Helpful Tips For Planning Your Work Day
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Why Planning is Important
Planning can make or break your productivity for the day. As a freelancer, there’s nobody to tell you how you should be spending your day or what tasks need to be taken care of. What you decide to work on is entirely up to you (one of the perks of being your own boss), and it’s important that you try your best to stay organized. Being unorganized can lead to one of two feelings:
- Overwhelmed because there’s so much stuff you need to work on but you don’t know what to get started with. You spend so much time jumping between tasks and worrying about what to work on that you end up not getting anything significant done.
- Bored because you have no projects going on and you don’t think you have anything to do (I’m gonna tell you right now, as a freelancer you always have something you can work on).
Poor organization can lead to a wasted day of doing a whole lot of nothing. It’s important to take time to plan out what tasks you need to work on and how you want to spend your time completing them. I’ve spent the last several years honing my planning routine, and have tried several different planning methods until I found the one that works best for me. What works for me may not work for you, but in case it does, I felt it was beneficial to write an article discussing my planning process.
First off, I want to say that planning routines are entirely subjective. It’s good to always try different things and find what method works best for you. It’s also good to note that planning routines tend to change and evolve over time. There have been times where I thought I had finally figured out my perfect planning routine, and then ended up changing it a few months down the road. Although I love how productive my current planning regiment has made me, I have no doubt that it’s going to change in some way or another over the next few years.
Type it Up or Write it Down?
There are many different calendaring and to-do list apps created to help people be more productive. These apps can be accessed from anywhere and can send reminders for you to finish tasks you’ve been meaning to work on. Although these apps work great for some people, I’ve never been too productive with them. I’ve tried Trello, Google Calendar, and virtual to-do lists, but always find myself snoozing reminders, or forgetting to log-on to review my task lists. Having a physical planner, though, has worked wonders for me. Even as I type this article, I have my planner open to today’s date with all of the tasks listed out that I need to work on today.
There’s something about physically writing down the goals I need to work on that turns them into a greater commitment for me. I’ve found that writing down my goals with a small box next to each one to check-off as they are completed offers a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that keeps me wanting to do more. A talented motion designer by the name of Andrew Vucko created a stunning motion design piece that discusses why writing down goals builds stronger commitments (linked below).
In his video, Vucko talks about a concept called “stream of consciousness writing,” or a “brain dump.” Basically, it means transferring knowledge from your brain onto a piece of paper. By clearing your brain of the various tasks and ideas cluttering your thoughts, you’re able to find “pure focus” as Vucko puts it — the ability to focus on one thing at a time. This way, your brain can spend more time thinking about solutions instead of spending time remembering what tasks need to be done. When you put a pen to paper, you let all of your thoughts flow onto the sheet so that it becomes the paper’s project to remember what you need to work on that day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written down tasks in the morning and then completely forgotten about them until later in the day when I reviewed my planner. Physically writing down my goals has made me significantly more productive.
As for the type of planner I use, I’ve been using an “At-a-Glance” planner for the last 6 years and have no plans to stop using it. It’s an inexpensive and fantastic planner that breaks down each day into hourly segments. When I first picked up the planner, I tried using it the way the publisher intended it to be used. I filled out what I planned to do by the hour, and then reviewed the planner occasionally throughout the day to see what I needed to work on. However, I found that I kept feeling overwhelmed by all of the things I needed to get done. I’ve since customized my planner and tweaked my planning method to create a system that has so far been working incredibly well for me:
I start my morning with 20 minutes of meditation to focus myself and collect my thoughts. During this time, I’ll often listen to calming music like Album Leaf along with some background ambience from Rainymood.com. Other things may work better to calm you, but this works wonders for me. I set a timer for 20 minutes and turn off all monitors and devices to avoid distractions. I then proceed to think about what tasks need to be accomplished for the day while I meditate to the soothing sounds filling my headphones.
While I’m meditating, I write down all of the goals that pop into my head. I draw a line down the center of each day in my planner, and write down ideas in one of the two columns. The right column is for my random tasks that need to be accomplished for the day. There’s no organization to these goals, and it doesn’t matter how important or trivial they may seem. Whether it’s finishing a project or flossing my teeth, it goes in the planner. I also place a small, empty box next to each goal so I can enjoy that oh-so-sweet rush of euphoria that comes with checking off a task I’ve just finished.
The left column is more organized. Based on the goals I have listed on the right column, I structure my day by the hour and fit in tasks where I feel I can accomplish them. After my 20 minutes of meditation are over, I turn off my music and dive into my work day.
In addition to the goals I create each day, I’ve found that creating a larger, weekly goals list is helpful for building my daily task list. I like to spend about an hour planning out my week and structuring my schedule so I know exactly what I want to accomplish going into the new work week.
As I mentioned before, the planning method that works for me may not work for you, but I encourage you to find a planning method that best suits your needs. It may take some time to lock down a structure that you love and works on a consistent basis, but taking the time to work toward a productive planning method is a great way to increase how much you can accomplish on a daily basis.
TLDR: Planning can make or break your productivity as a freelancer. Try finding a planning strategy that works best for you to help you stay organized and efficient. Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “Give me 6 hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening my axe.” Proper planning and preparation helps lead to better experiences as a freelancer.