I wake up without an alarm.
Feel lethargic and tired.
Pick up my phone, open Twitter.
Doom-scroll through image-crafting snippets of life advice, benign wisdom and appeals to buy 20 dollar eBooks.
Finally, haul myself out of bed for my morning ablutions.
Get to the office, open the laptop and dither online, reading emails and vacuous news.
Start work, but question my priorities – what’s on the agenda today – what’s important – any deadlines?
This is how many of us live; one moment to the next, with no idea what we’re doing next, what’s important or even what we’re working towards.
I’ve traditionally been a terrible planner, so have recently attempted to mend my ways.
Considering the importance of planning for personal and professional competence, it’s surprising that many of us have no idea how to operate efficiently.
In our defence – time management and personal productivity are seldom taught in school. Yet they arguably underpin any successful endeavour.
When I place more attention on time management and daily planning, I arguably experience increased output and personal satisfaction.
And although the literature regarding the efficacy of time management techniques is mixed, the subjective sense of autonomy and control pays dividends.
There are two types of time management involved in any process – a static overarching productivity framework, followed by small daily disciplines in preparing for tomorrow.
An overarching, ideally unchanging framework is essential so to cultivate habits and routines:
What are you working towards? When we’re unsure of our overarching aims, it’s easy to become directionless. Life planning is the foundation of the process. If our primary goal is to write a novel, daily writing time must be budgeted. Likewise for any other goals.
Document each activity in your diary and assign set start and end times. Setting a fixed daily wake up time allows you to stick to your predetermined slots.
Schedule your main key performance indicator first thing every morning. My morning routine prioritises writing as my first activity after waking, when my energy and creativity are highest.
Preparing for tomorrow
Once you have a static productivity system, it still requires ongoing daily maintenance, which is where many people trip and stumble.
The primary problem with last-minute preparation is time lost to excessive decision making, rather than conscious, premeditated action.
Therefore, the best plans start before they’re needed – in our case, the day before.
Preparing for tomorrow means distilling your framework into its composite activities and organising the exact actions needed ahead of time.
It’s a step that pays off in everything from personal projects to professional activities and even eating habits (think meal preparation.)
As an example, I know from my productivity process that writing is scheduled after waking. But what article will I write?
Initial confusion results in wasted creative time merely picking a good topic.
In contrast, proper preparation the previous day allows an immediate start and increased output.
From my framework, I know what time my working day is scheduled to start. However, that knowledge means nothing without a more detailed plan of action.
There are infinite daily to-do’s that might demand attention.
Just before the close of play, list the three most important activities to perform the following day.
Ideally, try to complete these tasks first thing before you’re derailed by competing distractions like email and meetings.
- Is your workout gear washed and ready to go?
- Is your exercise watch charged?
- Do you know what workout you’re doing the next day – weights or cardio?
Eliminate decision time by sticking to your plan.
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Many people spend significant time pondering their productivity frameworks, but neglect the daily work required to keep them well-oiled and functioning smoothly – myself included!
Taking time the day before and preparing for tomorrow is a small investment – one that readies us both physically and psychologically for our high leverage habits.
Reflect on your routine, analyse where improvement is required and create a daily plan of action.