We’re all striving to be more productive in our lives. We only have a limited number of hours each day, and we don’t want to waste our time trying to get things done when we don’t have to. After all, life is here to be enjoyed, too!
That means we need to find helpful techniques that allow us to get our work and chores done – even when we don’t want to – so we can go about the rest of our day having fun with the people we love most.
And one of the best methods that exist is to use planning to map out your time. So, in this article, we are going to explore why planning is crucial for your productivity and give you some useful tips on how to get started.
How does planning help productivity?
If you are a fan of productivity, goal setting, and self-help topics, you have no doubt read countless accounts of people using goals and plans to increase their productivity so they could reach their dreams. And that’s because it works.
Planning helps give you purpose and a roadmap to achieve your goals. In essence, it takes the guesswork out of your work, so you don’t feel like you’re winging it every day.
It also allows you to streamline your daily tasks. Imagine two different scenarios:
In scenario A, you start your day answering and printing emails, followed by research, then going for a meeting in the building across the road, then writing up your research, printing it, and finishing the day by delivering your paper to the building across the road.
In scenario B, you start the day by doing research for today’s topic, then write it up. Next, you answer emails and send both your emails and research paper for printing. Finally you take your paper with you across the road for your meeting and drop it off on the way.
Which sounds better to you?
In scenario A, there is no plan, so you bounce back and forth between different types of tasks, creating more work for yourself. However, in scenario B, creating a plan has allowed you to make a schedule that flows better and creates less resistance, allowing you to do more with your time.
Why your plans fail
Planning sounds great, but that might not be your experience of it. And that’s probably because you’ve fallen into the common trap of not planning intelligently.
Here are some of the main reasons plans fail and how to combat them:
You overestimate your abilities
If you are hoping to go from completing one chore or task a day to ten but struggle to get up and going in the morning, you can’t expect yourself to be able to start just because you’ve decided to.
Slow growth is going to allow you to fulfil your plans much better than an unrealistic plan. And that means creating plans that meet you where you are today. So if your productivity goal is ten tasks a day and you’re barely making one at the moment, start by planning to do two easy tasks each day.
Once doing two tasks becomes easier, you can change your plan to add another task. The most important thing is that your planning considers who you are today and what you are capable of rather than who you want to be in the future.
You take a perfectionist approach
If your plans are detailed to the minute, and you stuff them with absolutely everything you think you should be doing to have a productive day, you’re going to fail. It’s just unsustainable.
Rather than packing your plans with unnecessary tasks that you think you should be doing for productivity’s sake, get specific about what you need to do, and prioritise those activities.
You are unwilling to adapt your plan as you go
Your plans won’t always go to, well…plan. And rather than throwing in the towel, it’s important you are flexible in your approach.
Equally, it’s important to adjust your plans based on your ability. If something is too hard, make it easier, if something is too easy, make it harder. If you no longer find something fulfilling, let it go. And if activities take longer than you thought they would, plan for that extra time.
Flexibility is a crucial part of planning that many people forget, leading their plans to fail.
You haven’t considered how you will measure your success
Having a plan is great, but how will you know you’ve achieved it? Most people use a simple check box, like a to-do list, which while it works in some cases, will not work for every plan you make.
For every plan you make, add a measure to it. For example, if you are a novelist and have decided you want to be productive and plan to get some writing work done, how will you know you’ve achieved your goal? Write a chapter is a poor plan. But write 3000 words about the love story between Sara and Toby is more specific and you’ll know when you’ve achieved it.
You plan too far in advance
Unless you are Mystic Meg, you don’t know what the future holds. And trying to plan for something you have no idea about makes your life much harder. Because if you are trying to control what will happen weeks in advance, you’ll end up sabotaging your productivity today.
When it comes to productivity, sometimes planning just a day or two in advance is much more helpful. You can still have goals for the future without making a plan to get there.
How can you make intelligent plans that boost your productivity?
Now that we know the planning pitfalls that cause you to trip and fail and how to deal with them, what else can you do to optimise your planning and become a productivity powerhouse?
Your day starts the night before
Any good productivity plan starts with the night before. Unless you are someone that can consistently jump out of bed and find the motivation to set everything up for your day ahead (if you are, please teach us your ways!), you need to prepare the night before to make your morning as easy as possible to improve your productivity.
Which is why your productivity plans should include getting clothes and equipment ready and set up the night before to create the path of least resistance in the morning.
Do this every day, and your productivity will increase, leading you to achieve your goals faster.
Focus on systems
Speaking of motivation, a plan on its own won’t work if you don’t adapt it to a system. If you’re tired or in a bad mood, no written plan is going to suddenly get you to work. That’s where systems come in.
What is a system, you might be wondering? Put simply, it’s a set of behaviours you implement routinely to get you working.
For example, a morning routine is an example of a system. It’s a set of activities and behaviours that you use to go from bed to starting your day.
Think about systems you can implement to make your life easier. For example, if you need to answer emails, what activities will help make it easier for you to get started? Add them to your plan.
Eat your frog
A method created by motivational speaker Brian Tracy, and spoken about in depth in his book, ‘Eat That Frog! ‘.
If you put something you’re dreading in your plan towards the end of your day, what do you think will be happening as you try to do other tasks? You’ll be too busy worrying about what is to come that you’ll procrastinate on the tasks before.
That’s why it’s highly recommended to start the day with your most difficult task. Not only will everything else feel easier and more manageable by comparison, but you’ll also gain a significant confidence boost that will be positively reflected in your energy and productivity for the rest of the day.
Not everything we need to do is fun. But if you’re planning your day with only boring activities you don’t enjoy, why would you put yourself through it? It sounds more like torture than trying to improve your time management!
It may seem counter-intuitive but scheduling activities you enjoy throughout the day will ultimately improve your productivity, as you’ll approach your day with a positive mindset and not feel like you’re submitting yourself to a day of misery.
Make planning work for you
Traditional planning might not have worked for you in the past, but when you start bending the “rules” of what it means to have a good plan for both your day and your overarching goals, you’ll hit the sweet-spot that turns your productivity around.
Remember that every person works differently, and be flexible to keep trying different techniques until you find the plan that works for you.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your notebook and start planning for tomorrow!