In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about maintaining your plan for the day when new demands are placed upon you.
Hello and welcome to episode 29 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
Before we get started, I would like to thank everyone who has supported my Project 1 Million. There has been so much support and I feel deeply grateful to all of you who have helped spread the word about the benefits of getting better organised and becoming more productive. Don’t forget, if you like what you hear in this podcast, please share it with as many people you know. The more people we can help discover better productivity the more people we can help change their lives for the better.
This week I answer a question about the problems we all face every day when despite our best efforts to plan the day and do the work we want to do, something comes up that changes the plan. I don’t think anyone can escape this and I know it can be very frustrating. So in this week’s episode, I thought I could answer the question by sharing my strategies for staying on plan with you.
So, now it is time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:
This weeks question comes from Biraj and Simon who ask: No matter how well planned we are for the day ahead when the day starts a new demand is made that has to be done that day and all our plans have to be changed. Is there anything we can do to stay on plan?
Thanks, guys for your question and I am sure so many of you listeners also have this problem. So, here’s how I deal with this:
The first thing is I never schedule too many tasks for the day. Basically, I set myself two objectives for the day and these can be anything from exercise or preparing this podcast. In fact, as I look at my objectives for today, that is exactly what my two objectives are. To do a minimum of 30 minutes exercise and to get this podcast prepared. Now, as far as my objectives are concerned, I will not go to bed until those two objectives are completed. That is the rule. Of course, if there was an emergency that required all my attention for the day, I am flexible enough to change my objectives, but it would have to be a pretty big emergency for me to change my objectives and I cannot remember when an emergency took me away from completing my objectives.
Today is a busy teaching day for me, so the preparation and notes for this podcast are being prepared either at my desk, while sat on a bus or standing in the subway. The prep notes for this podcast is my objective and I use an app called Ulysses for preparing all my written articles and podcast scripts. Ulysses allows me to write either on my iPad, iPhone or desktop. Basically, I’ve given myself no excuses for not writing. The app is on all my devices and it syncs in real-time through iCloud so as I started writing this on my desktop, when I get to the subway, it will be available on my iPhone to continue writing.
Exercise is a little different. I need to make full use of my calendar with my exercise schedule. So today my original plan was to do a scaled back exercise session at 11AM and head out to teach at 12pm. This meant I could realistically do 30 minutes exercise, have a quick shower, a bite to eat and off to my next teaching appointment. However, I had a cancellation this afternoon, so I rescheduled my exercise session to be done at 4:30pm. I have more time then and can do a longer session without the rush.
The thing is because when I woke this morning, I only had two objectives to complete and I knew no matter what the day threw at me, I would be able to find the time to do those tasks. As usual, my original plan had to be modified, but I only had to modify two objectives, not a long list of to-dos that I hoped to be able to do.
And that is where I think most people have problems. They over commit to tasks. The truth is if you looked at your long list of to-dos you would find only a very few actually must be completed that day. Most of the to-dos on my to-do list are “I hope to do today” tasks and if I am being completely honest with myself, as long as those tasks get done this week I will be fine. I know that Friday afternoon this week is looking quiet for me, and if I need time to catch up with my tasks I could block out Friday afternoon to catch up.
The second list of tasks I have on my to-do list are what I call my “Today’s focus” tasks. These tasks are the priority tasks I have for the day. As a general rule I keep this list to ten tasks or less. I manage this list when I do my Golden 10 in the evening. I look to see what I have planned for tomorrow and if I have more than ten tasks on my Today’s focus list I will remove whatever I have to so there are no more than ten. I also compare this list to my calendar. If I have a day like today, where I will only have a couple of spare hours, I will reduce this list down to around five tasks. I am being realistic here. Just because a task is on your list doesn’t mean you will have time to do it. And I think that is key. You really need to be realistic and try wherever possible to keep the “hope to complete” tasks off your day list. If you have time you can always go to the wish to do lists.
And that brings me to my third list. This list is my next actions list which are all the very next tasks on my projects. Every week, when I do my weekly review, I add the label to the very next action in each of my active projects. This means one task in each of my active projects has a label of next actions. So, each day, if I have completed my objectives and my today’s focus lists, I move into my next actions list and start doing those tasks. The truth is on a week to week basis I really only get to that list maybe twice. It doesn’t really matter too much. If a task is important and needs doing this week, then it will be on my today’s focus list anyway, so nothing is missed.
So the system I have set up is:
First thing in the morning I review my “today’s Objectives” list. This will have the two tasks I must complete that day no matter what. Once I have reviewed that I will usually start on one of them. So this morning, I began writing the script and notes for this podcast at 6:30am while I was on the bus.
The next list I work from is my Today’s Focus list. This list has no more than ten tasks that have a priority and should be done today. It would not be the end of the world if I cannot complete them today, but on the whole, even given a lot of detractions I will get them done before 6pm. I should point out that my two objectives for that day are also on this list. So, my today’s focus list really only has 8 tasks on it.
Finally, if I do have time I will move into my “next actions” list and begin doing as many of the tasks as I can.
This system has allowed me to keep the most important tasks front and centre of my day and also gives me enough flexibility each day to handle any distractions and additional work that must be done that day.
The biggest reason why most people really struggle with this is that they are placing far too many tasks on their daily to-do lists. What you need to do is reduce those daily to-dos down to the essentials. This means you need to get good at deciding which tasks are a priority. I understand this takes practice and time, but it is well worth developing. When you do your Golden ten, the ten minutes at the end of the day when you plan the next day, make sure the tasks you have for tomorrow are important. If they are not, remove them from your daily list. Try to get your daily list down to around ten tasks in total and have a backup list for those days when you complete those ten tasks early. Assign two of those ten tasks as daily objectives and make sure that whatever else happens that day, those two tasks are completed.
Another way to make this work for you is to stop thinking in terms of days, but rather weeks. Instead of seeing a task as having to be completed on a particular day, think of it as a task that needs to be completed this week. I have found this works brilliantly because it allows greater flexibility each day. I often find if I have a meeting or a class cancellation, I can bring forward a task or two from another day that week. It helps lighten my load later in the week. I like to gamify this a little by trying to complete as many tasks as I can early in the week so I can spend Friday afternoon in the park with my little dog. He loves it and I feel fantastic because all the tasks I wanted to complete that week are done and I really enjoy that time the little one and I spend together.
I recently did a video explaining my system and I will put a link to that in the show notes. It shows how I have this set up in my to-do list manager of choice, Todoist and how I use the new pinned favourites feature to really make this workflow work for me.
Before we finish, Just want to let you all know I have a new goal planning course out, The Ultimate Goal Planning Course, and it is a course created to help you to discover what it is you want to achieve and show you, step by step how to make those goals happen. This course has an early-bird discount offer if just $14.99 which will end on Thursday 7th June, so get yourself enrolled before then to take advance of this wonderful offer.
Thank you to Biraj and Simon for the question and thank you all for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, please email me, or DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be delighted to answer your question. All the links are in the show notes.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.