How to Plan a Day

Life in the 21st century seems much busier than the everyday life of people living in the past. People live longer than they did a hundred years ago and have more time on their hands than ever. Even so, living has become increasingly hectic, it seems. So how does one plan a successful, balanced day?

Consider the below methods to find out how to plan a day with which you’ll be satisfied.

Let’s Get Started

Nowadays, technological inventions have opened the world to us with a single tap of a button. But these tech tools — smartphones in particular — have made life more cluttered in a way. Although designed to make life easier, there are now more distractions getting in the way of a perfectly productive day than ever.

Hectic schedules can also prevent real productivity or worse: distract us from living our life in a way that we can enjoy. Having a successful work-life balance (especially in 2020) is critical for most people. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible to juggle the things we enjoy — like spending time with family and friends, relaxing, delving into a hobby, or exercising — with work.

Think Ahead

Though it might seem obvious, the best way to start is to plan ahead. Give yourself five to 10 minutes to make the day’s plan. Keep in mind that your goals for the day should be realistic. Ask yourself what tasks you can complete in the time that you have. Then write them down, preferably on a piece of paper so you can see all your goals at once.

It’s entirely up to you to decide what to include in your plan. You can pencil in anything from the smallest task (like getting dressed or brushing your teeth) to larger, more important activities, like the day’s meetings.

Once you’ve got your tentative plan written down, consider using an online application like Google Calendar or an extension such as Momentum to schedule in your activities. Some tools even allow you to receive notifications and reminders to ensure you’re on task and don’t forget any critical tasks.

Try Planning Backward

Some people swear by “planning backward” or reverse planning: in other words, scheduling your day from evening to the early morning hours. If you want your workday to end at 5 p.m., start there. That allows you to give yourself a set amount of time to get work done. It also allows you to start with a final task or end goal, which can often make it easier to plan.

One of the most crucial aspects of planning backward is ditching the idea of a “to-do list” and penciling everything into your day. You’re forced to be more realistic in terms of how long these action items will take when you insert tasks into your calendar.

Reverse planning can be useful in helping you visualize the steps you’ll need to take to get to the end of your day and also recognize any obstacles that might get in your way.

This type of planning also incites motivation where it’s less likely to be found — in the middle of the plan. Scheduling your tasks backward can also decrease the feeling of time pressure, according to KQED.

It’s also critical to start by blocking out big chunks of time for the goals that are non-negotiable to get done. Then you can use the remaining time for small things you need to get done, like responding to emails or even something as little as doing laundry. It might be helpful to focus on three big tasks a day and schedule everything else around those chosen three.

Consider Meal Prepping

Making your lunch ahead of time saves you a chunk of time, and you won’t have to rush to get to work. And not only that, but meal prepping offers a whole host of benefits. This method of preparation can aid in saving you money, support weight control, and allow you to organize a more balanced diet.

Planning your meals ahead of time can also decrease stress, allowing you to ultimately be more productive, as you’ll avoid last-minute decisions about what to eat for lunch.

Try making your lunch after you wake up as part of your morning routine or in the evening as part of the unwinding process. It could be helpful to start a spreadsheet or notebook to keep track of delicious meal ideas, favorite recipes, and grocery lists.

Individual meal containers can be beneficial in dividing already cooked foods up for the week. Once they’re ready, you can pop the food storage containers into the refrigerator or — if they’re cooked meals stored in airtight containers — you can freeze them for later.

Get Out of Bed when the Alarm Goes Off

Waking up in the morning doesn’t have to be a complete struggle. Getting up when your alarm goes off is a very effective way to start your day off productively, according to Time.

If you usually hit the snooze button a few times before actually getting up, you’re sending your body the wrong message and starting the day off procrastinating.

If you’re having trouble with oversleeping, try putting your alarm clock (or your phone, if it has an alarm) out of arm’s reach. This way, when it rings in the morning, you’ll be forced to get out of bed to turn it off.

It can also help to stick with this sleep schedule on weekends. So if you usually wake up at 7:30 a.m. during the week, try to start your day at that time during the weekends, too.

If you’re a morning person, go for it (but if not, forget it). Although Apple CEO Tim Cook says he wakes up at 3:45 a.m. to get a head start if you don’t consider yourself a morning person, don’t push it. Forcing yourself to get up early can actually through you out of your natural rhythm, which can have negative physiological consequences, the BBC reports.

Start the Ball Rolling

One of the best ways to start your day, according to SELF, is by getting the blood flowing. Try starting your morning with some light exercises, such as jumping jacks, pushups, or squats. Starting your morning with some movement will allow you to not only wake up quicker but also work out those early morning aches and pains.

Instead of immediately going for that cup of joe, try energizing yourself with a few restorative stretches or light exercises.

Eat a Well-Balanced Breakfast (And No, Coffee Doesn’t Count)

Diet plays a crucial role in having a productive day. It refuels your body after a long night’s rest, kickstarts your morning, and might even benefit your health overall, according to Mayo Clinic.

Try to pick a breakfast that you’ll be able to make quickly. Adults who eat a healthy breakfast regularly are also more likely to be more productive at work. Eating breakfast can also you help lose weight, according to a 2013 study.

What’s more, eating breakfast can fuel your body and get you ready for the day. Starting the day with a meal with lots of fiber and protein can promote productivity during your day. Mayo Clinic suggests incorporating whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables into your breakfast if possible.

Some quick, simple options include:

  • A fruit smoothie
  • Oatmeal with almonds
  • A whole-wheat tortilla with some veggies and salsa
  • Or whole-wheat French toast

If you’re worried about not having enough time to make breakfast, you can always try making your breakfast the night before and pack it up, or setting out the ingredients to be ready for use in the morning.

Get Rid of Those Morning Distractions

Allowing yourself to get distracted in the morning can throw off your schedule. Avoid scrolling through social media platforms. If that’s too difficult to avoid, turn off your notifications or, better yet, turn off your phone while you get ready for your day.

Pay attention to your inner monologue and stop yourself if you find your mind is wandering. Recognizing when your attention is drifting can make it easier to refocus and redirect your thoughts on the current workload at hand.

Stress can also be a culprit for distraction. If that’s the case, getting your anxiety under control can calm your thoughts and overcome distractions. Breathing exercises can reduce this stress.

Do the Thing You Hate the Most First

As an Entrepreneur article put it, “if you eat a frog first — do your worst task before anything else — then the rest of your tasks will seem easy in comparison.” Completing the activity that you’re dreading can make it easier to focus on being productive as you won’t feel consumed by that one horrible task you’re anticipating.

It also helps that your brain is most aware during the first two to three hours after you wake up.

Similarly, you should save your stressful tasks for the morning. Stress can kill your willpower, so tackling the worst (or most stressful) activity in the early hours will allow you to be more driven during the rest of the day.

Find Your Afternoon Peak

Sure, you’ve heard of the afternoon slump, but what about the afternoon peak? Once the early hours have passed, tackle your afternoon with as much effort and energy as you had in the morning. This will be your afternoon peak, and there are a few tips and tricks to help you reach the top.

Carry a Few Healthy Snacks to Eat throughout Your Day

Feeling hungry can be a considerable distraction — one that might sidetrack you from getting work done. To combat this, consider always carrying a healthy snack on you.

However, make sure the foods you carry are good for you. Unhealthy snacks are associated with increased hunger and low energy levels, which can tank your productivity. Although processed snacks with high amounts of sugar might give you a kick of energy, you’ll likely feel even hungrier a few hours later.

When you’re choosing healthy snacks, make sure you’re paying attention to the amount (it’s ideal to eat snacks that are about 200 calories), how often you’re snacking, and the portability of the things you choose to eat.

Foods that can prove to be excellent snacks to have on hand include:

  • String cheese
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Vegetable slices
  • Nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Non-sugary fruits

Drinking water can also stave off unnecessary hunger, so make sure you’re drinking enough on a day-to-day (or even hour-to-hour) basis.

Consider Exercising before You Eat Lunch

If you enjoy working out and are trying to squeeze a workout into a busy day (or just trying to work out more often), try exercising before lunch.

Working out just before lunch means there are generally fewer people at the gym. It also helps that you’ll probably get a “runner’s high” thanks to the chemicals your body releases. Getting a quick workout in your schedule means you’ll have a boost of energy that can effectively get you through that afternoon slump in your plan.

Eating directly following a workout can help with weight loss and aid muscle gain. It can also replenish your energy. Just make sure you have a snack beforehand.

Do the Work You Need to in Intervals (And Take Breaks)

For many people, working in intervals is an effective way of getting things done. Human productivity is at its peak during an uninterrupted 90-minute interval, according to a study from Florida State University. By working on one task for 90 minutes, completely uninterrupted, you’ll be able to avoid any distractions that might come your way.

For example, approaches like the Pomodoro Technique are tried and true, according to its developer Francesco Cirillo. The method is named after the timer he used as a student (that was also shaped like a tomato — hence, the name “Pomodoro”).

Start by picking a task or activity you’d like to get done. Set your timer for 25 minutes and work on your assignment until the timer rings. Take a five-minute break and then reset the timer for 25 minutes.

Why does working in intervals work so well? The human brain isn’t capable of holding concentration for more than a few hours at a time.

In fact, the average person’s attention span is extremely short — only about eight seconds. That’s why taking short breaks helps productivity. This way, your brain gets to rest, and you’ll have the energy to return to your tasks, feeling mentally refreshed.

Hone in on Your ‘Afternoon Peak’

The afternoon is usually the last time most people are productive, hence why you may have heard the term “afternoon slump.” This often-dreaded time of day can negatively affect your energy levels and productivity, so it’s essential to combat it by thinking of the afternoon as your peak.

Taking short breaks (minus your phone) can actually help you reset your mind. Try taking a walk or stepping outside for some fresh air. Similarly, light meditation can help retune your brain. Take a few minutes to focus on the things you can see, touch, and hear. Take the opportunity also to refocus your breath.

After you’ve been planning your days effectively, you’ll start to notice exactly when your body crashes. If you begin to feel burned out around 3 p.m., you can adjust the next day’s schedule accordingly and move more important tasks up.

Refocus Your Mind

Consider setting an alarm — whether it be on your phone, laptop, or watch — to ring or vibrate on the hour. When you get the notification, you can ask yourself if you’ve spent the hour productively and if you’re on schedule to complete the day’s tasks.

If you haven’t been as productive as you’d like, don’t beat yourself up. Simply refocus your mind. Go ahead and review the upcoming tasks and what you’d like to get done for the remainder of the day. Getting back on track can be as easy as double-checking the goals you have for the next few hours.

Try Batching Tasks Together

Although many people swear they’re masters of multitasking, it’s a common myth. Researcher David Meyer, Ph.D., saw productivity decrease by 40% when people attempted to engage in two or more activities at once.

However, it can help to “batch” tasks together. In other words, group similar activities together and try to complete those in one block of time. In this example, an article from Entrepreneur suggests using a pre-decided hour to make all your phone calls.

Wrap up Your Productive Day Successfully

After the afternoon, you can start to relax. By the evening, you should have accomplished the majority — if not all — of your tasks and goals.

When the sun sets, it’s time to take a small step back and evaluate your day. How did your schedule work out? Maybe you didn’t complete all your tasks. Perhaps you forgot a trivial activity. Regardless, you’ve completed your day.

Still, there are a few more steps involved in how to make a plan for your day. You’ll want to take the evening hours to unwind and evaluate the day in its entirety. Here are a few steps to help you assess and decompress.

Don’t Forget to Take the Time to Relax

Often, trying something new can be a satisfying way for people to relax. Consider doing something different from the work you’ve been doing all day. For some people, this means spending time with your partner or your children, playing with your dog, or even kicking back and playing some mindless video games.

Certain foods and drinks can also help you relax, such as green tea. This herbal tea produces a chemical called L-theanine, which can decrease your body’s stress response. Dark chocolate can also have a similar effect.

While meditation is great for refocusing your mind during an afternoon slump, it’s also useful for finding inner peace. There are plenty of applications to introduce you to the concept of mediation, including Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer.

If you’re more of a creative, try writing, listening to music, dancing, or doing a sudoku puzzle.

Whatever it is you like to do to relax or unwind, don’t be afraid of trying new things.

Review the Day in Its Entirety

At the end of the day, try reviewing your original plan one more time. Go through each small goal or task that you set for yourself and evaluate each, even if your review is just a brief, five-minute glance.

It can help to write down the most stressful part of your day and make a list of the things you could control and the things you couldn’t control.

Writing a few notes can aid you in focusing on the things that are in your power. For example, if you were stuck in traffic and late to a meeting, realize that although you couldn’t control the traffic or being late, you could control telling your coworker that you’ll be a little late.

Ask yourself what worked and where you got distracted. These questions can provide you with answers that might allow you to be even more productive tomorrow.

Celebrate Your Successes

Make sure to acknowledge all the tasks you’ve completed during the day. The more effectively you celebrate yourself and your wins, the more productive you’ll be in the future.

Even celebrating the smallest of wins can motivate you and alleviate stress. Think about all the great things you achieved over the course of the day and spend some time praising yourself.

There are lots of great ways to celebrate yourself. Consider telling someone you love about the tasks you completed during the day. Hearing positive feedback can help lift spirits. You can also try envisioning your future success to inspire yourself or create a gratitude list since appreciation can have a substantial effect on your mind and body.

If you didn’t get everything done on your schedule, make sure to recognize that that’s okay. It’s not always going to happen, and you’re not always going to meet every goal. Once you realize this, you can take the pressure off your shoulders and focus on being productive.

Don’t Forget to Get a Good Night’s Rest

There’s nothing more critical to your productivity (and your overall health) than sleep. Sleep deprivation costs U.S. companies over $63 billion a year in “lost productivity, according to Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, so make sure you make it a priority.

What are some of the benefits of getting enough sleep? You’ll feel more refreshed and be able to come back from distractions faster because of your increased ability to focus on that task at hand. Being well-rested will also fend off burnout and will allow you to make better choices since sleep improves the ability to make split-second decisions.

Getting an adequate amount of sleep also improves your memory and helps you make fewer mistakes. If you’re sleep deprived — even just a little — you’ll have a 50% slower response time coupled with a lower accurate rate on tasks that someone who has been drinking alcohol.

In order to get the most out of your night’s rest, follow a regular sleep schedule (even on weekends). Make sure you’re relaxed and cozy while you sleep. Your mattress and pillows should feel comfortable, and your bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark at night.

Beware of alcohol, caffeine, and electronics such as your phone or laptop, as these can keep you up at night and steal precious sleep.

But Why Spend the Time Planning Your Day Ahead of Time?

You now know how to plan a day. But why does planning your day even matter?

Thinking ahead and scheduling your day’s tasks can assist you in visualizing what your day will look like as a whole, so there are no surprises. As you continue planning your days, you might start to realize you need more time for specific tasks than others and can adjust your schedule as needed.

Planning your day ahead of time also allows you to prioritize the important things so you’ll have less misspent time and achieve more of your goals.

As you go along, you’ll also start to discover where you can save time. For example, maybe you allotted an hour and a half for cleaning the kitchen, but in reality, it only took you about 45 minutes. Next time, you’ll know about how long it takes to clean the kitchen, and you’ll gain about 45 minutes for another task.

Take a Deep Breath — You’ve Done It

Now that you understand how to plan a day, you can revise and revisit the day’s schedule to help you prepare for tomorrow and plan the day you’ve always dreamed of achieving. With a well-considered plan, anything is possible.

Adjust your schedule until it fits your work-life balance perfectly. It might take a few days or even weeks to get the hang of creating a plan that works for you, but it’s worth it.

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