March: Daily Planning

PlannerFieldNotes

This month’s experiment is one that I have struggled with for a long time. I have several planners from past years that all have anywhere from one week to three months filled up and then nothing. Planners and planning in general have always eluded my routines and the planning habit has failed to stick more times than I care to admit.

So this month I’m going to plan my day out every evening to make sure I accomplish everything I need to. I have a bad habit of trying to plan and remember everything in my head. A lot of things slip through the cracks with this type of planning and I’m sure I’ve forgotten to do many things over the years of using my memory planner.

During the month of March I will be focusing on a few specific things to overhaul my planning system. I’m making this as simple as possible yet as comprehensive as possible. My system will include a simple task list in the form of a to-do app, a paper planner and a calendar app. Let me break down what I’ll be doing with each item and how I hope it’ll work out.

The Paper Planner

So far I haven’t found anything that’s easier than jotting down a quick note using pen and paper. There’s something lasting, unique and simple about writing on paper. My planner won’t run out of battery, lose signal, distract me from the task at hand, make stupid auto corrections to what I write or provide a strict planning system. It’s free and open to a million possibilities.

My thoughts and ideas are often unstructured and need an open canvas that only paper can provide. This is where my planning will begin. Ideas, notes, appointments, tasks, etc. will all get recorded in my planner as they come up. When I get a homework assignment, it goes in the planner. Task at work, in the planner, doctor’s appointment, in the planner. I’ll also have a small pocket notebook for times that I don’t have my planner with me (it’s too big for pockets).

There are drawbacks to pen and paper, which is why I’m using a hybrid system. My planner doesn’t sync with multiple devices. It can’t remind me of important tasks or upcoming appointments. It doesn’t sync with my wife’s schedule. It doesn’t automatically backup data in case I lose it. So at the end of the day (or if I already have a long list of things mid-day) I will take the list from my planner and enter items in my to-do list app or calendar app. Anything that doesn’t fall under tasks or appointments will get put in the correct app, notes, ideas, articles to read, etc.

To-Do App

I’m sure there’s probably some controversy about to-do list apps and to-do lists in general. But this is my daily planning habit. If you are against to-do lists, just skip down to the next section about calendars. Personally, I like having something I can easily reference to see what it is I need to do. Between writing this blog, going to school and working a part-time job, I need somewhere to dump important tasks.

I use Swipes for my task list. I’m not going to say that it’s “the best” to-do app, because that is so subjective. I’ve tried at least 30 different to-do apps (more on that in another post) and finally settled on Swipes for a number of reasons. Choosing any app, and especially a to-do app, is an extremely personal choice and depends on your use-case and specific needs. Some other great apps include Wunderlist and TickTick.

Here’s why I chose Swipes:

  1. It’s simple and has a clean interface. Many apps are cluttered and distract from entering and completing tasks.
  2. It allows for rapid entry. I can sit down and enter multiple tasks without tapping a “+” button for each tasks.
  3. It allows for tags/folders but doesn’t force them. Sometimes I need extra tags/structure, like for work projects. Sometimes I don’t. I like this flexibility in Swipes.
  4. It offers reminders (with flexible dates/times), repeating tasks, multiple platforms (Web, iOS, Mac, Android), syncing and task snoozing.
  5. It’s free (although there is a “coming soon” secret premium version, so we’ll see what that brings)
  6. It integrates nicely with Evernote and soon with Google Calendar and Dropbox.

Again, I’m keeping things simple. If something is not a specific appointment (like “Write documentation”, “Read chapter for homework”, etc.) it goes from my planner into Swipes. I love the rapid logging feature in Swipes which lets me enter all my tasks with minimal friction. If they need a tag/folder/workspace then I can add this here as well.

Once I have added my tasks, I’ll go back through and add any due dates and reminders that I need. And that’s it. Now I go out and get to work.

Side note: I don’t add any chore-like tasks (washing dishes, brushing teeth, laundry) or things that take less than ~10-15 minutes. These are either obvious (giant stack of dishes or personal hygiene) or, for small tasks, can just be done right now.

Calendar App

I switch between Google Calendar for iPhone and Sunrise for Mac/iPad for my calendar. They both offer the same basic functionality, but I prefer the Google Calendar app because Sarah and I almost exclusively use Google for our calendars.

I try to keep this as simple as possible (I know, big surprise). I’ve imported all calendar items into Google and Sarah and I share a family calendar. I have a calendar feed from my school that my teachers use to post assignments, announcements and class schedules and one other personal calendar.

Any appointments from my planner get put into Google Calendar at the end of each day. I only use one calendar for personal things, like school, work and my blog, and use the family calendar for things like meal planning, dates, and other things that we do together.

Here are some examples of calendar items on my schedule right now: Classes from 10-1, dentist appointment, dinner – pita bread pizza, work 8am-1pm.

Some people prefer to fill every minute with activities, even if they schedule 30 minutes for “downtime” or “relaxing”. I keep it semi-structured by filling in my daily routines (classes, work schedule, dinner, etc.) each month or semester and then leaving the rest open.

The Plan

This month I’m going to improve on these methods by doing the following:

  • Try to schedule my tasks for certain times during the day
  • Focus on my important tasks by setting my 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day
  • Use this system consistently to stay on top of tasks and appointments
  • Turn this system into a daily habit to have more productive days and use my time wisely
  • Focus on creating, learning, improving and growing instead of a complex productivity system

Resources

Apps mentioned

Further Reading

  • Zen to Done from Zen Habits – a simple productivity system (basically a super-minimal GTD system)
  • Productivityist – a great site that I haven’t even scratched the surface on, but there are some great resources here for being productive and planning
  • Time Management Ninja – another great site with resources and articles about planning and using time wisely
  • Bullet Journal – super cool concept, though I’ve never been able to get it to stick. I use a loose version of rapid logging in my personal system
  • Field Notes – this is the paper planner and pocket notebooks that I use on a daily basis. Made in America and super durable.

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