How to Plan Your Day

Knowing how to plan your day makes a massive difference to what you achieve and how you feel about it.

It’s the difference between time invested developing your roles or goals, and time wasted reacting to the distractions, disruptions and deceptions that bombard you.

If you want to make the most of your day, planning it properly is essential.

But how do you do that?

Here are some ideas on how to plan your day at work, at home or when you’re out and about, so that you get to spend more of it doing what matters most...

Know what time you've got

Before you can plan it, you need to know what time you have available.

When planning each day, you need to work around any regular or scheduled activities you have on (events, appointments, meetings etc.)

For example, let’s say you’re at work for eight hours. If you know that five of those hours are accounted for, that leaves you with three hours, right?

Not quite...

Some scheduled events will overrun (more on that below). You also have to factor in food and bathroom breaks (perhaps not at the same time though. One of the best time management strategies is to batch tasks, but that may be taking it too far.

Anyway, these account for, say, another 30 minutes. Now you only have two and a half hours to work on unscheduled tasks and projects.

How do you know what to do?

This is the point at which you really benefit from knowing how to plan your day...

Plan your day before the day itself

This is invariably worth far more than the effort it takes to do -- it’s the ultimate bang for your buck. Your productivity will skyrocket when you do this, and I’m talking about being productive with regards to what matters most, not just to be busy.

Many time management experts advise planning the night before, but I’ve found this way of operating to be partially flawed. You’re relying on your ability to sit down and remember everything that you want to do at a point in the day when you’re probably most tired.

Instead, try this system:

Whenever you get given something to do that doesn’t genuinely merit a same day response, put it on your list for the next day that you think you’ll have some time.

For example;

  • Monday - task or project appears in your life. Write it down in your daily planner under ‘Tuesday’
  • Tuesday - start and/or complete task or project (depending on urgency).

What you’ll end up with is a finite list of things to work on.

But what happens when you know Tuesday will be no good because you’ll have no unscheduled time?

Simple... shunt it to Wednesday, or the next available day you’ll have some time.

Not every day is the same.

Many scheduled tasks and events tend to be organized on a seven day basis, so use a weekly planner to help you decide what to do when.

By the way, any planning is better than none. If there are occasions when you don’t plan until the day itself, it’s still well worth doing. Even scribbling a few things down on some scrap paper provides a sense of purpose that your memory can’t match.

Organize your tasks into your available time

Earlier, I said ‘partially’ because planning the night before does have its uses. Once you know what you have to do, taking a few minutes to organize what to do, when to do it, and for how long, is an essential exercise for knowing how to plan your day.

Using the example above, let’s say you have a list of 11 things to do in your 2.5 hours.

Try time boxing each one of those things. Give each one a chunk of time according to the urgency it warrants (everything matters, otherwise you wouldn’t have written it down). The point is to do something about everything on your list, because it’s all important.

This takes practice and a degree of self-discipline, particularly when you start a task and get into the flow with it.

If you want to keep going with it, you have to decide whether or not it’s worth the cost of the knock-on effect of not doing the other things that have to be done. Sure, they can be shunted over to the next available day; but you’ll end up with less time and more pressure.

Schedule time for your roles, goals and projects

Most days, you get things to do. Organizing when to do something is fairly simple: Do it tomorrow, or on the next available day you can.

But what about those things in your life that won’t get done this week?

It makes sense to schedule your roles, goals and projects in the same way.

Do something about them each day you have some unscheduled time. If you’ve consistently got too many, you won’t give them the attention they deserve; this probably means you need to cut some less important commitments.

If you’re not prepared to do that, you’ll have to schedule them (probably on a weekly basis) if you want to actually do them.

So, going back to the 2.5 hours -- you’ve now got tasks to do, roles to perform, projects to complete and goals to work on.

What you’ve done now is identify everything on your radar. You now know what needs to be done.

And the same principle applies -- do something about everything.

Build in some buffer time

If you want to know how to plan your day, this is one the most important time management strategies you can learn.

Whatever time you have available to get things done, plan to leave a percentage of it as ‘open’ time for the inevitable disruptions that will interrupt your day.

It takes time, trial and error before you get to the point at which you allow the optimum amount of buffer time. Too much means wasted time; too little creates stress and pressure.

When scheduled events overrun

What happens when a meeting or appointment goes on longer than anticipated?

This sort of thing happens all the time. When it does, you have two options:

  1. Cut it short - if you’re willing and able, be the one who draws things to a close. This may mean learning how to be assertive, but it is one of the best ways to do if you want to know how to plan your day effectively.                      
  2. Re-think your plans for the day. If events eat up your buffer time and beyond, you’ll have to use whatever time is left to work on whatever needs doing first. Everything else will have to either be done later, or left until a later date.

How to plan your day: Summary

  • Any planning is better than none.
  • Prepare future lists as you go through each day.
  • Decide how much time to give to each item on your task list based on the time available and urgency of each task.

  • Allow for some buffer time.
  • Make time each week for longer term roles, goals and projects

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