Yet another goes by. Your day seems wasted even though you were at work.
You find your dreams at the same place, your targets at the same place and yourself at the same place. The only thing that moved forward was time.
Is this the story of your life? Though you intend to achieve more each day, you seldom manage to do so. You got caught up in routine, small talk, Netflix, Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook. As a result, you fail to make time for your own passion, dreams, and goals.
If your day goes by on autopilot from one task to another, you have to start structuring your day better. You do not lack the time or the motivation to pursue your dreams. All you lack is a plan to make your day as a stepping stone towards your dream life.
- 7 Steps on how to plan and structure your day
7 Steps on how to plan and structure your day
These 7 activities can help you approach your day with the intention of a warrior. You should aim to slay your day or in other words, make the most of it.
1. Spend 15 min planning
The most essential element which people miss is working on a plan for the day. You might assume your to-do list does this job for you. Unfortunately, a to-do list turns into an enemy on most days.
When your to-do list grows in size over time, you do not know which tasks are important, which tasks need action today or which tasks should you work on if you have an hour to spare.
No doubt a to-do list is necessary to keep a tab on things to do. But it is by no means a plan for the day. You need a plan which is more deliberate than that. If you spend 15 minutes a day, you can structure your day for maximum effectiveness.
Preferably, you should plan for 15 minutes first thing each morning or very early in your day. During these 15 minutes, plan your day on 2 aspects:
- What can you do today to make progress towards your long term goals and dreams? Write down 2-3 tasks based on the time you have at your disposal to spend on long term goals.
- What are the urgent tasks you have to work on today? These include tasks that involve deadlines, your full-time job, and those where people are waiting for you.
An example of my plan for today:
- Write an article for the blog for 3 hours
- Write 1 Quora answer
- Spend 30 minutes on a course/book on writing
- Spend 30 minutes on a course/book on blogging
- Prepare the report on workload estimation
As you can see, a majority except for the last item, none of the others involve a deadline. Yet, making daily progress on long term goals has led me from a point where I wanted to create my own blog to the point where I really have a blog with a lot of articles. If I did not spend time planning and making time for it, I would not be writing this article right now. Instead, I might have been working on an urgent task.
2. Use a notepad to write down your plan for the day
Though many of my targets for the day repeat every single day, I still write them down every day. After I complete each task, I add a tick mark on the task to indicate completion.
Writing your goals down creates the magic of getting things done. No matter how close apps like Evernote come to real pen and paper, you cannot compare the dopamine rush you receive when you complete a task on pen and paper.
Your to-do list app on your phone cannot produce the same feeling. I am not asking you to stop using to-do lists. They are essential in helping you keep a tab on tasks over the long run. However, looking at a to-do list can distribute your focus in all possible directions on a given day.
When you have a long list of tasks on your to-do list, you face decision paralysis on which task to pick. Planning your day early and writing it down on a notepad helps you streamline your focus like a vulture who has set its eyes on the target. Be like the vulture who cannot be stopped from slaying the target.
Once you have written down the things to focus on today, keep the notepad around you with the page open on your work desk. Do not leave the notepad closed or out of sight. The more the notepad lies within your line of sight, the more determined you will be to complete the tasks listed. The written list serves as a reminder at any point.
3. Do some progress on your long term goals and dreams
Most people fight a battle between working a full-time job and working on their dream job. For example, a person working as a full-time business analyst might love a career in baking. The problem is, the full-time job wins the battle and kills the area of passion for most people.
A countless number of people have given up what they excel at and what they love doing. In exchange, they work at a job which provides money and sucks the life out of them. If you float in the same boat, you might have given up on your dream because you have a full-time job which takes your time.
But it does not have to be one or the other. You can have a full-time job and make progress on your passion on a daily basis.
Everyone has at least one hour to spare which can be used to work on what you love. Yes, every single person. The question is, will you use the spare one hour to work on your passion or watch Netflix/Youtube, scroll social media news feed or laugh at text messages sent by an unknown friend in a Whatsapp group.
4. Spend 30 min – 1 hour a day learning
When was the last time you read a book or took up a course to learn? Most people end their deliberate learning in college. While you might continue to learn while you work at a job, such a form of learning is passive.
Passive learning is where learning is a byproduct of doing a task. Active learning is when you spend time to sit down and improve a certain skill. Reading a book, taking up a course, talking to an expert for advice are different forms of active learning.
Active learning strengthens your fundamentals, improves your knowledge and hones your skills.
For example, a basketball player will learn to hit the basket better with more hours played. In addition, if the player also reads about techniques used by former legends or meets them for advise, his speed of learning skyrockets.
In your case, if your heart lies in programming but you work as a full-time business analyst, learn programming on your own. You can read books, take online courses, attend events and build expertise.
Your job does not have to be the only place you build your skills. Most successful people find opportunities to learn at every step. Your hunger for learning can lead you to gain mastery over the skill.
I know many experts who are self-taught and did not have a job in that role. They read and learned, found a way to practice themselves and grew amazing at it. Such skills can even bag you a role in the area of your passion. Better still, you might find an opportunity to start up a venture in the same area.
Having a job that does not help your dreams is not a reason to ignore your passion. You have plenty of time to grow better at what you love even with a full-time job.
5. Batch your routine tasks together
You and I have tasks to complete which we hate doing. Life is not a fairytale where you only work on things you love. Sometimes you have accounts to look after, bills to take care of, reports to send, and mails to reply to. Even if you hate such tasks like an unmotivated employee hates Mondays, you have no choice but to work on them.
Group all such tasks together and finish them one after another. Do not leave one for the morning, one for an hour later, two for the evening and one before bed. When you leave a task unfinished, your mind creates an open loop. This open-loop creates a discomfort where you know you have pending work. The discomfort worsens when the task involves something you hate.
You are better off batching such tasks together and knocking them off one after another. Ripping the bandage off in one go turns less painful than trying to peel it off little by little.
6. Work in time slots
Do you go by your day taking it as it comes or do you have a plan for the day? For example, the first approach involves arriving at work and going by things ad-hoc based on emails, deadlines, queries from people, phone calls, chats, etc.
Such an approach forces you to work on one urgent job after another. If you follow this approach you will not find time to improve your skills, learn from courses/books or work on your dream. These ad-hoc tasks eat up all your time. If at all you manage to learn/read or work on your passion, such occurrence happens once in a blue moon.
Structure your day such that you divide your day into slots. You need not have slots for the whole day but make sure you have slots for working on your long term goals.
For example, I have a 30 min slot for learning blogging, 30-minute slot for learning writing, 1-hour slot in the morning for writing and so on. Every day I follow the same slot. These slots ensure I make continuous progress towards my goals.
I do have my ad-hoc work hours too where I work based on the need of the hour.
7. Have a planned end of day time
Do not work on and on until your brain fades into energy levels of a runner who just finished a marathon. Working long hours can harm you if you use long hours to overcome your problem of distracted work.
For example, if you stay up until 1 AM to finish your work but spent 1-hour gossiping after lunch, you are being plain stupid. Yet, many people in the corporates do exactly that. Do not consider long working long hours as a feather in the cap if you are wasting time between those hours.
Optimize your day for results and efficiency. Find ways to do things faster, better and smoother.
When you set up an end-time for your workday, you force yourself to complete work faster. Your brain springs into action to find ways to make it happen. If you allow yourself as many hours as needed, your brain works as per the Parkinson’s Law. As per the law, the brain uses all the time available to get the work done instead of getting it done the quickest. Only if you force yourself to do things better and faster, will your brain improve.
You might like the thought of taking life as it comes but you must know that it saps valuable time and energy from you. Change that by working on a plan for the day. You do not have to prepare a plan for the day as complex as a plan for infiltrating the White House.
All you need is to spend 15 minutes a day. During those minutes, decide what are the few important things you need to focus on today which will take you one step closer to your happy place.
You can spend all 1440 minutes in a day without a plan thereby wasting half the time. or you can spend 15 minutes of planning to turn the remaining 1425 minutes in your day productive and satisfying. The choice is yours.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.