How I get things done with my simple daily planning habit

People often comment on my ability to get stuff done and ask me how I do it without completely stressing out.

To be honest, I don’t always feel I am as much in control of things as people perceive and am probably more like that metaphor of a swan gracefully gliding across the water, whilst furiously paddling beneath the surface!

But I do have a pretty simple day-to-day system for working through tasks, which stems from a daily planning habit.

Each morning before I start work (or last thing the day before), I spend about ten or fifteen minutes planning my day ensuring I’m spending my time on the most important things.

It’s very difficult to quantify the difference, but over the last couple of years that I’ve developed this habit, I feel a marked improvement in my productivity levels and job satisfaction.

Before purposefully planning, I used to just keep stuff in my head or respond to whatever issue popped up and shouted loudest. I definitely feel I drifted and often got frustrated when I was trying to multi-task to do so many things during the day that I ended up getting nothing done.

I’m not going to say things are perfect, but daily planning has definitely made a vast improvement.

My simple planning process

So here’s how I plan my days. Before we start though, please remember that different approaches work for different people. This is what works for me, but I suggest taking the bits you think would be useful and adapting them to your own needs.

I use two tools for my planning.

The first is Trello, which I use to capture and prioritise all the things I need to do. One Trello board is enough to capture all the things going on in my life, but to make things easier, I use the filter feature to categorise my tasks and keep to just four columns:

  • Goals
  • To Do
  • Doing
  • Done

Trello columns

The other tool I use is my Moleskin notebook (yes I am notebook snob and yes I prefer grids to lines 🙂 ).

My notebook is where I plan my day and make a record of any important points or ideas before I forget them.

I always use a fresh page for my daily plan and at the top of the page I write the date (especially useful for when I’m searching back through my notebook for an important meeting note).

Next I review the tasks captured in my Trello board and select two or three MITs (Most Important Tasks) to write down for my day. These tend to be a mixture of the ‘Important, Urgent’ and ‘Important, Non Urgent’ things that I need to do to make progress.

Ideally I’ll work on these first thing, whilst I’m feeling fresh.

Sometimes I’ll include some smaller admin-type tasks to look at during the afternoon.

Next I’ll check my calendar and make a note of any meetings or other types of events planned. For each event I’ll write the start time, location, the subject of the meeting and outcome I want to achieve from it.

That’s it.

The rest of the page (and subsequent pages if needed), is used for notes and ideas.


Building in daily habits

One thing I don’t capture in my planning are the positive daily habits that I’m trying to develop. Essentially these are repeatable tasks, which would be better suited to some sort of checklist (either paper or an app), so I can monitor how well I’m doing.

Out of the habits I’ve identified, the one I struggle with most is writing 1000 words a day; something that will really help me with my long-term publishing goal.

Perhaps I should include the habits I want to adopt into my daily plan? This is definitely something to think about as I iterate the process.

Your challenge

If you are not yet in the habit of planning your day, I highly recommend you try doing it for a month and see how you get on.

Feel free to print out the following template and use it as a reminder on your desk to do your planning before the day carries you away.

Daily planning template

Good luck 🙂