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Efficiency Experiment - Week 2. How to plan your day

In our continuing experiment to make James an efficiency ninja, this week we talked about planning out a day on our ruthlessly efficient podcast. Below are some of the ideas we covered in that chat…

Why focus on how to plan your day?

By having a structure and plan for your day, you can build order into the chaos. As we’ll discuss in a future week, poor time management is normally because people underestimate how long something takes and the first stage to fixing that is to build a day that allows for disruption and gets focus on the right things.

Stop Putting Things Off

People put off important things. They say they will do them in the afternoon, but then come the afternoon, they have realised another 100 things have arrived and they cannot get to it. This leads to stress, panic and late-night working. None of those things makes you efficient.

Rushing important tasks leads to mistakes, always. Mistakes lead to doing things a second time, which is the killer of efficiency. Get it right the first time, even if it takes longer.

When planning your day, always put the things that have to get done to the start of the day, even if you are not a morning person. You have to be realistic with planning your work, anything you put off until after lunch runs the risk of getting missed. The morning tasks take longer than you thought, you have a client emergency, you get distracted with a family issue or maybe the product team tells you a deadline is going to be missed and you have to jump on that as the new most important task of the day.

Schedule Tough Jobs Carefully

It’s possible that an important job is also a tough job but often it’s a tough job because its the one you don’t like doing! Tough jobs fall under a number of categories

  • It takes a long time

  • You find the job boring and repetitive

  • You are particularly weak at that task

  • It involves collaborating with someone you don’t like!

  • It’s irregular and you often forget how to do it initially

  • Its something brand new so involves learning before you start

Whatever the reason, unless it's a vital job that you know needs to get done first, you should schedule these tasks for when you are most productive.

So, if you are a morning person, someone that gets up and is immediately ready to take on the world, then crack into the tough job straight away. You’ll be up for the challenge, you’ll feel great about things and once complete that glow of satisfaction will take you through the rest of the day.

However, I know plenty of people that are just not morning people. They might be better by 11 am or straight after lunch, maybe even a night owl. Whatever it is, schedule the brain dead tasks for the morning, the things that you don’t have to think too much about and save the really difficult jobs for the time of day that works best for you.

One bonus idea is scheduling the things you love doing for your unproductive hours, the times when you traditionally struggle. If you do hate mornings, do something you love then and you might find it brightens up your day.

Sorry Dolly, Working Nine-to-Five is Dead

I have talked a lot about mornings, afternoons, lunch, evenings etc… but I’ve specifically avoided mentioning exact times. This is because the single most important way to plan your day efficiently is to work the hours around a schedule that fits your life. Now I appreciate this is not possible for everyone, but with flexible working or people running their own businesses, plenty of people nowadays have the ability to work the hours that fit them.

You need to embrace this, because this makes you mentally stronger at work, better prepared and unbelievably more efficient. James will happily get up and start work at 7 am so that he’s finished at school time, meaning he spends time with the kids a couple of days a week. That incentive gives a person focus and focused people are usually more efficient, they get distracted less.

For me, I’ll often take a couple of hours out of the middle of my day to run, be with the kids, do some non-essential reading or writing. I then spend a couple of hours in the evening working instead, but at a time that works for me. I find breaks like this make me better.

As with all these efficiency ideas, it’s about finding the ones that work for you and making the most of your working week. Please do let me know how you are getting on and if you want to follow our progress on the project, sign up to listen to the Podcast, where we will provide weekly updates or follow us on Facebook or Twitter, where we will be sharing updates every Wednesday.

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