Planning your perfect day

Before I became a full-time writer, I didn’t give much thought to what a realistic day at the office would be for me. I had an idealized image of a writer in my mind — one that included afternoon drinks at the White Horse Tavern with Jack Kerouac and Anais Nin — and most of my wayward fantasies didn’t actually include writing.

Ha ha ha. Ho ho ho. Hee hee hee.

I love my job, but it usually doesn’t include shots of whiskey every afternoon with New York’s (deceased) literati. Mostly, it involves sitting behind a computer for 10 hours a day moving my fingers up and down on a keyboard.

One way that I kept (and continue to keep) 10 hours of typing from being painful is to make sure that I’m involved in its planning.

At the beginning of every day, I set aside five minutes to plan my perfect day. It doesn’t always turn out exactly the way I expected, but it rarely gets completely uprooted. Also, the plan is more about putting anxieties to rest than a rigid to-do list.

How To

  1. Identify the work that has to be completed by the end of the day. What, if you fail to accomplish, will get you fired/stressed/full of anxiety/arrested/etc.?
  2. Identify at least three things you want to do in addition to the must-do items.
  3. Identify any routines that should take place to keep you on track. Is today a laundry day? Is it your night to make dinner?
  4. Estimate length of time to complete all of your must do, want to do, and routine projects.
  5. Write out a plan for your day, where you stagger easy and difficult tasks and schedule the hardest task when you’re the most alert.
  6. Get working.

Example

  • 6:10 a.m. Wake up, drink coffee, eat breakfast, enjoy the silence.
  • 6:30 a.m. Get ready, shower.
  • 7:00 a.m. Go to work.
  • 8:00 a.m. Check in with staff/boss.
  • 8:15 a.m. Plan day, check e-mail, read RSS feeds.
  • 8:30 a.m. Work on difficult projects.
  • 11:30 a.m. Have lunch.
  • 12:30 p.m. Check e-mail.
  • 1:00 p.m. Work on easy projects.
  • 2:30 p.m. Zone out unintentionally, drink coffee.
  • 3:00 p.m. Work on difficult projects.
  • 5:00 p.m. Check e-mail.
  • 5:15 p.m. End of day check-in with staff/boss, file, put materials away, set up desk for next day.
  • 5:30 p.m. Go home.
  • 6:30 p.m. Fix dinner, eat dinner.
  • 7:30 p.m. Daily chores.
  • 8:00 p.m. Help children with homework.
  • 9:00 p.m. Relax, spend time with spouse, be social, read, watch tv, meet a friend for a drink, call mom, work out at gym, and/or do something fun.
  • 11:00 p.m. Bed.

The example schedule isn’t mine (I don’t have kids needing help with homework, and I’m already at my desk writing on my book at 6:30 a.m.), and it probably won’t work for you either, it’s just here to give you an example of how you might schedule your day. The point of the example is to show you how you could keep time from slipping away from you, and make sure that you accomplish what you want to accomplish. Give it a whirl and see how you might plan your perfect day.

29 Comments for “Planning your perfect day”

  1. posted by Sherri (Serene Journey) on

    Erin, this is a great post! I’ve been working off of a daily outline for nearly a year now. I’m a stay at home mom now and in the beginning it was a huge adjustment from going into the office daily. This plan really helps with the question “well now what?” It also adds predictability which is great when you’re a creature of habit like myself.

  2. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    I have not seen it laid out like this before, but it makes such great sense! What a helpful post. I do think that it is difficult to learn how to estimate the times for various tasks, at least for me. If I was to do this (and I am going to give it a whirl at the office), I would have to double all my time estimates, I believe.

    In addition, this suggestion will not work as well for people that have constant interruptions as part of their job or for mothers with small children. I think for those individuals, instead of time mapping, they need to create a list of tasks and have a mind set to just work on them wherever possible, even if they cannot get it all done, just start. Then deal with the interruption, and then begin again on the list. Also, take into consideration all the interruptions you receive so you don’t overschedule yourself. There is nothing worse than not getting to most of your to do list, so don’t set yourself up for failure by putting more down than you can realistically accomplish in a day.

  3. posted by michelle on

    interesting too – i just mapped one for myself and realized how much time i waste throughout the day.

  4. posted by Beth on

    It’s 3:05 – and I am zoning out by reading Unclutterer. Drinking lemonade though!

  5. posted by Tim on

    i attended a franklin covey seminar a couple months ago and got a lot of this same info from there. a little different but the same gist.

    thanks for the reinforcement! great post!

  6. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    I did this for a while but found the level of detail really discouraging.

    Now I use http://www.rememberthemilk.com to have my daily tasks set up in a general order that’d like to do them in, but as long as I get most of them done in a day I’m happy. The trick is to keep returning to the list throughout the day to stay on track.

    It works wonders and allows me to feel unconstrained and able to pick and choose my activities based on my interest of the moment/energy level.

  7. posted by Cliff on

    6:00am, awaken, go back to sleep
    8:45am, awaken again
    10:00am, read the paper, drink coffee
    1:00pm, go to work
    1:30pm, hang out with the hot secretary
    4:00pm, leave work
    4:40pm, eat a nice expensive meal that someone else fixed and paid for
    6:00pm, start reading a novel
    11:00pm, fall asleep at chapter 11

    Ah, the perfect day!

  8. posted by Viv on

    I can’t do much about the interruptions in the middle 5 hours of my work day (I work in a school library) but I set aside an hour at the beginning and end to do stuff from my to-do list. That helps a lot at the end of the day. It’s not a perfect day, but goes a long way toward making it a productive one, and as a previous poster said, to take advantage of energy levels.

    My perfect day would also include a long walk after work, and bed at 10 instead of falling asleep watching TV at 9:45 and then trying to wake up enough to make it to bed.

  9. posted by Suki on

    I tend to make task lists, and work around the interuptions, i.e., “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”.

  10. posted by swishism » start.where.it.seems.hardest on

    [...] a useful post on Erin Dolan’s Unclutterer.com and this one jumped out. Share and [...]

  11. posted by catmom on

    While I may not be able to map out my entire day, this method works especially on weekends. On Saturday, it’s so easy to get horsing around and before I know it, it’s early afternoon before I get started on anything. Certain errands need to get done sooner than later, and those I do as soon as I wake up. I have just started doing this mapping out the day and hope I can keep it up!

  12. posted by Name (required) on

    Good: “stagger easy and difficult tasks and schedule the hardest task when you’re the most alert.”

    Bad: “I’m already at my desk writing on my book at 6:30 a.m.”

    Sorry, friend: I gave up on you there.

  13. posted by frank on

    I like it. It’s leaning a tad towards micromanagement, but sometimes we need some of that to get back on track, esp on days where there’s 17 things that should be done next.
    I really like the time estimate idea – like most guys, I just assume I can complete any task in twenty minutes. And it always takes more than twenty minutes.

  14. posted by Nunya on

    Sorry, my perfect day is one that I do nothing, or only what I WANT to do, whenever I get around to it…not what I HAVE to do.

  15. posted by Aliza G on

    What I do is each night before bed is make a list of what I need to do (on the back of a use envelope) and then highlight in yellow what I absolutely MUST do.
    I group the errands, phone calls and household chores together. Often enough I’ll just get most of it done so I won’t have to write it on the next day’s list!
    I also belong to a “housekeeping challenged” group and often post my to-do list there, with updates throughout the day.

  16. posted by Bob K on

    Love it.

    I’ve gravitated towards using a single unlined 3×5 card to plan my day (other than commitments at specific times of the day).

    I pluck items out of my massive MyLiferganized task list and write them on the 3×5 (portrait mode, not landscape), and cross them off as I get to them.

    If it can’t fit on a 3×5 (portrait, not landscape), it can’t fit into a single day.

  17. posted by Erin on

    Hey Erin thanks for this, I’m printing it. Working at home is such a challenge and it’s so easy to be called to a higher calling….Judge Judy, lunch out with the girls, Oprah etc… I’m going to try it your way.

    Erin

  18. posted by Thom on

    Making detailed lists like this so much fun, and even offers the illusion that all will be possible. Following them in real life can be a whole lot trickier though!

    Personally, I find this form of time management really only works for me when I have a major but contained project to work on in a short time frame (say 24 hours) and need to ration the available time across the component tasks plus fit in a few scheduled commitments. That’s when it’s fantastic to have a list with “time cues” down the side.

  19. posted by eamonireland on

    Wow, this is brilliant. I’ve used it for the past few days. Even though I don’t exactly stick to what I planned I still find I’m way more productive. The most useful post I’ve read in a long time!

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  21. posted by starr on

    ah! yes! this is just what i do when i have a lot of things i need to do. i’ll lay out the order i’m going to do them in — practically eliminates the stress of a busy day (unless i have to go somewhere uncomfortable like a bank or the DMV). i don’t use times because i find them oppressive, and i am willing and delighted to let the unexpected take me off-track. i don’t want to find my list disapproving of me. it’s great when i’m doing something like going to the laundromat (just down the hill so I come home while my stuff is in the machine), baking bread or making something that has to be prepared in stages … i’ll lose a lot of time during the in-between periods if i don’t make a list! i like the part about including three things you want to do. it is easy to forget that it’s OK to schedule in things you want to do — the stuff you schedule doesn’t have to all be “have to”s!

  22. posted by April on

    I am NOT a morning person AT ALL. So in my case, I make this list at night before bed. That way in the morning I can just follow my timeline/to-do list and not think. Even though my alarm goes off at 6 am, I’m not really functional until 8 am, and not really awake until about 10 am.

    Plus making out this list before bed shuts up my brain (I write down everything that needs taking care of, so it gives me permission not to worry about it), which helps me fall asleep sooner. It used to take me nearly an hour to fall asleep, now about 20-30 minutes.

  23. posted by Anne on

    I have been using this method religiously during my school days and once university life began, it was difficult to have a daily plan as such but I now see how this method applies even for adults and it sure does help keep us in perspective of our lives and not let it slip with being idle and unproductive. Well maybe I just got fed up being overly self disciplined but I know because just being that way resulted in achieving excellence in school and activities. Thanks for the reminder!! And its never to late!!

  24. posted by Michelle on

    Any ideas for teachers or people who have prescribed days and very limited time to complete all of the necessary tasks to be successful (ie phone calls, copies, planning, detentions, etc.)?

  25. posted by Joe on

    Great post. I wondered if any of you had ideas for planning a day where an interruption can occur at any time?

    I work in a technical support team, and have a lot of project work on my task list, the kind of things that need several hours of concentrated work.

    However, a customer or colleague can call at any time, sometimes with a problem that can take an hour to sort out. So that blows day planning right out of the water.

    How can one plan their day when such an interruption can occur at any time?

  26. posted by DebraC on

    A stopwatch or an online time keeping software is a great way to monitor where your time goes each day. As your examples demonstrates, it is very easy to let time slip by.
    Stay focused and be accountable for what you do each day using some simple time management tools.

  27. Profile photo of

    posted by queenofkaos on

    I was listening to Brian Tracy today and he said something that I think will change the way I plan and improve the focus of my day – he said everyday to

    – decide WHAT you are trying to do.
    – decide HOW you are going to do it.

    This works for me because I have found that micromanaging to a set schedule doesn’t work for me but having a ‘one brain’ focus does.

    Using these questions I will be able to better chunk my tasks by useful activities.

    The How To’s on your list fit perfectly into this strategy.

  28. posted by A year ago on Unclutterer on

    [...] Planning your perfect dayAt the beginning of every day, I set aside five minutes to plan my perfect day. It doesn’t always turn out exactly the way I expected, but it rarely gets completely uprooted. Also, the plan is more about putting anxieties to rest than a rigid to-do list. [...]

  29. posted by Maureen on

    I make a list either the night before in bed or early in the morning in the tub, of everything I need/want to accomplish that day. Then I relist them by priority – then I put that list into a day schedule – leaving the lowest priority items for late in the day when I start to lose my steam. Each time I use the previous list and review if any of the items need to be carried forward or can be eliminated altogether. Sure it is micromanaging but it really gives you a feeling of satisfaction and control.

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