Two Secrets to Having the Most Productive Day Ever

Everyone needs a plan. Last month, I talked about going on a 5-day analog challenge to see how productive we can be when pushed to relying (mostly) on a paper-based planner and the Evernote Moleskine journal for both meeting notes as well as next actions. The results of that week were memorable and today I’m going to share with you my biggest lesson learned: the benefits of creating a plan at the end and beginning of each day.

Every evening before you leave work for the day, I recommend that you start a new note in your Evernote Tasks notebook, your Springpad Tasks notebook, a new page in your Moleskine, or how ever you would do it in your task management app and call it “[Insert Tomorrow’s Date] Things to Accomplish”. Then, in the body of the note, I want you to write down 3 things that must absolutely go right for you tomorrow. How would you know that? There are two ways I’ll describe.

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What absolutely must go right?

First, what didn’t you get done today? What should have you accomplished but didn’t get done. I’m not talking about run of the mill tasks; I’m specifically referencing an action item that must get done in order for you to feel successful. Next, scan through your master inventory of next action items and put one or two of those down as well. (Of course, if you don’t have a master inventory, aka a “brain dump” or “laundry list” of tasks, you might want to take a moment to do that!) If you still need one more to add to the list of three, scan through all of your projects and determine what, if anything, you can carry over to the list that must get done in order to advance your project. Once you’ve done this, skip a couple of lines down and write or paste other action items that you’d want to get accomplished if you still have time.

Is your calendar in order?

How will you know if you still have time? Your calendar. It’s what David Allen in Getting Things Done, calls “the hard lanscape”. That’s the second way to better understanding whether you’ll succeed in your plan for the day. One of the other benefits to the paper calendar was that I felt (rightfully so or not) that if I could literally touch my calendar, I was more in control of my week (yes, I know; I can touch the screen on my tablet, but to me, it’s not the same!). Scan through your list of appointments for that day. Do you have back-to-back conference calls? Do you have three customer meetings? Do you have a doctor’s appointment and have to drive the kids to dance class after school? What ever you have going on during your day must be balanced against what you have identified as Things I Have to Accomplish. Perhaps it would be nice to do your entire presentation from start to finish, but can that be done in the hours you have during the day? Understanding this will allow you to better ascertain whether you’re going to be successful tomorrow or not.

At the end of your day, look back at your list and do it again. What did you accomplish? What did you set out to do but did not? Be proud of yourself for those things that went right and perhaps even jot down what didn’t go well and why. You will undoubtedly learn a bit more about how your mind really works when pushed to this challenge as well. I can tell you this, the explorer that goes to sea without a plan is one who likely never returns!

Your Next Actions: How tough will it be for you to integrate this into your own workflow? If you already do this, what challenges do you run up against? Let us know in the comments below!

About Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a productivity coach, keynote speaker, author, and podcaster. He is most well known for his eBooks, Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, Simplify your Life with Springpad, and Make it Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook. Daniel is also the co-host of the GTD® Virtual Study Group podcast.