I find that I get a huge return on investment from spending just a few minutes each morning planning out my work day. Right now, that process takes form in three phases, which I’m calling the Yawn Phase, The Calendar Transfer Phase, and the Task Transfer Phase.
Phase 1: The Yawn Phase
I call this the “Yawn Phase” because that’s what I’m usually doing at this point in the day. Sometimes I’m fired up right when I get into the office, but not always. The Yawn Phase is best thought of as a ritual, a consistent process that I do involving minimal effort and thought, the goal of which is to get my desk looking like this:
In no particular order, I plug in my computer, get a water and a coffee, and start a new daily planner, which literally involves just writing the date and the time on a piece of paper, then numbers down the side representing hours of the day starting with whatever hour I happen to get into the office:
Phase 2: The Calendar Phase.
In Phase 2, I transfer any items from my Outlook calendar into the left column of the page:
I used to do this last, but I’ve realized that it’s important to do this part as early as possible, because it forces me to look at my calendar before I start doing any actual work. I’ve run into situations where I was spending time planning my day, got sidetracked by a task and then suddenly looked at my calendar and realized I had a meeting come up. Not good – planning is important, but actual commitments come first, so the calendar transfer needs to be done as soon as possible.
And it’s super easy – as you can see, I put two (hypothetical) meetings, noting where they are and any other details that might be helpful (ex. internal vs. client facing). All this information is already in Outlook, but the purpose of the calendar isn’t just to remind me of what’s on the agenda, it’s to identify the empty space in my calendar, so I can figure out when I’m going to do the tasks for the day.
Phase 3: The Task Phase.
In Phase 3, I put the tasks for the day in the column on the right:
Where did these tasks come from? Well, for this post I just made them up. And instead of trying to come up with fake names for clients and team members, I just used letters of the alphabet: run a calculation for A, prep forms for B, email C, follow up with D, feedback request for E, and so on. This probably saved me a few minutes, which I promptly lost when I started daydreaming about how funny it would be to work for these guys:
Ha! Little throwback for those of you who aren’t reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom on the regular these days.
In real life, most of the tasks are simply transferred from the previous day. I rarely get everything done, and tasks that aren’t completed are moved over. Other than that, the rest of my tasks come from one place. I know some people like to have their tasks in multiple places, from note pads to post-it notes to apps on their phone. But I’ve found that I need everything to come from one central location. I prefer to put all my eggs in one basket, but just make it a really strong basket: my inbox.
Good or bad, email is the driving force of everything I do at work. I try to touch every email only once and file it when it’s done, getting my inbox down to zero before I close my laptop at the end of the day. This creates a bottleneck, a tiny door through which every task that comes up has to go through, and so I don’t have to worry about things falling through the cracks.
In fact, sometimes I’ll send emails to myself just to make sure that the task eventually flows through the system. For example: let’s say I’m at home, unplugged, playing with the kids when I suddenly remember something I have to do for work. That used to be the worst! I would try to stay engaged with the kids but my mind kept drifting to the task, then I felt guilty about not being present, then I felt guilty about not doing the work.
But now, if I think of a task that needs to be done for work, I just ask myself one simple question: does it need to get done tonight?
I wish the answer was always no. Unfortunately, sometimes there are fire drills at work and things just need to get done. If that’s the case, I do what I can to get the kids down as soon as possible, or (more often) Liz blocks for me while I do the work.
If I decide it doesn’t need to get done tonight… I just send myself an email from my phone.
Done! I know I’ll review emails the next morning first thing when I pull together my tasks for the day. “Home David” has successfully delegated work to “Office David,” and so the task is off “Home David’s” plate. I can unplug again and be present with my family.
It’s a nice feeling to be able to look at everything that’s on your plate in the morning. And as you can see, the Planning Phase doesn’t really require much thinking. It’s just a matter of transferring items from a few different sources to a single page, giving me a snapshot of what needs to be done, all while shaking off the cobwebs and getting in that first sip of coffee.
And we’re going to need that coffee. See those numbers, one through three, to the left of the tasks? Those require a little more thought – we’ll get to that in next week’s post: Prioritizing.
See you then!