The Daily Planner
The day is the most atomic part of your action plan. Everything you do happens during the day. Your day is the time when you live your life, which is why its passage is palpable. That’s because days turn into nights, and everything repeats again and again and again. It’s one of the clearest cycles in our lives, so spending your day efficiently and effectively is of paramount importance.
Also, another critical reason to manage your day properly is that your day is the arena in which one of the most important aspects of your character plays out: your habits.
What are habits? Habits are activities or tasks that you’ve done so many times, in the same way, and at the same time, that your brain has learned them so perfectly that it can drive you to do them without you even thinking about them. That’s an excellent thing because if you had to think and ponder over every single activity in your day, you wouldn’t have the brainpower to do anything.
That’s because life is full of mundane activities you must do to survive. Think about eating, showering, getting dressed. Yes, you make choices and decisions in those spaces, but the execution is all on autopilot. You may choose a pair of underwear and socks that match your shoes, but when was the last time you paused and thought about how to put them on? You didn’t, yet somehow, every day you are wearing underwear and socks. (Hopefully!)
Habits are why you always seem to choose the same parking spot when you go to the grocery store or the same seat when you go to a lecture. They’re the reason why you always shower by washing your right shoulder first and work your way down from there, or why you always tie your left shoe first. These are patterns, and you rarely need to think about how to perform them. You’ve made a decision once, and it worked, so your brain recorded it as such.
Habits are beneficial because they allow us to save our mental energy for things that are far more complex and require us to think and make difficult decisions. But here’s the good news: you can train yourself to put anything into a systematic pattern, not just the things that are necessities.
For example, waking up early in the morning and exercising could be a new habit. That means that you need to create the right cues and cravings for the habit to develop and then execute it so many times that your brain records it as a pattern, or, as it’s known scientifically, a habit loop. Soon, it’s no longer a push (as in, you must push yourself to do it). Instead, it becomes a pull (as in, it’s pulling you to do it).
In the realm of goal accomplishment, this is a great opportunity because the more tasks you can put on autopilot, the faster you will accomplish the underlying goals. On the other hand, understanding habits and how they work will also reveal bad habits.
A bad habit is something you also do on autopilot, but it’s not good for you. Most of the time, you won’t acknowledge that it’s not right for you. Take watching TV for hours on end: you may argue that it’s a relaxing activity after a long day. It might be, but is it a thoughtful, deliberate action that has a clear outcome that helps with your goals, or is it something that pulls you in like a magnet, and you just can’t resist it?
Another great example is smoking. I daresay that every smoker knows deep down that smoking cannot possibly be good for their bodies, yet they are unable to quit it. The same goes for over-drinking or drug abuse.
Those are habits that destroy the body and often have permanently damaging effects.
By taking the time to look at what habits you want to add to your life and what habits you want to abolish, you create a superior framework for your day. This framework started with your annual, monthly, and weekly plans, where you already decided on several habits you wanted to implement and others you wanted to stop. During your daily planner, you will now set up those habits’ trackers.
We often use the words routine and habit interchangeably, but I will refer to a routine as a set of habits in this context. So, a group of repeated activities performed at a certain interval and for a set period constitutes a routine. Here’s an example of such a morning routine:
- Wake up
- Wash up and brush your teeth
- Meditate for 10 minutes
- Write in your gratitude journal for 10 minutes
- Change into exercise clothes
- Do a workout for 30 minutes
- Write 500 words for the book you’re working on
- Prepare & eat breakfast
- Drive to work
That is an example of a morning routine that could take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2 hours. It could be shorter, and it could be longer. The point here is to remember the 3 Ms:
You have to move your body, align your mind, and move the needle on your goals or the most important task of the day. By stacking habits together to form routines, you generate a daily pattern. As you repeat this pattern over and over, you condition your body and mind to accept this new norm. That becomes your new morning. The more you get used to it, the better it feels. Eventually, you will even crave it.
Soon, being unable to perform it due to unexpected events becomes painful. That’s the place where you want to be. You need to feel pain when you don’t do it.
Planning Your Day
The daily planner splits your day into chunks of thirty minutes. That’s enough granularity for most people, and the planner is designed so that if you have multiple items happening within the span of 30 minutes, there’s enough space to document it.
Your day begins with your wake-up time, and the first thing you’ll design will be your morning routine. Most days, this routine will repeat itself because, as we established, the idea is to turn it into a habit.
What comes after your morning routine depends on your situation. Let’s say you work a 9-to-5 job. If that’s the case, you will use the planner for the period between 9 am and 5 pm to plan your work tasks. Remember, you are working on a holistic plan here. Everything in your life is a part of it. Your work at your job is also included, especially since it takes up a considerable chunk of your day.
After your workday ends, you still have your evening routine to plan. That might involve time with your family, dinner, relaxation, sex, and so on. Most importantly, your evening routine should include a time slot for your daily review and planning the following day. Fifteen minutes should be more than enough for that.
Besides your hour-by-hour plan, your daily sheet should include bullet points for the most important tasks of the day as well as habit tracking.
Unlike the monthly and weekly planners, your Daily Planning Sheet is designed to travel with you and serve as a reminder for your plans. That is why it needs to be in your vicinity at all times. You should be able to check or cross things off and make notes or adjustments. It’s a live document for that day, and it also serves as the primary source for your daily review.
When Should You Plan Your Day?
You will do your daily planning in two independent steps:
1 During your weekly planning. As you do your weekly plan, you will fill up your days with the things you anticipate will happen during the week. You design your days according to your Ideal Day template, mixed with the events already in your calendar. Remember that you have your personal schedule, family calendar, and work calendar mixed together. You plan your week and, thus, your days around those existing items.
2 The day before. Right before one day ends, you must plan the following day. Using the information from your weekly planner, you can now craft your actual day with the most up-to-date information. You’ll notice that many times your “ideal” day might not be relevant anymore. That’s why you need to plan the night before because you have all the information you need for the next day.
As you progress through the week, keep an eye on the different tasks you have pushed forward or postponed. If you weren’t able to accomplish something on Monday, can you do it on Tuesday? Basically, your daily plan will include all the information you have up to date so that your plan for the next day is as relevant as it can be.
Every day, you should have a tiny reset moment split into two parts:
1 Your daily administrative reset. This represents a set of activities designed to reset your physical spaces back to their neutral state. At your job, it’s tidying up your desk before you go home; in your car, it’s cleaning up any garbage; at home, it’s putting your laundry in the laundry basket. It’s a combination of all the little things you can do to maintain your physical space in good condition and ready for the following day.
2 Your daily mental reset. This is the time of the day when you disconnect physically and mentally. It can be as short as ten to fifteen minutes or as long as one hour. For example, a twenty-minute walk after lunch while listening to a podcast, a forty-five-minute workout at the gym, or ten minutes of watching funny videos followed by a ten-minute meditation. In other words, it’s deliberate disengagement, which allows your brain to rest and recharge. Done daily, this will increase your energy and capacity throughout your day and help you to avoid burnout.
Plan Your Day
To get started with daily planning, download the associated worksheet from the link below. Print enough of them to last you for the current week. It’s probably a good idea to have a small binder to accumulate these worksheets in as the days go by. Insert them between the weekly plan and weekly review. Later, you can reference them as needed when you are looking for patterns of behavior.
Once you are okay with moving forward, head on to learn about the Daily Review.
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