Ten Natural Laws, #5: Daily Planning

John Owens

Ten Natural Laws, #5: Daily Planning Leverages Time Through Increased Focus

I get up on Saturday morning, with nothing definite to do, and like magic, the day evaporates in activity traps like email, crosswords, reading the newspaper and emptying the garbage. Suddenly, it’s 5 o’clock, and time to cook dinner. I wasted my day. Again.

Does this ever happen to you?

There is certainly nothing wrong with being in the moment and enjoying yourself. We all have our favorite activity traps, be it TV or computer games, email, puzzles, shopping, napping, or cleaning. By “activity trap” I mean the stuff that takes up our time that is discretionary and does not lead to greater fulfillment. It may be pleasurable in the moment, but a trap will never get us where we are going in life. And wasted days add up to wasted energy and wasted life.

Some people have a great ability to self-manage. I envy them. They can go through their day from one fulfilling or important maintenance activity to another. They just don’t much get distracted. I can’t do that. I have to make a list and then plan my day around what I choose from my list to get done. Without it, I might open the refrigerator to get my lunch, and eat two hours later because I suddenly saw the need to clean it. And so my important, but not urgent, task of writing today’s blog gets pushed off until tomorrow, or whatever day it is that I get to it. So what is your preferred style of procrastination?

I like to categorize things into Important / Unimportant and Urgent / Not urgent. When looking at my list of To Do Items, I rate each by a two-by-two matrix. Important / Urgent is Priority I. Important / Not Urgent is Priority II. And Unimportant / Urgent is Priority III. Priority IV, Not Urgent / Not Important can usually get scratched off the list, or used to reward myself. We have to do the Priority I items. That’s usually not one we let slip. It is the Priority II items that often make the long-term differences in our lives, like making that appointment for a physical, or losing weight, applying for that job, or making a date with your spouse. Continual failure to complete these tasks serves to hold us in a place of stagnation and misery. Our internal (or external) Saboteurs love to give us plenty of reasons to put Priority II items on the back burner.

Daily planning is the best and surest way I have found to consistently make progress on the items that will make a difference in my professional and personal life. What works best for me is to plan my day’s appointments, tasks and calls the night before. That way I go to bed with my intention set for the following day for what is critical for me to accomplish. I use a form, of my own making, but a store-bought one can work just as well. (I am willing to send you a copy of my Excel-based daily planner if you send me an email, which you can do through my website). This helps me be at choice for what I want to do each day and when I will do it. On the days that I don’t plan things out, well, I can see a huge difference in what I do or don’t get done, and how much fulfillment I feel for the day.

To summarize, here is a method to get more fulfillment out of each day:

  • List your calls, appointments and tasks each day, preferably the night before.
  • Prioritize by importance and urgency.
  • Set an intention and schedule for working on important/not urgent tasks each day.
  • Schedule your day in time slots. Adjust your time slots as necessary when things get off-track. Drop Priority III and IV items as needed, or schedule them for later in the day.
  • Reward yourself with Priority IV items when you meet your goals.
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