How often do you finish a day and wonder where the time went and what did you actually get done?
Too often, what we’re dictated by what happens to us, e.g. continually checking your inbox and replying to emails to stay on top of them, or work colleagues coming up to your desk asking questions, or if you’re remote, the same requests just through Teams or Slack.
The result of a day like this is you’re often not working on what brings you or your project value, as staying busy means the challenging and valuable tasks are put off or missed and then issues can come thick and fast later in the week or in the project.
How can you best prevent days like these?
You have to plan your day, and it’s not just writing a to-do list as often that’s not enough.
So how do you plan your day?
First, start by writing down the ten things you would like to achieve that day. Not the ten most important things, but a mixture of low, medium and high priority tasks.
Next, mark them with an L for low priority, M for medium and H for high. This step is optional, but it does help when prioritising what you plan to do that day.
Now take your notepad or whatever tool you prefer to use and write the day and date at the top, and down the left-hand side, write down 09.00, 09.30, 10.00 all the way to the last thirty-minute slot of your working day, so if finish at 18.00, your last slot should be 17.30.
Then look at your work diary and add in all of your fixed meetings within the 30-minute slots.
In the gaps left in your day, take your ten or so actions and place them into 30-minute slots.
Make sure you add a lunch break and any other mini-breaks you need.
Now, look at your top ten actions you would ideally like to complete that day and place the most important one (High) when you’re most likely to get it done. Is it first thing, or are you more likely to get it done in the afternoon?
After that, just fill the remaining 30-minute slots with any of your other top 10 actions you can fit in, and don’t worry if they can’t all be planned in; just place the ones with the most value or are time-critical for that day.
Once the day is complete, use a timer to keep you focused. Set it to 30-minutes, and don’t stop your planned work until that timer has ended.
Cross it off, set the timer and move on to the next one.
If you struggle with distracting emails or Teams/Slack messages, plan some 30-minute segments to check your email and direct messages.
An email or message can easily wait an hour, depending on your job.
In that time, just entirely focus on replying to anything needed, then go back to your focused work.
Use this day planner every day, and you’ll soon find yourself ticking off those valuable tasks much quicker, and you can finish up at the end of the day knowing you created value over being busy.