Editor’s note: The most current version of this aid is available on the Free Planners page.
The Daily Action Planner helps you sort plan to do the right projects and actions during the right part of the day. It incorporates the insights from How Heat Mapping Your Day Can Make You More Productive, namely, that we have more creative energy during some parts of the days than others. It thus makes sense to do the work that requires creative heavy lifting during the times where you have peak creative energy.
The Basic Concept of the Daily Action Planner
The Daily Action Planner helps you sort your day first by major projects, then by tasks, and then figure out when I should do what. The DPP has all of these elements covered.
There are six work areas to the Daily Action Planner:
- The Planned Tasks and Completed Task area
- The Projects in Focus area
- The Supporting Tasks area
- The Daily Schedule Area
- The Emergent Tasks area
- The Notes Area
The Notes area is self-explanatory. The rest could probably bear some description.
The Planned Tasks and Completed Tasks
This area is used for both planning and accountability purposes. After you’ve filled out the blocks in the Supporting Tasks Area, put a mark or fill in the number of tasks that you’ve planned to do.
At the end of the day, mark how many tasks you’ve actually done. If you get more done than you thought, great! If you get fewer done, consider what happened and whether you over-committed. Throughout the years, I’ve learned that we over-commit more than we under-commit.
The Projects in Focus area
This block is intentionally small. Trying to plug too many major projects in one day tends to leave us overwhelmed with how much we have to do. I give enough space for five (5!) projects. If you can get five major projects done in a day, then you’re doing better than a lot of people are.
If you’ve filled out the Weekly Action Planner for the week, this should be the same projects you wrote down on it. You’ve already done the work, so don’t recreate the wheel here.
(Sidebar: I’m using “project” in the broad sense, meaning some key product or service that needs completion. Whether something is a project or a task is a post for another day.)
The Supporting Tasks Area
These are the tasks that directly support the projects you’re working on.
Notice the boxes next to the tasks? Those correspond to the level of productivity this project needs to be slotted for. Projects that require the most productive horsepower get an “X” or “check” in the #1 box, whereas tasks that need to be done but require less juice get a #2 box. You might also want to check out Four Ways to Use the Four Boxes on the Daily Action Planners to see how different readers have used those boxes throughout the years.
I’m using tasks a bit broader here, too, so the task “Respond to Email” may include the sub-task “Check Email”, “Sort Email,” and “Respond to Email.” I’ve intentionally left it broad so that you can manage the tasks at whatever level you need to, e.g. sometimes you really need to list every step in the process and sometimes you don’t.
The Daily Schedule Area
This area is where the rubber hits the road. You’ll notice that the boxes are there, too. By default, the boxes are there to let you know what energy state you’re normally in based off your results from the Productivity Heatmap. Of course, you may not have liked the whole heatmap concept, in which case you can use the blocks to indicate something else. Just define what the boxes mean and drive on!
You’ll also notice four gray lines in each block. The default context for those blocks is that they’re fifteen minute increments. Using them this way, you can just quickly write the task down on the third line and understand that you plan to do the task at thirty minutes on the hour. Alternatively, you could see the lines as listing all the tasks you want to get done sometime in that hour. Either way works, as long as you’re consistent with the usage.
Lastly, the boxes can be linked by arrows, brackets, circles, or whatever way makes sense to you as you plan. I tend to group several of the boxes because I like to schedule large blocks of time to work on projects so I can follow the Two Hour Rule.
I’ve intentionally designed this area to have some flexibility so that as much usable information can come from one sheet as possible. You may not need twelve hours in focus, in which case you can just cross through the boxes you don’t plan on using. Hopefully the versatility here is an advantage and doesn’t lead to indecision and confusion because indecision and confusion are counterproductive.
The Emergent Tasks area
It’s relatively common for tasks that need to be completed to pop up in the middle of the day. This block is the place to dump those tasks. If it’s one of those that requires more capacity to complete than some of your other tasks, it may bump them. Otherwise, it can sit there until you have time to deal with it. This area is helpful because it gets the task off your mind while you work or it makes you re-prioritize your work to complete it if it has to be done. It remains empty during your planning process so that you can review it later on to see what tasks you planned to do and what tasks you didn’t plan on doing–it’s helpful for future planning.
How to Use the Daily Action Planner
Now that you’re oriented to the Daily Action Planner, here’s the process for using it:
- If possible, complete the Weekly Action Planner. It makes it faster to complete the Daily Action Planner since it’s the higher perspective helps you make decisions without getting into the minutiae.
- Fill in the Projects in Focus block. These should be the same ones from the Weekly Action Planner.
- Fill in the boxes times and boxes in the Daily Schedule based upon how much energy you have during the times you place in there. For example, if your work day starts at 11am, write 11am in the first angle bracket above the four boxes. If that’s when you’re at a creative peak, fill in the #1. Use the insights from the Daily Productivity Heatmap here.
- If you have any schedule events, go ahead and place them in the Daily Schedule. Notice whether there’s a trend of those meetings and scheduled events sitting during your peak times and hot times.
- Fill in the Support Tasks block. If you already have a pretty good handle on what it takes to get a certain project done, then you may not really need to go into too much detail. However, some projects can use some splitting up, so do that here. Also, consider the difficulty of the task – if it requires a lot of productive energy, mark the red box so you know you need to do that during blocks of time in which you’re at your productive peak.
- When you’re done with Step 3, fill in the number of tasks you’ve committed to in the Planned Tasks row. Again, this just gives you a rough view of your work for the day. As you complete your tasks, mark off the box in the completed tasks row. It’s motivating to know that you’re getting stuff done! (And helpful to see how much you might be overcommitting.)
- Place the tasks from Support Tasks area in the open blocks in your Daily Schedule. As best you can, match the tasks with high energy requirements to times where you have the highest energy.
- Do not use the Emergent Tasks block for planning. That block is reserved for emergent tasks so you can separate them from planned ones, as the former are often more time sensitive than the latter and you don’t want them to get mixed into the fray. It’s also helpful to see over the course of a week how many unplanned things end up on your plate so you can figure out why that’s happening or at least know that you have X number of tasks that show up on your plate.
An Action Planner for Every Perspective
The Daily Action Planner pairs with the Weekly Action Planner and Monthly Action Planner to create a complete chain of perspectives. You can start with your monthly planning and chunk your projects all the way down to 15-minute increments if you wish. Or you can start with where you are today, and work yourself up to the monthly view.
Where you start your planning process isn’t as important as that you’ve started. If you’re planning effectively, you’ll always be changing your plans. Get to it!