As part of my daily routine, I have a habit of planning my day. It’s a crucial part of how I plan my life and try to ensure optimal performance.
Planning my day is more than looking at my calendar, adding events, and moving things around. In fact, my planning has almost nothing to do with my calendar.
The power of my daily planning is that what I’m really planning is what to do in my work time. Typically we only schedule meetings or blocks of time. By having a queue of tasks, I can spend my time knocking the highest priorities off of my list instead of recalling what I might need to do.
Here’s how I do it.
In a tool called Nozbe, I keep a list of all of the “projects” I’m working on. These projects span my entire life – from enduring family responsibilities to discrete business initiatives. These are the organizational unit within which I categorize everything I might need to do throughout a day.
Projects are not actionable. For example, one of my projects is named “daviddewolf.com.” This project is a placeholder for all of the actions I need to take in order to properly maintain my blog. Another project is named “CEO Value Awards.” This is a program I run at 3Pillar to honor, on an annual basis, the five individuals who I have witnessed living our corporate and cultural values. I add and remove projects occasionally and as needed.
Tasks are discrete pieces of work that I need to complete. I try to keep them scoped to bite sizes that I can complete in some fairly well-defined period of time (let’s say less than 90 minutes).
Tasks are the core unit of work that I use in planning. I also keep them in Nozbe.
During the day, every time something I need to do crosses my mind, I add it to Nozbe. If I get an email that I need to follow up on, I forward it to a special email address that automatically adds it to Nozbe (and I subsequently delete it from my email). Everything I need to do gets added to Nozbe. It is my definitive task list.
I also keep a list of “contexts” in Nozbe. Contexts are situations in which I may want to perform some sort of action. I have one context named “Errands.” This is how I tag anything that requires me to be out and about.
I have another context named “At Computer.” Tasks tagged with it need to be addressed when I’m sitting in front of my laptop.
I also have a context for all of the people I regularly need to discuss something with. That way, when I’m having a weekly meeting with one of my direct reports, I can quickly pull up everything related to them.
Everything that is added to Nozbe gets placed into a special “Inbox” until it is properly processed and categorized into a project.
One of the keys to making sure that I add things to Nozbe regularly is making sure that it is easy. If I forced myself to categorize a task, assign a due date, or properly tag every task, the system would likely be too cumbersome to do on-demand. The inbox catches all of these “immature” tasks and allows me to process them appropriately when I have the time.
Next Actions is a special queue of my priorities for the day. This list cuts across all projects and provides a view of the things I need to get done now. It allows me to manage to a digestible list of to-do items, rather than a daunting list that I never want to look at.
Any tasks that have been assigned due dates will automatically appear in this queue the night before.
I follow a very simple routine for managing my task list.
A staple on my weekly calendar is an appointment that I call “weekly planning.” During this time, I do the following:
- Process any items remaining within the inbox, categorizing them into projects, tagging them with contexts and assigning due dates to any tasks that have a definitive deadline.
- Go through all of my projects and create tasks for everything I can think of that I need to do to move that project along.
- Process those tasks that have been added to my inbox.
- Review those tasks that still remain in “Next Actions” and ensure they still need to be completed.
- Go through my project lists and determine which actions are a priority for the day.
- Review the blocks of time that I have open and ensure that the actions allocated for the day fit within the time I have.
- Prioritize the list of actions.
This process is both simple and effective. The most cumbersome part about it is initiating it, or re-initiating it if I fall out of the habit of following it (vacations are the worst enemy).
By dumping everything into Nozbe, I free up mental cycles during the day and ensure that I don’t forget important to-dos. By spending deliberate time planning what to do with my time, I ensure that I’m working on the most important things for the day.
What do you do to optimize your productivity? How do you ensure that you are effective? Is your process similar? What tools do you use?