The power of planning your day

6 strategies to help you plan your day for max productivity and personal well-being

July 14, 2021

When your to-do list is miles long and you’re juggling multiple projects or responsibilities at once it’s only human to feel overwhelmed.

Too many meetings, a never-ending influx of tasks, and “I should be doing more” culture can all create a daunting workload. If you’re remote, that overwhelming feeling is often compounded by a lack of separation between work and life outside of work. Where does your day begin and end when your commute is 10 steps across your apartment? Wake up. Dive right in.

It may sound counterintuitive, but diving headfirst into your work as soon as you sign on or get to the office can actually be counterproductive. In fact, research shows that taking just 10 minutes to plan your day can save you up to 2 hours of wasted time and diffused effort.

Not only is planning helpful in getting work done, it’s essential for preserving your sanity and decreasing stress levels. Rather than throw your energy around indiscriminately from task to task, planning brings a sense of calm and intentionality to the work you do.

For teams, less daily stress ultimately leads to greater impact. Research shows that 41% of people say stress negatively impacts their ability to be productive, which overall leads to $200-300 billion in sunk productivity costs for businesses each year.

The benefits of daily planning

The power of daily planning can help you build up important skills and, over time, create a sense of calm and productivity when you start the day each morning. Here are five notable benefits:

  1. It builds time management skills Daily planning helps you think realistically about your time and understand it as a limited resource. It empowers folks with skills to prioritize and scope their workloads accordingly — and for those of us with a tendency to bite off more than we can chew, it can also help you learn to say “no” or delegate tasks more often.
  2. It boosts focus and productivity Planning daily tasks helps you cut through the noise to bring a few critical tasks into focus each day. It gives a sense of purpose and accomplishment (as you check things off your list) that’s also motivating.
  3. It helps you stay organized, accountable, and sane Becoming a better daily planner will help you keep track of everything on your plate. It makes big projects and daunting workloads feel manageable by breaking things apart into smaller tasks. Starting each day with a planning exercise helps document your process too, so it’s easier to see your progress over time and report upward on your work. Planning also holds you accountable (even more so if you share with your team), since you’re reporting on progress and checking in around goals every day.
  4. It’s good for your health and well-being Daily planning provides stress relief and can help create a sense of calm amid chaos. When you’re less overwhelmed with everything on your plate, you’re more likely to be able to focus and get more done. With daily planning, you can also make it a point to prioritize things outside of work that are important to your overall well-being — like refueling with a healthy lunch, reenergizing with a 30-minute jog, or simply blocking off time each afternoon to reset in your own way. Our brains can’t focus at full capacity without breaks, so prioritizing these things is not only good for your health, it will ultimately help you accomplish more at work each day.
  5. It helps you keep a record to grow and learn from — You can learn a lot about yourself through daily planning, and these learnings will help you work more effectively over time. As humans, we’re not so great at estimating how long things take us — don’t take it personally, this goes for most of us. With daily planning, you’ll have a record of what you set out to accomplish and what you actually did. It’s OK if you don’t get everything done every time. As you go, you’ll learn to scope projects more realistically and create work plans for yourself that maximize productivity and well-being.

Try planning your day with Check-ins

Simple planning and daily updates can level up your standups and keep your team in sync with fewer meetings.

Different planning models to bring your day into focus

There isn’t a one size fits all approach for how you set your daily plan. You’ll want to choose a method that suits you based on how you like to work and what motivates you.

This list is by no means comprehensive but should give you some good ideas to start.

Planning models for focus

Download: Planning Models for Focus

6 strategies to help you plan your day more effectively

1. Find a planning workflow that’s easy to stick to

When things get hectic, daily planning can help. But first you need to build the habit.

Create a ritual for yourself each morning: It takes some effort and intentionality to make daily planning a habit. Start by blocking off a 15-minute time slot on your calendar each morning to set your plan and create an environment that inspires a sense of calm and focus — perhaps you pour a cup of coffee in your favorite mug or cue up some of your favorite morning tunes before sitting down to plan.

Integrate planning with your existing workflow to make it hassle-free: Rather than add another process to the mix, try using the tools already at your disposal for daily planning to make it stick. If your team religiously uses Slack, maybe you draft and share your plan there. If you use many different apps throughout the week to get work done, try using Check-ins to create a daily plan that brings everything together without having to jump between tabs.

Use prompts to simplify things: It’s the beginning of your workday. How do you set a strategic plan in 15 minutes if your coffee hasn’t even kicked in yet? We like using prompts. They give structure and guidance to make it easy to know exactly what to include in your plan each morning. You might try using different prompts to bring different things into focus throughout the week. More on that in the section below.

2. Break apart your week into different focus areas

As you get started with daily planning, it can be helpful to look at your week as a whole and break it apart so you’re not trying to tackle everything at once. This allows you to set achievable goals at the beginning of the week, reflect at the end, and get maximum work done when you’re feeling most productive.

Here’s an example of how that might look, based on ideas shared by a Google staffer a few years back.

Monday Energy levels increase as the week builds, so start the week with low-demand tasks and goal-setting.

  • Schedule your week, organize, complete any admin tasks
  • Set a weekly focus area
  • Review or set goals, objectives, and key metrics

Tuesday and Wednesday — You’ll most likely have peak energy levels, so prioritize doing work over talking about work (i.e. meetings and emails).

  • Write code, work on designs, draft a project proposal
  • Solve problems, hold brainstorming sessions
  • Flag blockers to be discussed in Thursday meetings

Thursday Energy begins to ebb as the weekend approaches, so prioritize meetings and collaboration over heads-down work time.

  • Hold team meetings, 1:1s, etc.
  • Focus on collaboration and consensus-building
  • Run planning sessions for what’s on the docket next week

Friday Energy levels are lowest. Use this day for reflection, relationships, and open-ended projects.

These are just examples, but a good place to start. As you build your planning muscle, you’ll start to figure out what works best for you when creating a daily schedule and weekly schedule.

Tip: Find your peak performance times and protect them. We all experience ebbs and flows in productivity. Your peak performance times are the times of day when you’re at your most productive. To find yours, break a typical day into three to four time slots. Over the course of a week, rank-order these slots from your most to least productive. Once you’ve found your most productive times, schedule protected work blocks to dedicate to your most important projects.

3. Think about daily plans as part of the bigger picture

Connecting your day-to-day work with the bigger goals you're trying to achieve can help create a stronger sense of purpose in your work. It can also help you prioritize tasks — focusing on those that have the greatest impact — and build a sense of accountability as you connect individual goals to team-level OKRs and initiatives.

Use long-term goals to prioritize: Keeping team and long-term goals top-of-mind will help you prioritize your daily work based on impact. For instance, if your long-term goals are “launch Project Mercury,” “build up mentorship skills,” and “run a 10K,” keeping those in focus will make sure to prioritize tasks that relate to those goals as you set your daily plan each morning. Creating daily goals that ladder up into the bigger picture can also help you feel more connected with team initiatives and make your day-to-day work feel more impactful.

Share your plans with the team: Sharing helps build accountability and can make work feel more purpose-driven. When you know the team cares about your work and is following along with progress, you’ll feel more motivated to get it done. Plus, when the whole team can see how you’re moving work from point A to point B, it’s easier to find moments to celebrate each other’s wins and identify opportunities for collaboration.

4. Make daily priorities actionable and achievable

That feeling when you check an item off your to-do list. Is there anything more rewarding?

You can give yourself more of that feeling every day by creating a plan that’s actionable and setting achievable goals. The more actionable your plan, the easier it is to actually make progress on it. The more achievable your goals, the more momentum you’ll be able to build around checking tasks off and getting work done.

Keep it manageable: Your action plan should bring a few key tasks into focus — we recommend focusing on two or three daily priorities as the sweet spot for getting the most done. If you try to tackle too much and keep saying yes to additional tasks, you won’t get anything done at all. If you’re struggling to attain a goal or make progress on a challenging task, try setting a “half-sized” version of that task in your plan instead.

Tip: Create a backlog to stay organized. If you’re not going to get to a task today, you can add it to a list of backlog tasks for later so you’ll remember to come back to it.

Focus on small, specific wins: Small wins help us feel a sense of progress, which has a powerful impact on how we feel and perform at work. Think of it this way: most projects break down into a bunch of smaller todos and processes that are split across roles and teams. So, instead of listing the entire project as the thing you want to get done when planning your day, think about the component tasks you need to complete yourself. Be specific too. Instead of “Focus on hiring” try “Interview 3 iOS engineer candidates.” This level of specificity makes it easier to check things off your list as you accomplish them and highlights your progress and impact more clearly over time.

Outline yesterday’s accomplishments alongside today’s tasks: Reflecting on the progress you made yesterday is another great way to build momentum and a sense of accomplishment to drive your work forward.

5. Prioritize well-being just as much as productivity

It’s not just about pushing for productivity — planning is about prioritizing your health and well-being, too. Planning helps you check in with your energy levels and how you feel each morning so you can create work habits that take care of yourself.

Check in with yourself each morning: Take some time to process how you feel before you log in to work each day. Countless studies have found that emotions like stress and calmness factor into your ability to get things done. Being aware of this from the get-go can help you level set. Be gentle with yourself too. If you have an “off” day, don’t beat yourself up. Be open to sharing with the folks you work with too so they can provide support if needed.

Build in moments to “un-focus”: Our brains can only take so much focus, so taking breaks to reset throughout the day is just as important as carving out protected work time. Try giving yourself 5-10 minutes at the end of every hour to step away and take a breather. Another helpful strategy is to schedule un-focus time on your calendar, like a dedicated time block for lunch (away from your computer), an afternoon meditation, or a 30-minute jog around the neighborhood.

Tip: Look for patterns over time. If you always feel distracted at 3pm, don’t fight it. Instead, use this time to schedule a reset.

6. End your week with reflection

A daily plan won’t go far if you don’t take the time to look back, see how you did, and iterate.

Take some time at the end of each week to reflect on time management, your overall mood, and productivity. You might evaluate how long a task actually took you versus how long you thought it would take. Over time, you’ll become an expert at scoping your work, allotting the necessary time, and working autonomously. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of how you work best and be able to set yourself up for a more productive, balanced, and healthy work week.

Create your own daily plan to bring it all into focus

Taking a few minutes to plan your day each morning can help restore your sense of calm and bring everything into focus.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for how you set your daily plan. You’ll want to choose a method that suits you based on how you like to work and what motivates you. For many teams, Range Check-ins are a good place to start because they make it easy to connect all your tasks in one place, set an actionable plan in just a few minutes, and achieve what you set out to do. (You’ll spend less time copy-pasting updates from tool to tool and more time actually accomplishing your goals.)

Learn more strategies for planning your workday
How to best plan your day for max productivity
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