Update: The most current version of this aid is available on the Free Planner page. This post references an older version.
I’m taking my own advice here and releasing this before it’s perfectly spaced and arranged. Before I describe the Daily Productivity Planner in detail, I must give credit where credit is due.
The giant whose back I’m standing on: David Seah
I must credit Dave Seah for inspiring me to create this aid and giving me awesome templates to start from. Dave’s forms have been great for helping me to work, and I still make use of the Emergent Task Timer on those days that I wake up with no clue what to do. But I had a hard time using the Emergent Task Planner because I did too much fiddling and scratching and confusing myself. Note that this is probably operator error, but nonetheless, it wasn’t working very well for me.
Those familiar with his forms will note a lot of similarities. I pretty much scalped his Notes Block, since that worked well for me. I also picked up his Emergent Task terminology, since unexpected tasks emerge every day and require attention. Lastly, I’ve always liked the way he uses text to describe the boxes, and I’ve emulated that in this design.
(Dave, you’re a great teacher and thanks for indirectly mentoring me for the last few years. Let me know if this is too close to some of your stuff and we’ll work something out.)
What’s the basic concept of the Daily Productivity Planner?
The main thing I’ve been trying to do is to focus my 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 five work areas to the DPP:
- The Projects in Focus area
- The Supporting Tasks area
- The Productivity Sorter area
- The Emergent Tasks area
- The Notes Area
The Notes area is self-explanatory. The rest could probably bear some description.
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 three (3!) projects. If you can get three major projects done in a day, then you’re doing better than a lot of people are.
(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.)
Notice the colored boxes? 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 red box, whereas tasks that need to be done but require less juice get a yellow tick. It’s hopefully self-explanatory why there are no green or grey boxes.
The Supporting Tasks Area
These are the tasks that directly support the projects you’re working on. The boxes mean the same thing, as some tasks require more productive capacity than others. 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 Productivity Sorter Area
This area is where the rubber hits the road. You’ll notice that the colored blocks are there but that I’ve also added a green block. Since the default use of this area assumes that one block is an hour, there’s twelve hours represented. During that period, you may go green on productive capacity, and that’s good to know so you don’t plan to work during that time. Take a powernap, stretch, meditate, exercise, or do something besides work unless you absolutely have to, i.e. the Boss is standing over you watching and clocking your work.
The colored blocks label that block of time 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 colors 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, but that’s just me.
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 Task 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.
Closing the Time Management Loop
The major weakness of the Productivity Heatmap is that it’s just a recording and evaluation aid. The information pulled from it is only partly actionable because it’s too general. The Daily Productivity Planner takes that information and fits it into the other major components of time management: planning and execution.
And, as I type this, I just figured out how to present the Special Theory of Productivity that I’ve been stewing over. Look for that one to come out in the next few days!
Give this planner a try and let me know how it works for you. Feedback (good, bad, or otherwise) is greatly appreciated.
Grab it here if you didn’t already: Daily Productivity Planner
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