There is nothing more frustrating than a long day of unorganized work. It gets even more disheartening when all the effort you put in barely translates to tangible results.
You try looking for productivity tips on the internet, but they somehow do not seem to work for you. Do you know why? That’s because your circumstances, mindset, and working style are different from any other person. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily yield the same results for you.
So, how do you fix your daily schedule to make progress towards your goals without tiring yourself out? It’s simple. All you need is a productivity plan tailored for you.
And, guess who can prepare that? You’re right – it’s you!
That’s exactly what you will learn to do from this article – create a productivity plan suitable for your needs, designed by you yourself. After all, you know yourself the best.
I have worked for over 14 hours a day for years. Once I put together a plan to organize my time, the difference was crystal clear. Today, I work fewer hours and get more done because my effort goes towards the right tasks alone.
What is a productivity plan?
The definition of a productivity plan lies in the name itself. It is a plan to make yourself productive by focusing on the right tasks that matter to you and your goals.
You cannot download a blueprint from a self-improvement guru, follow it to the dot and expect results. You need to create a plan to achieve your goal given your style and situation.
You will go through a 6 step procedure to identify your opportunities and fix the problems you have. Sure, you will have to put an effort up front, but the benefits will last for years to come.
Don’t try to rush through the process for the heck of it. Aim on getting a robust plan which delivers solid results even if requires you to spend time thinking, experimenting, analyzing, and improvising.
The 6 step process to create your productivity plan
So, without any further delay let’s begin. You can use a pen and paper or open a document on your computer.
Step 1: Identify focus areas
Start with listing down the important tasks or projects you want to put time, energy, and effort on. You can jot down:
- Your goals
- Your important responsibilities
- Your interests
Here are some of my goals:
- Write books and articles which help provide great value to the readers
- Keep gaining knowledge from books, articles, and courses to improve my skills
- Maintain a strong bond with my partner
- Eat healthy and workout 5 days a week
- Increase my annual income to X
List 10 to 20 such goals you’re aiming for. Take your time and write down everything that comes to your mind, even if it seems silly.
Once you feel you’ve listed most of your targets, group them into 5 or 6 major focus areas. Not all the items you listed need to fit in. You can skip some of the lesser important goals.
Do not worry about the logic behind segregating the focus areas. Divide them based on your perspective and what feels right to you.
Your best friend might list ‘Career’ as one single focus area that includes growth at work and finances. You might divide ‘Career growth’ and ‘Finances’ as two individual focus areas. That’s normal because the two of you don’t think alike.
Based on your thoughts, finalize 5 or 6 different aspects of life that are most important to you. You should stop at 6 because aiming for too many targets leads to dilution of focus.
Here are my top 6 core areas.
- Career Growth
- Relationship with my partner
- Building businesses
I do not have a specific order of priority, but if you want to rate one higher than the other, please do so. We’re building a productivity plan for you, remember? So tweak the process any which way you wish.
If my list wasn’t an indicator enough, I want to mention that I am a career-oriented person. You do not have to think like I do or focus on areas I have. If you want to travel, pursue a hobby or socialize more with your friends’ circle, your list should look totally different than mine.
Useful resources for this step:
Step 2: Your obstacles
So, you now have a list of 5-6 items. As the next step, note down all the challenges you’re facing with spending time on those core focus areas.
What’s stopping you from giving those top categories the attention they deserve? Write down any obstacle, no matter how big or small.
Here are some examples:
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of time
Be honest with yourself while you come up with this list. Admitting your faults isn’t a pleasant experience even if no one is watching. Therefore, your mind will feel the urge to fabricate reasons to justify your poor behavior.
For example, you believe you’re unable to save money because you have too many expenses. But if you look deeper, your notice you’re spending a ton of money on unnecessary items that you can avoid.
Make sure you’re not lying to yourself to explain your poor habits.
I believed I was not able to spend time on my core areas because of two reasons:
- I did not have enough time to work on my goals
- I faced distractions like constant emails and texts which prevented working in a flow
Useful resources for this step:
Step 3: Track your time
Most people assume they know what they’re spending their time on. If you’re one of them, why don’t your test that theory? When you track it down, you’ll know for yourself if your assumption and reality are in line or two polar opposites.
The first time I performed this step, I was shell shocked to see how much of my time was going on random tasks and distractions. I was spending hours on tasks nowhere related to my goals.
The activity is simple. You’ll have to track your entire day from the moment you wake up till the time you go to bed in slots of 15 minutes. The sheet below breaks the entire day into such slots. You can either print the file to list down your activity or use an excel sheet.
You must perform the exercise for at least 2 days. Try to pick days that have a different schedule in comparison. For example, I write a blog post on Monday and Friday. So my schedule for those two days looks nothing like that of other weekdays.
Based on your profession, choose 2 appropriate days to perform the activity. You can extend it for more days for better accuracy.
4 out of 5 people who read this article will skip this activity or perform it half-heartedly. But, you’ll know the real picture only when you note down where you’re spending your time.
Again, make sure you’re honest about your time tracking. If you spent 10 minutes browsing through Instagram stories followed by reading an email for 5 minutes, don’t mention that slot as ‘work’. You’re performing the activity to help you understand how much time are you leaking and on what.
If your tracking isn’t solid, you’ll fail to create an effective productivity routine. You can’t build a skyscraper based on a flimsy foundation, can you?
Useful resources for this step:
Step 4: Analyze the information
Total up the time you’re spending on different activities. Group them down into categories like work, responsibilities, chores, meetings, commute, and so on. Divide based on what feels right because no hard and fast rules exist.
Once that you have real data about how you’re spending time, evaluate if your assumed obstacles from Step 2 are the real culprits.
I had assumed I did not have enough time. The truth was, I was focusing on too many different goals to find success. As a result, my time was scattered and I was paying mediocre attention to all my targets. Have you seen a hunter shooting randomly hoping one would hit the prey? Maybe not, but that’s how I was.
Are your challenges to spending time on your core areas what you assumed or is your time going on needless activities? Once you track your time, more often than not, you will realize that you are wasting your time on completely different tasks.
Identify your biggest time hoggers and ask yourself if they need such focus and energy. You’ll also notice some activities taking way more time than expected or needed. Think of ways to cut them short.
Identify if distractions such as social media, Netflix, news, or breaks are eating up your time. Think of creative solutions to prevent yourself from overindulging in such distractions. You can lock your phone inside a drawer while working or start Netflix only after 8 pm.
No matter what activities you’re wasting time on, once you identify them, you can think of a solution with ease. It isn’t rocket science.
Useful resources for this step:
Step 5: Reconsider your day
Now that you’ve had a reality check of how you’re spending your time, reconsider your daily schedule.
Are you spending way too much time on one or two areas? Which among your core areas is the most neglected? Have you maintained a reasonable overall balance?
“What’s the right breakdown for each area?” you ask. Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for you. Only you can decide what’s best for you.
For example, I set aside 5 hours a week for working out. That’s good enough for my fitness goals. Can an athlete achieve his targets with the same amount of exercise? Of course not.
Based on where you’re at and what you want to achieve, allow enough time for each of the focus areas. Aim to nip time off needless activities and channel more energy towards what matters to you.
- If you want to quit your job and start a business, are you spending enough hours each week on planning and execution?
- If you want to improve your relationship with your partner, are you giving it time and attention?
- If you want to save more money each month, are you tracking your expenses and cutting down needless costs?
- If you want to lose weight, does your schedule include 3-4 sessions of exercise a week?
Two useful resources for scheduling time for the right activities:
Step 6: Experiment, improvise and re-iterate
Once you make a plan to change your daily schedule, do not expect to magically transform into a productive demigod immediately. You’ll have to experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. What seems amazing on paper can turn impractical to execute.
So keep your plan flexible to find a routine that works for you. Approach your productivity plan like the visual shown below.
Identify the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Try different techniques to reach a schedule that you’re comfortable sticking to for the long term. If you struggle to get the routine right initially, that’s normal. What would be unusual is if you transform altogether overnight.
Do not try to go all guns blazing or expect drastic changes right away. If you aim for too much too soon, you’ll fail at your attempts, end up disappointed and give up early.
If your current schedule is a mess, start by targeting one or two of your core focus areas. Keep the others aside for a while. Once you’re accustomed to giving a couple of areas the necessary attention, add one more. Incrementally build-up, slow and steady, one step at a time.
It took me about 3 months of repeated changes to arrive at a schedule was sustainable and progressing in the right direction
Do I consider my current productivity plan impeccable? Not at all. But it is good enough to make progress on all spheres of life that I consider important for myself.
In real life, what you want vs what you get will never strike a perfect balance. Sometimes you’ll not get enough for your efforts and at times you’ll receive more than you deserve. So do not worry about reaching the flawless productivity plan. Make a sensible compromise that delivers enough results without draining you out.
Useful resources for this step:
- How to improve 1% at a time with the Marginal Gains technique
- The Habit Loop – The science behind habit formation
There you are. You have learned how to build a productivity plan to change your style of working and inch closer to the results you desire.
After reading this, you might feel like, “I need to create a productivity plan, no doubt. I’ll do that sometime in the future.”
Don’t be that lazy person. If you procrastinate today, you’ll forget about the activity tomorrow. Follow the steps and work on your productivity plan as soon as possible, if not right now. Unutilized knowledge is as good as useless.
Most of the people who read this post won’t put it into action. Will you?
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.