In Episode 8 of The Better Show, Ian, March, and I explore ways to defeat procrastination and achieve one’s goals. One of the tools that helps me fight procrastination and stay focused on my most important tasks throughout the week is the Productivity Planner by Intelligent Change.
The Productivity Planner is a physical planner for weekly and daily planning that combines the best practices for personal productivity from a variety of notable productivity gurus like Charles Schwab, Benjamin Franklin, and Franklin Covey.
Since adopting the Productivity Planner in 2016, it has become the foundation of my weekly and daily planning routine.
We discuss the Productivity Planner in greater detail in an mini episode of The Better Show podcast that we’re calling The Better Show Bites. We share our experiences with it and I share some of the modifications I’ve made in how I use the Productivity Planner that have made it even more effective for me.
The customizations I’ve made to the Productivity Planner fall into two categories: physical tweaks to the planner itself, and a unique cadence to how I do my planning.
Let’s start with the physical tweaks. The first thing I do at the beginning of the week is to place bookmarks on the page with my Weekly Plan and the page with my Weekly Review.
The reason for the bookmark on the Weekly Plan page is that during the course of a busy week, it’s easy for me to get swept up in the demands of a specific day and lose track of the bigger picture goals for that week. The bookmark on my Weekly Plan page serves as a visual reminder for me to keep my most important goals top-of-mind as I progress through the week. It enables me to quickly flip back to my weekly plan whenever I need to.
While most of my attention is on my plan for that specific day, I find myself referring back to my weekly plan at least once or twice on any given day. The frequency of seeing my weekly goals tends to influence my plan for upcoming days and the result has been that I knock out my most important tasks earlier than I otherwise would.
The Weekly Review page gets its own bookmark for similar reasons. After several months using the planner, I found that I was overlooking small, but significant, wins when trying to reflect back on a busy week. Celebrating my wins is a key part of how I maintain a positive mindset and foster gratitude, so I’ve found it more effective for me to keep track of my wins as they happen rather than try to remember them all at the end of the week.
When I do my end-of-week review, I’m surprised at how often I had forgotten about some of the really good things that happened during the week. This method has helped me maintain positive psychological momentum by keeping those wins fresh. It also helps me stay in the present moment.
The next thing I do is to put a Post-it® note on each day of the upcoming week. This provides a space for me to write down important things ahead of time that I know need to be in my plan for that day. The Post-it® note amounts to a draft version of the plan for that day.
The reason I do this is that there are some things that, while important, cannot be done first — like an important customer meeting scheduled for a Wednesday. Even though I cannot complete those kinds of tasks right away, I want to keep these important things top-of-mind and make space to prepare for them in previous days if needed.
Also, things change during the week. Having a draft of the list of things scheduled for a particular day enables me to adjust my plan for a day as things change. I use the Post-it® notes to capture ideas for a particular day or allocate time slots ahead of time for things I want to get done that day. In my system, a daily plan is not set in stone until the prior evening when I write down the plan for that day. Until then, I have the flexibility to knock out future tasks earlier, if I’m able, or decide that they are not important and cancel them altogether.
I’ve found that having a short, draft list of tasks ahead of time saves me a ton of time each evening when making my plan for the following day. I find that I can knock out my plan for the upcoming day in probably a third of the time it might otherwise take me if I hadn’t already been thinking about what is needed for that day.
My planning cadence
Start on Sunday morning
When I first started using the Productivity Planner, I did my weekly planning early Monday morning. I quickly realized that, for a variety of reasons, Monday was actually too late for me to start my weekly plan. My life gets going very quickly on Monday morning. Regardless of how much earlier I woke up on Monday, I never seemed to be able to carve out enough uninterrupted focus time for proper reflection and preparation for the week ahead.
I now do my weekly reflection and create my plan for the upcoming week on Sunday morning. The reason I do it on Sunday morning is that my Sundays tend to either be busy with personal tasks, chores around the house, exercise, etc. or they are reserved for spending quality time with friends or family.
Planning Sunday morning allows me to get a solid draft of my weekly plan done and then rest my mind for the remainder of the day. I am at my most creative and effective when my mind is at rest, so I often find that during the course of the day on Sunday, I will think of one or two new things that didn’t make it into my draft plan. This allows me to revisit the plan briefly Sunday night before bed, make any adjustments, and then finalize the plan for the week.
Had I waited until Sunday night to begin the planning process, I would likely not have thought of those new ideas until Monday morning when my day and week were already well under way. Then needing to squeeze the new items into the existing plan would throw a wrench into my plan and affect my productivity for that day (and possibly that week).
Knocking out a draft early on Sunday, then setting it aside while I relax and enjoy the day, frees me up to not worry about shifting in to work mode until just before I go to bed on Sunday evening.
Plan one day ahead
The other schedule tweak I make is one I referenced earlier: I use the draft list of tasks on the Post-it® note for the upcoming day to create my plan for that day. As recommended by the folks at Intelligent Change, I do this late in the afternoon or evening of the day prior. Planning the day prior is effective for me for the same reason that doing my weekly plan is more effective on Sunday instead of Monday. Each day gets busy quickly, so it’s tough to carve out enough quality focus time in the morning to complete a daily plan from scratch.
Also, I am most productive and energetic in the mornings. Ideally, I want to start my day by quickly attacking the most important tasks for that day rather than spending that energy on planning.
That’s pretty much it. Other than the few tweaks mentioned here, I adhere to the system laid out by Intelligent Change.