A Relaxed Version of Discipline
I’m not the most disciplined guy. Like a lot of people, I get motivated to be more productive. But I don’t always follow through over the long-term. For whatever reason, I just don’t stick to a day-to-day routine. It doesn’t work for me. I feel like a rigid schedule kills my creativity.
But I like mapping things out sometimes. I’m not all-or-nothing when it comes to planning. One of my redeeming qualities is that I keep the things I create. If I put time into planning something, I don’t throw it away. The upside is that I can revisit my plans. I keep coming back to one specific set of plans: my ideal, awesome workday checklist.
About once a week I plan my next day, a little over 20% of the time. In a given year, that’s over 10.5 weeks worth of planned workdays. There’s no way that I would stick to a fixed schedule for two and half consecutive months. I would quit. But because I revisit my awesome day on a weekly basis, I don’t get bored and I’m able to be consistent over time. It’s a nice balance between structure and flexibility.
Influence Over Routine
It’s easy to stick to a to-do list for a day. It gives you direction and keeps you on track. And I’m happy to say goodbye to it the next day. I enjoy the freedom to establish priorities on a day-to-day basis without planning ahead. The slack and wiggle room allows for inspiration; crucial for a creative professional. Inspiration is perishable and doesn’t have much to do with planning.
What feels most important to pursue right now? The answer changes on a daily basis. It just depends on what’s happening and what needs my attention. The structure of my planned day still impacts my routine, even though I might be winging it. There’s a long-term influence without becoming overbearing. My unplanned days are definitely affected by following a plan at least once a week.
Scheduling An Awesome Day
I like scheduling Mondays. I usually start my week Sunday night with a little next-day planning. I don’t plan the entire week, just Monday. I prefer to hit the ground running in the morning. Experts say that Tuesdays are the most productive work day. I think that’s because people use half of Monday to get their bearings. By planning on Sunday night, I feel like I give myself a little head start for the week.
Besides personal preference, why only plan one day rather than the whole week? People are awful at estimating time (true for tasks that take as little as an hour or two). When you start stacking up the inaccuracies of guessing time, you can be off by days in a single week. Why bother planning with that much error? I’d rather just plan a single day, get moving and make adjustments as they’re needed.
Checks Instead of Blocks
I have detailed plans for an awesome workday but they’re not time-based. I use a checklist rather than a calendar. I’ve tried calendar programs for time management. But I’ve found that it’s way too likely that things will drift off schedule. Most of the time, it isn’t important how long something takes as long as it’s in the right order. So I focus on the order rather than the time of day.
My favorite tool for this is my ColorNote app. I list my to-do items in order, the most important coming first at the top of the list. I include everything that I consider important in an ideal day. Reminding myself to drink water, eat right, walk the dog and exercise are all included with my business items. After all, it’s an ideal awesome day, it should include all the good stuff.
I won’t win any productivity awards (if that’s a thing) but at least I have a practice that works. I give myself limited structure that allows room for freedom and creativity. I recommend taking some time to plan your ideal, awesome day. It has an immediate benefit the next day and over time keeps you on track, focused and more efficient.