Planning my day in the morning always gives me a good feeling about the time I have available. How to plan your day is something I was taught in school, believe it or not. Or at least: I learned how to plan my way through lessons and homework, even if it was not a subject I had to study for. Actually, side note: they totally should teach planning in secondary school at least. Learning how to spend your time and how to study, is a skill will help you. And I would not be writing this article if I didn’t have some ideas for you on how to make the most of your day. By planning well!
I admit that the first step is probably the hardest. Know yourself, your habits, what you enjoy, the things that excite you, but also the things that you always postpone and hate to do. And are you a morning person, with lots of energy right up until lunch? Or do you slowly gather energy through the day, with a burst of energy at the end of the working day? I am a mix of the two: I like to rise early. That’s why it was easy to decide the dogwalking schedule between me and my guy. I would do the morning walk every day, because I am awake early. I really love the morning walks. But my guy loves to wake up slowly and is slow to rise.
After the walk, I have breakfast and I relax with a bit of reading. Then I have a 2 hour window of high productivity between 10 and 12. I do force myself to be away from my computer when I have lunch. Having lunch at my desk makes me sleepy, believe it or not. So even if I am full of ideas for coding, or designing, I have my lunch away from my desk. Because of that, I am ready to tackle the problems again between 1pm and 3pm, another neat 2-hour window.
Always take breaks to clear your head
Then I take a short break to walk the dog again. And I know that I’ll be mulling over coding problems while walking. I often come up with solutions while walking in the afternoon. So I have my third 2-hour window from 3:30pm till 5.30pm, and this is often my most productive time, because I actually solve the problems I may have created or encountered earlier in the day. I spent the last half hour of my day wrapping things up and making notes for the next day.
Breaking down your tasks
After you have a good idea on how you get through a day, you need to decide what you can do in that time. Most tasks you have lined up are huge and overwhelming, so breaking them down in bite-size bits makes things easier. However … breaking down your big tasks is the hardest thing to do, especially if you are doing something you’ve never done before. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Make the best guess you can and jkust go with it. It’s tempting to spend a lot of time going over your to-do list, but unless it is a task you could already do without breaking it down, you will just have to experience it before you can judge how long each step will take.
For instance, when I code, I never know how long it is going to take me to figure something out. I know I have to write a function that does a certain thing, but unless I have done something similar before, I’ll have to do a lot of testing and trying things out before I get to any solution. And it won’t ever be the best and most concise way to write it from the start. But if I get things working in a reasonable way, I turn to the next step anyway. Sometimes you can go back to a step in your task later and fix things when you have a little time left over.
I am not advocating that you rush through things and do things half-arsed! But use your time wisely and realise when a task can be moved forward.
Tasks and time
Once you have a good idea of the steps in your tasks, you can allot time to it. That’s tricky, too! There is a balance between too little time and too much. Giving yourself too much time (I’ve done that) can be as unhelpful as giving yourself too little time. This still means: know yourself. When I was writing my essays, I knew I had a physical limit on how fast I could write. I can write 250 words in about 45-60 minutes, in both Dutch and English. Don’t ask me to write in German, because it will take me four times longer.
Writing essays of 1000 or 1500 words would, without research and planning, take me 4 to 6 hours at least. And yes, I used that knowledge during my education to get up at 4 in the morning to finish an essay at the last moment, so that I could hand it in at 10am. But knowing this allowed me to plan how much time I had to spend on doing research. If I realised I had enough material to write about, I would use the left-over time set for research to craft a better essay. … Or spend an hour doing something that had nothing to do with my studies, obviously.
Plan in the morning or the evening
When you plan can also be helpful or make things more difficult. I always plan in the morning. I have my coffee, a piece of paper and that I write down what I have to do. There’s usually something left-over from the day before, so I start with that. This works best for me, because once I lose my drive in the evening, I want to relax and forget about what I could not finish. In the morning I use my notes from the end of the day to see where I am. In my day planner sheets, I have room for notes, things to do tomorrow and things happening next week.
It would be easy to make a to-do list in the evening before you go to bed, or at the end of your working day. My notes are close to it and wrapping things up at the end of the day does make it easier to relax and let go. I can see how it would be helpful for some people to plan in the evening. It means you can start your day right away, without having to spend energy on breaking down tasks or thinking how much time you need. Do what feels best for you.
Don’t forget to have fun and relax
Funny how things happen, but as I was writing this, I also was reading an article on perfectionism. I think a lot of people who plan can be perfectionists as wel. Trying to be perfect means you want to optimise the time you spend on things. There are a lot of aspects of perfectionism that I recognise. But I use planning as a way to curb my perfectionism and as a way to get to know my strengths and lesser strengths (weaknesses sounds so depressing). By planning I show myself I also have time to relax and enjoy myself. Planning allows me to be flexible, because I know how I can shift my plans and still finish things I should finish. Planning is not meant to fence you in, it is about freeing yourself.
I finished this on time. Time to get another coffee and then start coding. I am looking forward to a fun and productive day. How do you plan your day?