TL;DR: Here’s a simple excel template to help you plan your daily routine and (hopefully) increase your productivity.
For the impatient, download the: Daily Planning Template
Daniel Markovitz wrote an interesting article on blogs.HBR.org titled “To-Do Lists Don’t Work”. I agree with Daniel that traditional to-do lists lack “commitment devices” and I’ve definitely felt overwhelmed while staring at a to-do list with 1000+ items. The antidote to this is called “living in your calendar” which means putting everything you need to do in your day onto a calendar format so you can visualize how much time you really have in a given day and to challenge yourself to finish tasks within the time you’ve allotted to them.
The benefit to me is that I feel more comfortable planning my day first, focusing only on the current day’s tasks and then putting myself in “go mode” to just get stuff done. I can fully focus on getting one day’s worth of tasks completed without having to go back to “planning” mode to re-evaluate all the other tasks which are vying for my attention.
The truth is that I ‘m rarely able to fully complete my day as planned (hey, life happens) but I’m WAY more productive when I “live in my calendar” than when I’m ping-ponging between planned and incoming tasks.
In the last couple of months I’ve switched from a fairly complicated GTD setup with recurring reminders, synchronized web and iPhone apps, etc, etc. to a simple task outline on Workflowy which I transfer to a daily excel calendar template (attached below). I’m not sure why I didn’t just use my google calendar – there might be a good reason, I just can’t remember it now! The whole setup is much simpler (almost zero overhead to manage) and I’m now more productive (which is the whole bloody point, init!)
Seeing my todo list as an outline on Workflowy helps me see the forest for the trees and then putting tasks on my calendar helps me be more focused and productive when it’s time to get stuff done. When you’re working off your calendar you’re much more aware of how long tasks are actually taking to get done and although time pressure is typically something that can be a source of stress, setting your own time pressure feels more like a challenge than a burden.
Another interesting finding – the old adage of estimation is very true for me: “When estimating how long something will take to get done – double the estimate and add 50%”. My initial estimate on how long this post would take to write: 30 mins. Time it actually took to write, proofread and publish this article: 1h 27mins (go figure).
Please let me know if it works for you in the comments!