Why am I sharing my travel stories?
Founder & CEO of TruStory. I have a passion for understanding things at a fundamental level and sharing it as clearly as possible.
I used to meticulously plan every part of my day, tying my happiness to how “productive” I was on any given day. But over the last several months, I’ve completely overhauled how I think about productivity.
In fact, I don’t think about productivity at all anymore.
Trying to measure and maximize our productivity is a logical way to make ourselves feel good. After all, there’s millions of blog posts and tools designed to make us “be more productive” (e.g. Trello, anyone?). However, the most logical approach is not always the best approach.
Careful planning might seem like the optimal way to get things done each day, but I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. I’ve found that a rather “illogical” approach to my day works way better— for me, at least! That’s what I’m here to share with you all today.
There’s a few different reasons why I decided to overhaul the “traditional” and “logical” method of carefully planning your day.
No matter how much I planned, I couldn’t escape the reality that my mind and my body have natural ups and downs. I can’t hardwire how much energy I will have on any given day. I can try to maximize my potential energy with the lifestyle choices I make (like diet, sleep, exercise, etc), but it’s still not entirely in my control. This is especially true for women because our energy levels vary each week based on where we are in our hormonal cycle (ladies: I have a book you can read about this if you’re interested).
Rather than meticulously planning my day as if I was a robot with a fixed energy level, I wanted to be flexible depending on my energy levels for any given day.
Honestly, it gets really boring when your entire day (or week) is planned. You lose that element of surprise and serendipity disappears. This makes for a very mundane life.
By adding some variability, I get to add an element of surprise to every single day!
I spend a lot of time writing. I also love to cook, dance, and do other creative things throughout the day. When there’s too much structure to my schedule, I feel trapped.
Creativity cannot be planned. It can be cultivated through consistent practice and hard work, but it cannot be planned. Personally, I need long periods of empty time to allow for my random bursts of creativity. Too much planning or structure stifles my creativity.
Below, I'll outline how I go about my day these days.
I’ve tried a variety of goal setting techniques, from setting daily to weekly to monthly goals. My planning involved a matrix of prioritized and categorized tasks paired with a Google calendar and constantly buzzing phone reminders.
I eventually realized that life is fundamentally too random for me to stick to these timed goals. I constantly had to update my goal list with new information or I would fall behind as tasks always take longer than you expect. Overall, it was a giant waste of brain space trying to organize my daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists and calendars.
Nevertheless, it would be foolish to say I do no planning at all. If I didn’t plan, I’d be wandering about my day (and life) with no purpose. Instead, my planning is somewhat minimal: I list out the things I need to do in one simple bulleted list that I call my “TODOs”. All I keep on there is a list of the current things I wish to get done, kept purposefully vague.
There are no rules for how big or small these “things” have to be. Some are huge and would take weeks to accomplish; others are tiny and take only a couple of minutes. All that matters about this list is that each bullet point is tied to my larger life goals. I also don’t have an exact time to write new TODOs. Whenever I think of something, I write it down and cross out the old tasks when completed. Simple!
I have my TODOs pinned to my browser to keep things easy. I also have this list memorized so I don’t constantly need to check it. It lives in my subconscious. Sometimes, I will go days without checking my physical TODOs list because there’s simply no need. It’s not some complicated spreadsheet or giant list on a task management software— it’s just a damn simple bulleted list with 5-10 tasks on there at any point in time. I can easily memorize the handful of things on my TODOs, which cuts down on the amount of time I waste going to recheck the written list.
I sacrificed sleep for productivity for over a decade. I spent many years getting 4 hours of sleep a night in the hopes I would have “more hours to work”. In hindsight, this was a giant waste of time. I thought that I was getting more done by staying up late, but only later did I realize I was completing tasks at 20% efficiency rather than giving it my best.
I was chronically tired, irritable, and hungry. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had basically dug myself into a ditch. With each passing day, I kept digging myself deeper and deeper.
Over the last year, I completely changed how I think about sleep. Now, I get more sleep so that I can get more done— not the other way around. Ever since I started getting the proper amount of rest, I’ve noticed a remarkable difference in my output. I can get way more creative work done in a day than I was ever able to before! The best part is that I don’t have to work nearly as long to get as much done. This leaves me more free time to do other things or to just relax.
Basically, I now make sure to get enough sleep every night. When I don’t, I essentially write off the day because I know nothing is really going to get done.
I have the most energy and willpower in the morning, so I block off this time for physical training. My day begins in the gym. It’s a win-win because not only am I staying in shape, I have plenty of time to think about what I’m going to do with the rest of my day.
Before heading to the gym, I always look at my TODOs to get a rough idea of what to work on that day. I pick one thing that I must get done that day even if that’s the only thing I get done. I then figure out two or three other tasks I’d like to get done, but aren’t mandatory. After making a mental note of these tasks, I get my workout in.
Essentially, bringing these items into my conscious brain really cements them in place before I let go to focus on my workout. My subconscious brain begins to take over. Oftentimes, I’ll start thinking of various ideas related to my “must get done” task. As the ideas come, I jot them down in a notepad on my phone and continue my workout.
Once I’m done with the gym, I shower, eat, and then get to work. At this point, my only focus is to work on my “must get done” task. I don’t let myself look social media, email, or any other distractions for the next hour or two while I put all of my energy into this one task. My only goal for this time is to get the meat of the task done so I spend the rest of my day filling in the sides.
For example, if my “must get done” task is writing this blog post, I spend the first hour or two of my day drafting the bulk of the post. The rest of my day then consists of small bursts of work (20 minutes) to finish up the “must get done” task and any other tasks I feel like working on. In between these bursts of work, I do other things: I will eat, nap, read, walk, practice dance, or whatever else catches my fancy.
By breaking up my “must get done” task into parts, I can get 80% of my work done for the day in an hour or two. The remaining 20% of the task is sprinkled throughout the day in a more leisurely fashion.
I can’t imagine going back to a prescriptive day where every hour and minute is planned. It would feel way too constrictive. My new way of planning allows me to flow with my day as it comes and I love it.
As for you...
There is no one-size fits all productivity plan for everyone. The best way to figure out your optimal workflow is to test out different approaches and see what you enjoy most. If you want to try my approach, then I recommend starting off by keeping a list of things you want to get done at this moment in time. Then pick one task you must get done on any given day. Each day, complete the bulk of your “must get done” task in the first hour or two. You can fill in the rest of your day how you see fit, just like I do!
I’ve noticed that with this approach I not only get a lot more done, I’m also a lot happier and less stressed. My life has more variety and it’s more fun, with time for leisure. Moreover, I can react to unforeseen events (which life is full of) without freaking out about my “precious plan” being ruined.
If you end up trying my plan, let me know what you think!