I know better than to try to set resolutions this time of year. Also, after 2017, there’s a bit of a grim “batten down the hatches” attitude. In all honesty, there’s a part of me that looks at 2018 with a level of gibbering fear that has nothing to do with politics or climate. I’ve simply got three Very Big Projects coming up Very Soon, along with multiple smaller ones. The potential to have them all come Crashing Down Disastrously is enough to merit Random Capital Letters.
One of the ways I confront this paralyzing anxiety is to set up a schedule. Lists! Daily charts! Zero-based calendars! These provide a comforting, if illusory, sense of control and of forward progress.
Here are three very different daily planning methods that I’m considering trying for the month of January. You may find one here that appeals to you, or they may just seem like too much work. However, there’s a good point of doing what is known in some productivity circles of “fake work”. It’s not really fake – because it is work – but it’s the kind of work that creatives don’t get paid for. It’s taking the time to sit and plan out the day, taking a look at big picture next-steps and the like.
One thing you’ll notice about all three of these: they are not apps. In fact, the closest they get to digital is the occasional download. Why? Well, for one thing, I like my notebooks. For another, the calendar on the phone or the computer is more like a clock than a planning device for me. Useful for an alarm, but when I’m looking at the structure of the things that I want to get done, I can picture it better when it’s paper and pen.
The When Daily Planner:
I’m a little fanboyish about Daniel Pink; his earlier books like Drive and To Sell is Human I found valuable and fascinating. It’s no surprise that I’ve pre-ordered his next book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, because I’m a sucker for click-bait titles. Along with the pre-order you can get a nifty little pack of goodies, including planning sheets and a brief explanatory preview of what’s in the book.
It’s not your normal schedule – there’s no hourly set, but instead a Peak, Trough, and Recovery time, along with two Break times. There’s a little math you do based on sleep patterns that figures out what hours during your workday fit each of those categories.
You then are asked to divide up your daily tasks into three categories as well: Analytic, Insight, and Administrative. These match up to the times: analytic tasks to peak times, for example. And there you have it – a schedule of what to do when, during your day, based not on arbitrary Taylorist numbers but rather on your own particular work rhythms.
He also stresses that breaks are really important, and so there is space not just to schedule them but also to write down what you’re going to do. Sketch. Walk to get the mail. Juggle. Yoga (ugh).
Finally, in a part that is reflective of 5-Minute Journaling, he suggests you end by listing “3 Things I Got Done Today.” This is especially appealing if you are like me and have a hard time recognizing the things you’ve done sitting in the shadow of all the things you have yet to do. Having those three things – even if they are as simple as “I took both my breaks – can be the difference between waking and sleep when it’s time for bed.
Daily Momentum Planner
This planner also appeals because it is designed for Creatives. I’ve long chafed under any schedule that is task rather than project-based, and that’s a weakness, not a strength. The Momentum planning sheets from Productive Flourishing are designed around people like me, who would rather focus on “Today’s Projects” than hourly events. In fact, the “Scheduled Events” section is almost the smallest part of the sheet. Instead, the majority of the space is for “Supporting Tasks” (the things you know you need to do for projects) as well as “Emergent Tasks” (the things that pop up, aka “shit happens”).
With all this, you also do some energy level tracking so that you can see when you are tired of a certain task — which may mean to do it first thing, to get it over with, or after a nap so your mind is clear, or may mean that’s the time for the jolt of coffee or a quick workout to get the blood flowing.
While the daily planner is what I’m focusing on here, there’s a whole host of resources on the website, such as monthly planners, daily habit trackers, etc. If you clicked on that link, it took you to their newsletter signup page; yep, you do have to give them an email to get access to the downloads. However, there is a hidden bonus: everything is free. That’s right, every month they publish a new bunch of resources that you can use for free. Sure, they also sell a bigger package, but that’s only if you want to throw them a few bucks – less than a movie.
There are two downsides I can see to this: one, if you’re a big fan of pretty layouts and fancy lettering and BUJOesque fanciness, this is not the planner for you. It’s a gridwork of blanks to fill out, basically. Two, because this does not come bound in a book, it means you have a lot of loose papers, or a three-ring binder. It may be possible to spiral-bind them, but I am certain that the lack of a bound journal will be felt as I try this one out.
While Bullet Journaling is based around lists, there’s another way of visualizing it that’s a bit more unusual. It’s based on radial planning, whether that’s for a day, for a month, or even a year. Rather than a linear list, you’re given circles to fill in the blanks. As you can see, it can be combined with lists, and either made all pretty with colors or just left as lines (I particularly like the “DO ALL THE STUFF!” battle cry on the example page).
Obviously you can draw your own circles, but there’s a thriving online business community of downloadable templates if you don’t feel like trying to divide the circle into 31, 30, or 28 segments for your monthly work.
Why would this appeal? Well, I’m someone who gets a jolt of energy out of re-arranging things (probably part of why Natasha and I threw away our couch today). Looking at my day as a circle rather than a list changes things up. There’s also something to reminding ourselves that we are in cyclical lives, not linear; the ending of one day is the beginning of the next.
Also, hey, it was good enough for the Mayans, it’s good enough for me.