We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
At the end of the day, do you feel energized by everything you accomplished? Or do you wonder where the time went? Aristotle believed a good life is one where you devote yourself to areté (translated as virtue, excellence, or fulfillment) every day. Establish a daily planning ritual to be your best self and make the most of each day.
“Why daily?” you ask. Each day is a new beginning and a new set of opportunities and challenges. If we want to make the most out of any single day, we need to take a few minutes upfront to make our intentions clear. Setting that plan makes it easier for us to focus on the most critical tasks when things start competing for our attention. (There is a time and place for planning across broader time horizons, such as quarterly goal planning.)
If you can rely on this process happening daily, you can build certain things into the ritual, allowing you to forget about them for the rest of the day. For example, I have a “Waiting” email folder. Emails I’ve sent that are awaiting a response. Once a day, I check that folder to see if I need to follow up with anyone. Then I can forget about all those emails until the next day. If my daily planning isn’t reliable, I start wondering if I have any waiting emails that need follow-up, distracting me from my top priorities for the day.
I recommend building a ritual that takes 15 minutes or less. As you build the habit, you will likely add more steps because it works so reliably. However, the longer it takes, the more likely you will abandon it.
Find the time in your schedule when you can count on this happening consistently. For me, that’s in the morning before my meetings start.
Some people don’t have the luxury of planning in the morning. I talk to leaders who must get kids off to school or have geographically dispersed teams that have them in meetings at unusual hours. Often they will set aside time at the end of their workday to plan for the following day. This can be a great way to transition out of work mode and be present at home for the evening.
Some choose to do it as the last thing they do before bed. I don’t love this, as I’m a big fan of shutting off all screens for at least an hour before bedtime. Go with whatever works for you.
The purpose of daily planning is to preview the day ahead, check your priorities, and build a plan that ensures you are working on the most important things.
To facilitate this, I recommend that you build a daily planning checklist with each step of your daily planning process. The list ensures you don’t miss any steps. It’s also handy when you cannot complete the planning in a single sitting. Occasionally, I’ll get pulled off task and won’t complete the planning before my first meeting. When this happens, I return to my checklist after the meeting and pick up where I left off.
Your first step should be to eliminate all distractions. We want this process to be quick and efficient. Every burning fire competing for our attention can wait 15 minutes while we plan. So put your phone on do not disturb. Close your office door. Shut down Slack/Teams/Google Chat.
The most straightforward daily planning checklist may look like this:
- Remove all distractions
- Review my calendar and identify prep tasks
- Review my task list and prioritize it
- Decide on my top three commitments for the day
My Daily Planning Checklist
My ritual is a bit more robust than that. I want to ensure I’ve consolidated tasks from all the different places they accumulate into my central task list. I want to be ready for the day’s meetings. I want a clean email inbox. I want clarity on my priorities. And I want to set my #1 win for the day. Here’s my list:
- Remove all distractions
- Check voicemail
- Review Todoist (my task list app)
- Review Todoist tasks marked Waiting
- Consolidate tasks from Evernote (my note-taking app)
- Consolidate tasks from iPhone reminders (I sometimes dictate a reminder while running)
- Review my calendar and add tasks for meeting prep
- Sweep my personal email inbox
- Sweep my work email inbox
- Review my waiting email folder
- Sweep Slack
- Review LinkedIn
- Review coachee messages
- Update my personal metrics
- Set my #1 win for the day
- Prioritize my other commitments for the day
This process typically takes me less than fifteen minutes. It may have put two hours of tasks on my task list, but I make sure not to get distracted working on any of those tasks until the planning is done, and I make sure in the final “Plan my day” step that I prioritize effectively to ensure I work on the right tasks.
Putting It Into Practice
Ready to start planning? Here is how you can get started:
- Decide on a time of day when you can reliably plan.
- Block the planning time on your calendar.
- Build a daily planning checklist.
- Start simple. Consider a five-minute ritual to triage your calendar and commit to your #1 win for the day.
- Gradually expand the process as you build the habit.
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