worst first
What are you dreading the most? Do that first. It’s a brutal approach, yes – especially for those of us with a chronic predisposition to procrastination – but it’s effective, nevertheless. Imagine the relief you’ll feel after ticking off the most torturous of your daily tasks. Still dragging your heels? Rewards work a treat (literally).
5. Identify a goal for the week
Keep your eyes on the prize: ask yourself what you will feel happiest about accomplishing by the end of the week. Visualize achieving this goal. How fabulous will it feel? Now while you’re feeling suitably motivated, plan out what you need to do each day to get over the line by week’s end. And as noted in our previous point, there’s no harm in planning a reward for your achievement, either. Success, however minor, is never insignificant. Celebrate it.
6. Take your time
And no, we don’t mean taking forever to finish (although remember, there’s always value in taking a breather). This is about allowing yourself a decent stretch of time to focus on your tasks without interruptions. If you can manage thirty or forty minutes without being interrupted, that’s a bonus. Try and schedule in these blocks of focused effort at times when you are least likely to be interrupted or at the times of day when you work best. You can even set a timer if that helps you to stay on track. An awareness of how to manage your time effectively will obviously make a huge difference to your ability not only to plan your day, but to stick to the program, too.
Clear goals. Careful time management. Judicious use of your calendar. You’d be right in thinking that there’s nothing particularly revolutionary in these reminders. The key word here, however, is “reminder” – because no matter how simple these suggestions, they’re all too easy to forget amid daily mayhem. And perhaps the most important piece of planning advice to remember is that to a large extent you do have – wait for it – a choice as to how your day progresses. Yes, really.
People tell us that ‘reactivity’ overtakes what they had planned and that they have no choice but to respond. But in actual fact, a lot of the time they do have a choice. For example, if you had something absolutely essential planned into your day, you would always prioritize that over any random issue that’s arisen. A big part of sticking to your daily plan is recognizing that anything you’ve scheduled that day should, within reason, take precedence over reactive issues. There are very few things that can’t wait.
As the saying goes, tomorrow’s another day. Now, will it go according to plan? Over to you.