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Have you ever heard someone say, “You can get money back with time, but you can’t get time back with money,” or anything that relays a similar message?
Basically, this is saying that if you lose money, you will have a chance to earn it back. However, if you lose an hour, you can’t replace it.
Your time is valuable, which is probably evidenced at the end of those days when you reflect on the last 14 hours and realize you didn’t really get anything accomplished. However, the day is over, and you can’t get it back, so you have to hope to do better tomorrow.
The key to doing better is to develop a time management skill that helps you focus on what's important in your life.
Having good time management skills will help you improve the quality of your work, your ability to practice self-discipline, your decision-making abilities, and increase the number of things you can get accomplished in one day. Knowing how to effectively manage your time can create a cycle that can improve all aspects of your life.
If I don’t take the time to plan out my day and I just try to “wing it,” I always find myself wasting time, whether it’s by getting too caught up in a task that isn’t important or realizing I don’t know where to start, so I try to do too many things at once.
And let me tell you, there are few things as aggravating than feeling like you’re busy running around all day but realizing you’ve actually been completely unproductive.
I have learned that by taking 7 minutes to plan my day, I end up saving so much time in the end–and I reduce the amount of stress and pressure I feel throughout the day to get things finished.
Planning my day also helps me prioritize, as I can easily recognize the tasks I have on deck that actually aren’t that important and won’t end up making it into my schedule. I can prioritize my time so that only the things that really matter can get my attention throughout the day.
In this article, I will help you understand the importance of managing your time, as everyone can benefit from using the finite resource of time more effectively.
I’ll give you a simple, step-by-step plan that you can use to schedule your day to create a balance in your life and find the best use for every minute that you have. By being aware of how you’re using your time, you will leave more of it open to spend on the things that you want to spend it on.
(To learn more about planning your day better, here's an article on how you can set effective daily goals.)
Let’s look at how you can effectively plan your day in just 7 minutes or less…
Step One: Pick Your Tools
Time Required: You only have to do this once, but it may require some trial and error. This step doesn’t count toward the time it will take to perform the daily habit of planning your day.
Before we start talking about how to plan your day, it’s important to mention that you need to have the tools that will make planning the easiest for you. Everyone is different here, so something that you find helpful might not be the right fit for the person across the hall from you in the office. Whatever you find works best for you, you will use this tool to keep track of your scheduled appointments, tasks, goals, important dates, etc.
Depending on which you find to be more helpful and accessible, you can use a digital or physical planner. Some prefer a plain notebook, while others use more elaborate tools.
One tool that I have found to be incredibly useful in helping me manage my tasks is the Todoist app. I’ve found this to be especially helpful because it allows me to collaborate with other members of my team and create step-by-step lists for projects that I am working on in any area of my life.
Personally, I prefer to keep my planning all digital, but some really crave that tangible planner to keep their schedules in order. (Here's our Todoist tutorial to help you get started.) Some also use time management worksheets to make sure you stay on track.
No matter what you find works for you, it will make planning your day a lot easier.
Step Two: List Your Fixed Tasks
Time Required: 1 minute
Before you can add anything to your schedule, you need to block off times for things you can’t change. This includes work, doctor’s appointments, meetings, etc.
When you’re putting these things into your plan for the day, make sure that you account for travel time and any possible buffer time that you may need. If you are going to see that one doctor who is always running an hour late, take that into account.
You also want to list your tasks by priority. Is there a work deadline coming up that you need to meet? Make a list of the most important things you have that need to be done. Doing so helps you prioritize and can also help clear your mind since you won’t have to remember everything you are supposed to do. More on this below.
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Step Three: Identify Your Three Most Important Tasks (MITs)
Time Required: 1 minute
Whether you want to make progress on a project or complete a task, put the three things you absolutely want to accomplish in writing. Then give each goal an estimated time it will take you to complete it.
Trying to set any more than three goals for yourself each day can actually be de-motivating because it will seem overwhelming at the beginning of the day. Pick your top three goals based on the actions that will have the biggest benefit to your long-term goals.
You want to get your most important tasks completed at the beginning of the day, so even if the rest of your day is unproductive, you were still able to do the most important things that day.
Keep in mind that people tend to write long lists of goals because they are scared of forgetting something important. But, since you never know what else will come up throughout the day or how your priorities could change, it’s best to start the day with a limited list of prioritized tasks.
For a bit of inspiration, check out this compilation of priority quotes to help determine yours.
It may also help to plan at the same time each day. This helps you create a daily habit, and this kind of good habit can help keep you on track. Many prefer to do their planning in the morning with their coffee, while others may find themselves more functional the night before.
Step Four: Consider Your Self-Care Activities
Time Required: 1 minute
Do you want to reserve some time for going to the gym tomorrow or maybe having lunch with a friend? Do you like to start (or finish) your day with some quiet meditation? Don’t forget your own needs when planning your day.
Make sure to plan activities that will help you take care of yourself. Without taking proper care of yourself, your work in every other area of your life will suffer.
After finishing this step, you will have identified everything on your radar for the day. You just need to figure out your timing for completing each task.
Step Five: Putting the Puzzle Together
Time Required: 3 minutes
Put your fixed tasks into the time slots that they are already assigned so you can see what times of the day you have a bit more flexibility. You will likely notice that you have some flexibility in the early morning, which is a great time to be productive.
As you progress through the day and your energy is depleted, your motivation follows suit. Try to schedule your most important tasks for the very beginning of the day.
Before planning any task for your day, you have to come up with a rough estimate of how much time it will take. Even if you’re off, you’ll start to get some practice on how to properly manage your time. Once you do this regularly, it will get easier to predict what you can actually accomplish in any specified amount of time.
Aside from setting aside time for self-care every day, you also need to schedule time to spend with your loved ones. It can be easy to let family time fall down on your list of priorities because you probably assume that spending time with your family is something that can always wait until the weekend.
However, weekends quickly come and go and are often filled with various activities outside of the home, which may leave you wondering on Sunday night where all of your “free time” went.
Because family time can easily slip away from you, make sure to spend at least some time with your loved ones every day. This can be as simple as eating dinner together as a family or taking the time to play a board game before bed.
Step Six: Fill in the Gaps
Time Required: 1 minute
If you notice you have a free ten minutes here or an empty half-hour there, fill this space with tasks that need to get done but always end up getting pushed to the side. These are things that aren’t helping you reach an ultimate goal but still need to get completed.
For example, get your oil changed in your car or write a long overdue thank you note. During these small gaps of time, you can actually fit things in that plague you for weeks until you work up the motivation to follow through with them. If you have these things down in writing, you’re more likely to get them over and done with.
There are some tips to keep in mind when planning your day as well.
First, be realistic about the amount of time you have and the number of tasks you’re trying to plan. If you try to do too much, you may either get burnt out or feel a sense of disappointment when you’re not able to cross everything off of your to-do list.
Second, if some of your top three goals are pretty time-consuming, see if you can break them up into smaller tasks. For example, if one of your goals is to clean out the garage, break it down into manageable sections so you can tackle just a bit of it each day. This way, you don’t have to wait for a day; you have three free hours in a row to accomplish this goal.
Additionally, you want to plan in some buffer time to avoid feeling rushed all day. However much time you have to accomplish things on your list, leave a fraction of it as free time for any unexpected disruptions that will come up throughout the day.
And while you will have that buffer time to account for a meeting that is running way past schedule, sometimes you will have to execute your own assertion in ending meetings or appointments that are overflowing into time that you have already scheduled for something else (however, use your discretion to determine when doing this is appropriate).
Finally, keep in mind that sometimes you will have to give yourself a little bit less time than you had probably hoped to get something done that is a time-sensitive priority.
However, keep in mind that if you know ahead of time that you only have two hours to complete a task that you think will take two and a half hours, you can think back to Parkinson’s Law to give you a boost of confidence that you can get anything accomplished when you give yourself healthy time restraints.
Other Tips on How to Plan Your Day
In addition to the list of how to plan your day in 7 minutes, we have a few other tips to keep in mind. When following any of our tips, be sure to take advantage of other tools at your disposal, such as a digital calendar, daily planner template or app, or daily schedule book.
It never hurts to brainstorm a few things when making your list. This can be especially helpful for those times we discussed above when you have gaps you need to fill in your day. You should also jot down tasks you had the previous day that you just didn’t have the time to get to. You can also write down everything you want to do, could do, and should do.
Finding that work-life balance is important when planning your day. Don’t let your tasks become so overwhelming that it causes you to shut down. Make a list of your work life and your home life.
This allows you to see what needs to be done on your to do list in each area and helps you keep your times and dates straight in your daily schedule. A daily planner app can work wonders helping you keep everything organized and encouraging productivity.
Time blocking is a technique you can use to better understand how long it may take to actually complete each task on your daily schedule. This helps with future scheduling and when you find yourself making commitments.
When time blocking during any daily planning session, block off chunks of time each day or week when there are certain activities you want to accomplish. To use time blocking more effectively, prioritize your tasks as we described above and use the process to encourage more efficient time management.
A time block listed with your most essential tasks or even a recurring task each day or week allows maximum productivity and may even allow you to squeeze a few more things in since you have a better idea of how long each specific task will take.
Look at Your Week as a Whole
Finally, when planning your daily schedule, it may help to look at your week as a whole. Maybe your daily morning routine includes a 30 minute exercise each day while you only have a Zoom meeting every other day.
Some of our goals benefit a daily action, while working on others throughout the week can help us keep our momentum and personal productivity up. So, during each daily planning session, see what your week as a whole looks like.
Final Thoughts on How to Plan Your Day
Planning each day will not only help you make the best use of your time, but it will also allow you to modify your goals and priorities as new things arise. (Check out our post on how to create SMART goals for time management.)
It is much easier to predict what is going to happen in three hours than what is going to happen in three days, so breaking down your planning into daily chunks will ensure you that you won’t have to go back and erase several days and start over because something in your life suddenly changed.
I recommend creating your daily plan for the next day at night before going to sleep rather than first thing in the morning. This way, you will know exactly what you need to do as soon as you wake up in the morning, preventing you from having a chunk of time that could go to waste as you’re slowly getting up to create your schedule.
The key to having a productive day is being prepared. Making sure that your priorities are clear every day is the best way to make sure that you are having a successful day. Soon enough, you will begin to see that you do have enough hours in your day to do everything that needs to get accomplished.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.