The Complete Guide to Planning Your Day
Most of us understand the value of planning and preparation. A sports match without a game plan means fumbling on the field. A big event without all the details in place leads to chaos.
We set goals on the order of seasons and years, but it’s what we do each day — the habits we adopt, the tasks we complete, and the things we prioritize — that compound over time into success or failure. A few aimless days each month can help us reset and find balance. But when our days without intention exceed our days with purpose, we end up missing our goals and wondering where all the time went.
The best defense against hectic yet unproductive days is a good offense in the form of a daily planning ritual. This article will walk you through how to plan your days for calmer, more focused productivity that brings you closer to your goals. While planning your day should only take 10-15 minutes, the underlying strategies to meaningfully craft a day with intention are worth exploring in full.
Make regular planning a habit
James Clear, the best-selling author of Atomic Habits, thinks motivation is overrated: “Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits”. Motivation flows from action, not the other way around.
That’s why having a daily planning ritual is so important. Some mornings we feel motivated to seize the day and create a to-do list that reflects our big ambitions. But those days are the exception. We need to get things done even when we wake up tired and disengaged, wanting to return to bed or longing for Friday at 5 PM. Those are the days it’s most important to approach the day with a plan.
Start by setting an alarm for your daily planning session at the same time every day — either during a work shutdown ritual or first thing in the morning. To make building the habit easier, bundle your new daily planning session with an existing habit like drinking your morning coffee or listening to music.
Bundle a daily planning session with an existing habit.
Use a to-do list app like Todoist to set a recurring task to plan your day.
Habits are easier to build when we see the results of our dedication right away. Luckily, planning your day is a habit that pays off immediately. You’ll feel more organized, focused, and motivated with a plan for the hours ahead. Over time, planning your day will become second-nature.
Keep your daily planning habit going on the weekends, even if you’re aiming for a laid back day. Add errands, a movie, or dinner dates to your daily to-do list on a Saturday or Sunday to make real space on your schedule for relaxation, leisure, and side projects.
7 Tips on How to Plan Your Day Effectively
As a time management coach I know that daily planning is key to effective time management. It’s hard to be productive and organised if you feel cluttered and unorganised. Learning how to plan your day helps you make the most of your time and enables you to achieve your most important goals.
Having a clear plan for your day helps you keep on top of your daily to-do’s, ensuring you start and end each day feeling focused and productive. When you feel clear and focused, you have greater direction about what you want to achieve each day.
Introducing daily planning into your morning and evening routine is an easy and productive step to create balance in your life and focus into your daily tasks. Daily planning allows you to schedule your time so you spend more time working on your priorities and less time on everything else.
Having a clear plan for your day ensures you don’t get overwhelmed or distracted with an overloaded to-do list. When you plan every day, you can map out your daily priorities and increase your daily productivity.
Whether your daily planning routine involves a paper planner, a planning app, or a simple post-it note, learning how to plan your day for success will transform how you manage your time.
In this article, I’ll share seven tips on how to plan your day effectively. Learning how to plan your day means being intentional about your daily to-do’s, so you always take action on your biggest priorities.
6. Stick with your daily plan
When planning your day, ensure your daily plan is something you can stick to. There is no point in having a daily plan that you can’t achieve. To ensure your daily to-do’s are completed, don’t include too many items or include items on your plan that you simply can’t achieve that day.
Planning your day effectively means achieving the things you set out to achieve each day. When you achieve everything on your daily plan you feel confident and accomplished. When you don’t achieve your daily to-do’s you can feel stressed and guilty.
Plan your day in such a way that you can stick to the items on your to-do list. You may have to course correct it during the day. But, as long as you achieve your most important work, it will feel like you had a successful day.
Plan Buffer Times
One of the advantages of planning your day is that it takes away a lot of stress because you’ll know exactly when you’ll do what and that you’ve thought of everything. On the other hand, overplanning every minute of every day can have the opposite effect because you run into the risk of always being behind schedule.
To avoid this beginner planning trap, you need to account for buffer times in your day! The truth is, we’ll simply never be able to perfectly estimate the time it will take to complete a task and avoid all interruptions and distractions. That’s why it’s so important to give yourself some leeway in the day. Here are a few ideas you can do:
- Add an extra 15–30 minutes to every meeting to account for getting ready, wrapping up, and questions or chit-chat before and after. Bonus Tip: Make 30-minute meetings your default; that way, even if it runs over, and you have a quick coffee with someone after, you’ll be back at your desk within an hour.
- Work in sprint working sessions of 25 minutes, also called Pomodoros. That way, you automatically account for a five-minute break in between tasks where you can go to the toilet, get a coffee, or check your email.
- Generously account for daily habits like commuting and getting ready in the morning, especially if you live with other people. There is nothing worse than rushing in the mornings!
- Keep the last hour of your workday completely free to be able to catch up on your schedule and wrap things up.
- Regularly review your schedule and adapt your time blocks based on reality. There is a fine line between knowing where you need to implement better strategies to be more productive (e.g. keep yourself from checking emails constantly, designing no-interruption times, and running meetings efficiently) and where you need to simply account for more buffer times in your day.
I worked with a client once who was building his coaching business on the side of his day job. He had created a great weekly schedule for himself which included daily writing for his blog before work and one hour after work where he had assigned different time blocks for each day (working on his website, reaching out to prospects, promoting his blog posts, etc.).
In theory, his weekly schedule was great, but in reality, he could never stick to it. Because of the nature of his day job, unexpected things kept coming up and he had to stay late at work. As a result, he regularly missed his side business time blocks and was constantly running behind schedule.
In our coaching call, I asked him, “How often do unexpected things come up in your job in the last few weeks?” Turns out, he had to work late on average twice per week consistently for the past two months. But because he was unable to predict when it would happen, he had not accounted for it in his weekly schedule. After our session, he changed his weekly schedule and planned for the unpredictable; he deliberately kept two evenings free per week. Now he actually gets the things done he planned for. And if he ends up having more time to work on his business, it is bonus time! This makes all the difference to how he feels about his progress and productivity.