Crafting a (doable) daily plan for yourself is a foundational step for overcoming procrastination and executing more.
It’s the difference between someone who is constantly shipping their best work and someone who’s stuck flip-flopping between tasks and never finishing anything.
But while many people understand that a plan is good to have, few take the time to formulate one suited to their specific creative needs. Let alone take into account their particular productivity traps and procrastination tendencies.
But you don’t have to be like everyone else.
If you feel like you’re wasting a lot of time during the day, stuff seems to take forever to do, or you find yourself avoiding unpleasant (but necessary) tasks — then you’re going to love today’s post.
Because we’re going to share with you ten remarkably effective ideas for crafting the perfect daily plan for yourself. And give you some valuable tools to help you focus and execute with more intention.
We are smarter, faster, dimmer, slower, more creative, and less creative in some parts of the day than others.
— Dan Pink
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being more productive.
And while many people will swear by it, it takes more than an infallible morning routine to upgrade how you operate.
However, there is one thing that can help anyone plan a more effective day. And it’s gaining a deeper understanding of yourself.
Self-awareness — coupled with the knowledge that our mood can dictate performance — can give you the insight you need to craft a plan that promotes more peak experiences and meaningful accomplishment throughout your day.
Both of which contribute to your levels of happiness, satisfaction, and sense of well-being.
Given that how you feel has more to do with your productivity than how much time you have, it makes sense to consider the different moods we experience when you’re planning your day.
And as Dan Pink shares in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing — for most of us, mood follows a typical daily pattern: a peak, a trough, and a rebound.
In the mornings, during the peak, most of us excel at Linda problems—analytic work that requires sharpness, vigilance, and focus. Later in the day, during the recovery, most of us do better on coin problems—insight work that requires less inhibition and resolve. (Midday troughs are good for very little).
— Dan Pink
Of course, we don’t all experience a day in precisely the same way.
So it pays to learn more about when you should be doing specific tasks (and outright avoiding others) so that the right things get done at the right time.
Below I share a short exercise to help you figure out your “when to do’s.” Plus nine other ideas that will help you create an optimal environment to produce your best work.
Having explored the science behind our daily patterns, author Dan Pink offers a simple three-step technique — call it the type-task-time method — for deploying that science to guide your daily timing decisions.
In his book, he notes that:
In short, all of us experience the day in three stages—a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order. But about one in four people, those whose genes or age make them night owls, experience the day in something closer to the reverse order—recovery, trough, peak.
Here’s how to figure out which type of person you are and start making better decisions about when you do what:
Step 1: Figure out your chronotype: Determine whether you’re a lark, an owl, or a third bird to see which parts of the day are your peak, trough, and rebound periods.
You can use this free test to help you.
Or simply answer the below three questions — making sure to think about a “free day” where you have no obligation to get up or do anything work-related:
If the midpoint between the time you usually go to sleep and the time you wake is between:
Step 2: Understand your task: Does it involve heads-down analysis (e.g., strategizing, outlining, or writing a report) or head-in-the-sky insight (e.g., brainstorming, ideating and creative work)?
Step 3: Select the appropriate time to do the task: Use the guide below to determine when to do what.
The idea is to try and nudge your most important work, which usually requires vigilance and clear thinking, into your peak operating hours. And push your second-most important work into the rebound period.
And, of course, avoid letting mundane tasks creep into your “peak.” It’s better to leave them to the “trough” when your energy and mood are lower.
Doing things for yourself and securing some early wins in your day can do wonders for shifting your mood.
And when we’re in a better mood — we do our best work.
Instant mood boosters like exercise, hydration, and enough sleep are standard practices to include every day.
But past those basic needs — factor in your personal preferences and the activities that you find rejuvenating, challenging, and engaging. And then make a point of prioritizing them throughout your day (not just in the mornings!).
Trialing to-do apps is a toxic productivity trap.
We start out thinking it will make us more effective and end up spiraling into a world of software and subscription decisions that stall our progress.
This is why I recommend you try an analog system instead.
An analog system can help you avoid:
Most importantly — I’ve found it’s the most effective way to stick with your daily plan. It’s hard to ignore something that’s staring you in the face.
I use a system called Personal Kanban — and it’s been a game-changer for me and the way I work. But starting with a simple blank page can be just as powerful (provided you do the work the night before to set your intentions and priorities for the next day.)
Flow is the state of gratification that we enter when we feel completely engaged in what we are doing.
If you enjoy the work despite it being challenging and the world seems to shut off and time passes without you noticing — that’s flow.
As Martin Seligman says, “you go into flow when your highest strengths are deployed to meet the highest challenges that come your way.”
To create more of these peak experiences in your day, you first need to discover your unique set of strengths. So you can make more opportunities to exercise them.
Take this free test to gain insight into what activities will provide you with the most satisfaction and fulfillment.
Do you struggle with too many ideas? Or perhaps you never have any? At least not any that feel good enough to pursue?
When you capture new ideas every day, it becomes a comfortable style of brainstorming (with no strings attached).
It doesn’t matter if your ideas are eye-opening or terrible; you can just relax into the exercise and let your creative thoughts flow. No pressure.
It’s a wonderful exercise to perform during your rebound period — when we’re ripe for some thought exploration.
I started capturing ten ideas a day after reading the book Become an Idea Machine by Claudia Azula Altucher. Not only can it boost your brainstorming, but it provides some excellent jumping-off points, so you never get stuck on the “getting started” part.
As you likely know, the best daily plan is one that you can follow through with. Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing what you say you’ll do.
But unfortunately, we all have tasks that induce procrastination.
For me, it’s the dusty first draft.
But I know I’ll have a better chance of getting it done if I set my 50-minute timer and bang it out. (I also love using digital co-working sessions for these types of tasks, for some added accountability).
The other kind of task I like to place a time limit on is when I can get lost in the love of doing it.
For instance — burrowing down research rabbit holes can wipe out a whole day for me. So if I have a research task on my daily plan, I put some positive constraints around it. That way, I don’t get carried away.
I tend to set 50-minute timers for these tasks too. And reevaluate whether I should keep going when the time is up.
One of the most impactful system upgrades you can make is developing the habit of deciding what to do first — ahead of time.
Taking a moment the night before to set up for the next day can do wonders for limiting indecision and procrastination in the morning.
As we read earlier, you want to take full advantage of your peak periods of the day. And for most of us, that’s going to be before noon.
So knowing what to do first, having made that decision BEFORE the fact, means you’re not relying on your feelings in-the-moment, which makes getting down to the deep work — effortless.
Despite our best efforts, some days just don’t go as planned.
Life happens (and toddlers exist), so it pays to have a system that can help you get back on track.
A few things that might help you get back into focus mode:
If I’m feeling especially overwhelmed by a flood of tasks — I’ll perform a Focus Finder, which is a 50-minute brain dump of everything that’s running through your head; business, life, finances, whatever. And digging into everything you note down until the 50 minutes is up.
Scheduling client calls, email follow-ups, even product launches — can all be made easier with a bit of automation.
Not only can automation save you time, but it reduces any emotional flailing we might experience as a result of a particularly uncomfortable task.
If you can use a piece of technology to make one of your jobs easier or faster to do — it’s worth investigating.
Here is an excellent list of small things to help you get started.
And, of course, you can use a tool like SavvyCal to make scheduling meetings a breeze.
Do you find it hard to stop working? Constantly worrying about whether you’ve done “enough”?
Just as important as how you start your day is how you finish.
Knowing when to shut off at night is essential for
It also allows your mind to recharge and reboot so that new ideas can come to life (plus the energy to act on them.)
Try incorporating a wind-down routine at the end of your workday.
It’s a simple set of steps to tell your brain it’s time to switch off from problem-solving mode and reconnect with your present moment.
My super easy routine is: I “pack up” my office, review my kanban board and set up my tasks for tomorrow. Then refill my water bottle. Making dinner is also a good indicator that my workday has ended. So starting the prep for that is a simple way for me to unplug.
More often than not the main obstacle to taking control of one’s life was that people lacked a plan, a system, or well-thought-out strategies to move forward. They felt trapped with no compass to guide them.
— Rob Hatch, author of “Attention”
When we create a daily plan designed for our specific needs, it prompts us to prepare and act accordingly.
And with powerful habits and personal systems as your foundation, you can create the environment you need to execute, and more importantly — flourish.
Take some time to consider what the perfect day might look like in your world. And then use some of the ideas we talked about today to bring that ideal day to life.
When you can successfully build a foundation for following through with your intentions — it will help you side-step your insecurities, show up confidently for what you want, and have faith in your competence and ability to deliver real results.