NOTE: this article is adapted from a guest post I recently had published on Productive Flourishing. You can check out that post here.
I recently started experimenting with using different planners to organize my days and my week.
For as long as I can remember, I have used a calendar to write down upcoming appointments, projects and tasks I need to work on. I started using a small day planner to write down homework assignments when I was 10.
(Just writing that sentence makes me realize I must have been a really anal 10-year-old.)
This system worked through high school, college and law school. But when I started practicing law, the number of tasks and projects I was working on exploded.
I kept track of the long list of action items I was working on each day by writing them down in a long list on lined notepad paper, with no rhyme or reason or priority assigned to each task.
I would then just cross off each item as I completed it.
Here’s what it looked like:
I also kept track of timely tasks by entering them on my calendar. For awhile, I even had two calendars – a personal calendar and a work calendar.
It was better than no system at all, but not a very efficient way to manage my day and critical projects.
So I decided to start experimenting with better ways to track my projects.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Google Voice, and Dropbox
A couple of years ago, I started exploring ways I could make myself into a more efficient worker. I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (affiliate link) and implemented a few of his concepts in to my routine.
David Allen says you should write down everything you have to do to get it out of your head, which will reduce stress created from having to constantly remember all of your upcoming tasks, events and deadlines.
Also, when I started my own firm, I started using Dropbox (affiliate link), which syncs all files on all of my computers, phone, and iPad.
I began using Google calendar as my exclusive calendar and I began using a Google Voice phone number, which organizes and transcribes all incoming voicemail messages and emails both the transcript and the audio file to my inbox.
Instead of having two “inboxes” (my voicemail and my email inbox), I now have just one. It’s much more efficient.
Although all of these efforts helped, I still felt something was missing.
Recently, I took a class from Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing. Charlie is known as a productivity expert, and much of what he teaches and trains his clients on focuses on maximizing peak productivity.
During this class, I discovered Productive Flourishing’s planners and started using them.
Two Flavors of Planners: Free and Premium
There are two kinds of planners that Productive Flourishing offers: free and premium. So far, I have only used the free planners, so I can only comment on those.
The free planners include a Daily, Weekly and Monthly Action Planners, and a Blog Post Planner and the Freelancer Workweek. They also offer a Productivity Heatmap which is designed to help you figure out when you are at your most productive so you can capitalize on it.
If you use just the free planners, you need to come back to Productive Flourishing’s website at the beginning of each month to download the updated planners.
If you buy the Premium Planners for $12 per year, then you get everything in advance and don’t have to come back each month.
You also get an Annual Strategic Planner and a Monthly Objective Planner which help you plan out big ideas.
How I Use the Planners
I have been experimenting with how to use the planners to see if I can increase their usefulness. But currently here is how I use them: At the start of my week, I take 15 or 20 minutes on to write out everything I need to do for the next week or two.
I usually do this on the Monthly Action Planner. I could do this on the weekly planner, but I like the layout of the Monthly Planner more.
I did a short video (originally published as part of my guest post) demonstrating how my current process has changed from the way I used to plan out my week:
After I write out everything that comes to mind on my Monthly Planner, then I move on to the daily action planner and write out my five major projects which are in focus.
Usually 3-4 of these projects are clients who I am working on, and I’ll leave 1-2 of the spaces for larger projects I am working on related to this blog, like an upcoming webinar.
I like how the daily action planner limits how much space you have available, to force you to concentrate on just five large projects. I agree with Charlie’s general guideline that if you have more than 5 large projects, you are probably juggling too much in any given day.
I find that by focusing on five large projects during any given day, I end up getting more accomplished by the end of the week.
That doesn’t mean I don’t end up bouncing over to other projects during my day. Inevitably, stuff comes up and/or I’m inspired to work on other projects. But having the Daily Action planner structure to come back to when I stall does help me focus on creating progress on each of the five big projects.
That’s how I’m using the planners now, but like I said, it’s constantly changing as I try to iterate and improve their usefulness. One thing I particularly like is I know I’m not taking full advantage of all these planners have to offer – so there is still room for improvement as my business grows and evolves.
Will the Planners Help Me Grow My Business?
Here’s the million-dollar question: what will these planners do for my business?
I often tell my clients that most businesses that fail don’t fail because their owners didn’t do the right things; they fail because they didn’t do enough of the right things enough of the time.
How you spend the limited amount of time you have available each day, week and month to run your business will determine whether your business is a success or a failure.
With that in mind, I am trying to do the right things more often.
I’m hopeful that the planners will help me be more efficient with my time, get more done, and grow my business. So far, it’s too early to know if they will.
However, I feel more efficient and effective, and I am starting to see more results in terms of projects moving into the “done” column. So that’s a great start.
I will be writing more in the weeks ahead about how these planners play into the big picture of my business; in other words, what I am doing to grow my business and make it more efficient.
I will be writing about my work with a business coach, my long-term business goals, and my plans for expanding this forum as a platform for my business in the long-term. Stay tuned!