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How to Plan Your Day Each Morning

Daily planning is an invaluable time-management tool. A well-organized plan can help you achieve your goals, encourage better habits, improve productivity and reduce stress.

If you struggle to hit your stride, or you often look back at the day and wonder where the time went or what you accomplished, a morning planning habit may be just what you need to get back on track.

Make Planning a Morning Ritual

Planning your day should be as much a part of your morning routine as showering or brushing your teeth. Set aside 15-20 minutes of every morning, before, during or after breakfast to map out your day. If you’re not a morning person, consider planning your day the night before.

Regardless of when you plan, having a clear idea of what your day will look like—in your personal life and your professional life—is a sure way to reduce unnecessary stress.

Beware, setting unrealistic goals can have the opposite effect and may create more stress. Remember, every big goal is a sum of several small goals. Don’t overwhelm yourself, and make sure every item on your daily to-do list is SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. If you’d like to reap the rewards of a well-scheduled day, but you’re not sure where to start, these tips for planning your day will help.

Write it Down

How you choose to format your daily plan should be uniquely suited to your habits and preferences. If you’re old-school and like to see things on paper, buy a calendar or paper day planner, or find a free printable template on Pinterest. If you’re techier, there are plenty of great apps, both free and paid, to help you stay on track.

Jot down all the little tasks you think about throughout the day, too, so you don’t forget to add them to tomorrow’s daily plan. Try to keep your personal and professional goals separate, but track them in the same place, so you have a comprehensive and realistic view of your day.

If you’re using a day planner, draw a line down through the middle of the page, so you have two separate columns. If you’re using an app, you should be able to flag tasks based on category. If not, label tasks as “work” or “personal” in the title.

Focus on the Most Important Things

Your daily plan shouldn’t consist exclusively of priority tasks. If you don’t plan for smaller or less important tasks, you may struggle to find time to fit those tasks into a jam-packed daily plan. Find a way to make the most important tasks stand out, so you can focus on those when something comes up, and you're unexpectedly short on time. 

Colored pens, stickers and sticky notes are all great ways to draw your attention to priority tasks. If you’re working on deadlines, be sure to note them in your daily plan. If you’re overwhelmed, and you have one project due tomorrow and another due next week, you can shift the second one to another day.

Try to schedule your most important tasks for your most productive times. Some people focus best in the morning, while others don’t feel fully alert until the afternoon or evening. Figure out what works best for you.

Use Time Blocking or Batches

Time blocking is important, especially if you don’t work typical 9-5 days. Strike a balance between your professional and personal lives by blocking out parts of your day to focus on specific goals. Mornings may be for self-care and fitness, and afternoons may be set aside for work you need to do for your employer or clients, while evenings may be a good time to work on learning a new career skill or building your business.

This day plan example won’t work for everything—perhaps you work nights at a scheduled job, and afternoons are a better time to work on your projects. Only you know what’ll work in your unique situation. Assess the demands of each area of your life and budget your time accordingly. Block off time for errands and social commitments, too. Keep in mind that your weekends may be structured a little differently than your weekdays. Treat yourself to a few extra hours of sleep or a night out with friends on the weekends if it makes you feel good, but be sure to consider that when you plan your day.

Schedule Breaks and Meals

A busy day is no reason to miss a meal. If you’re pressed for time, opt for nutrient-rich, grab-and-go snacks, and don’t work and snack—meal time is meal time, not multitasking time.

Remove yourself from your workplace and move around a little. Breaks are important, too. In fact, research shows that people who take scheduled breaks throughout the day are more engaged, make fewer mistakes and accomplish more in less time.

Not usually a breakfast person? Learn about the effects of skipping breakfast and the benefits of morning fuel.

Leave Time Slots Open

Expect the unexpected. Your schedule shouldn’t be too inflexible or demanding. Schedule a few hours, and follow with a blank 15-30 minute slot. If you want to spend a few extra minutes on finishing touches or you want to step outside for some fresh air, you should be able to do that without cutting into the time you’ve set aside to work on a particular goal.

In general, you should leave about 10% of your day open. If your scheduled day is about 10 hours long, schedule three hours, leave 30 minutes blank, schedule another three, leave another 30 and so on. Giving yourself some wiggle room will also help you resist working through your scheduled breaks.

Assess Yourself at Night

Assessing your plan is just as important as making the plan. If you’re not sure how to plan your day, don’t shy away from a trial and error approach. Analyze each day individually. Look at your goals and highlight the ones you didn’t meet. Next, try to figure out why you fell short on meeting that particular goal.

It may be helpful to look at trends across multiple days, too. If you’re not meeting your goals because you’re less productive in the few hours leading up to lunchtime, for example, you may want to keep your schedule a little lighter around that time. If you’re meeting all your goals, on the other hand, it’s possible you’ve underestimated yourself, and you may be able to slip in some extra tasks.

A nightly self-assessment is a useful habit to make part of your evening routine. Learn more about creating an evening routine that works for you.

Start Every Day With a Plan

When you start your day with a plan, you can build momentum from the moment you wake up. A morning planning ritual is a great way to capitalize on the early hours, allowing you to set your priorities and make the kind of progress you desire.

These strategies are just a few proven ways to make your planning work for you so you can get the most out of your days.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ucop.edu/local-human-resources/_files/performance-appraisal/How%20to%20write%20SMART%20Goals%20v2.pdf
  2. https://trepo.tuni.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/116445/take_a_break_2017.pdf?sequence=2
  3. https://practicegrowth.com/article/Employee-Break-Benefits 
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0749379705003454 
  5. https://solopreneurdiaries.com/how-to-plan-your-day/
  6. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/how-to-plan-your-day-to-make-it-all-ultra-effective.html

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