Editor’s Note: The Weekly Productivity Planner and Daily Productivity Planner have been renamed to the Weekly Action Planner and the Daily Action Planner. The most up-to-date versions of them are available on our Free Planners page.
There’s an interesting story about why they took so long, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.
A Brief Intro
The Weekly Productivity Planner serves as your task manager for the week. It doesn’t get into a lot of detail and doesn’t focus on time – rather it gives you the global view for the week and lets you focus on the structure of the week.
The Daily Productivity Planner, on the other hand, does have times and details. It’s the “in the trench” planner and only gives the hard structure of the day.
The planners were redesigned in tandem, so they both complement each other much better than previous designs. You can start with just the day, or you can start from the week – either way, they’ll end up scaffolding your productive work nicely. I recommend starting with the weekly view, even if it’s late in the week – but start somewhere today.
A monthly calendar for reference
I’ll make one for each month and have a couple of generic ones. I’ll give you all an update on where to get the new planners.
Project and Task Checkblocks
I’ve been writing a bit recently about limiting what you’re trying to do each day. I integrated those discussions into the Productivity Planners.
You’ll notice on the Weekly Productivity Planner that there are only five project blocks available for each day. The goal here is to have a quick overview for how much you’ve planned each day.
The Daily Productivity Planner is a bit different. The “Planned Tasks” block serves the same purpose, but there are more boxes. I wouldn’t recommend planning to use them all, but they’re there just in case you have high aspirations for the day.
Completed Tasks Checkblocks
All fun aside, the completed tasks blocks are your reality check. Sure, you’ve planned 13 tasks on Tuesday – but how many did you actually do? This will be useful for more accurate planning in the future.
More Informative and Useful Project/Task Blocks
Most of the “Project Block” on the Weekly Productivity Planner is self-explanatory. I’ve added a “Scheduled” column just so you can have a quick way to schedule projects for the day.
The Daily Productivity Planner is more detailed and thus may require a bit more explaining. The “Projects in Focus” block has an “ID” column and a “Code” column. What’s the difference? I recommend that you give each project a number for the day that becomes it’s reference in the “Supporting Tasks,” but you can use that however you wish.
For “Code,” develop your own quick system for coding projects. For example, you might use “B” for billable if you’re a freelancer, or “B” if you’re running your own home business. That way you can separate work projects from personal projects. The key point here is to tailor your codes to your situation and what makes sense for you.
The “Supporting Tasks” and “Emergent Tasks” blocks have been updated as well. For the “Project” column, just use the ID from above – that’s why I recommended a number or something quick.
“Status” is where that particular task is in the process. If it’s completed, put a line through it. If it’s dropped, put a “D” in the column. If it’s rescheduled, put an “R” in the column. Develop status codes based on your situation.
In a future post I’ll give some common codes and statuses to use in these blocks, as thinking about projects and tasks in this way is not exactly natural – though it can be really handy.
A Handy Scheduled Events Block
A few ideas of what an event could be: meetings, teleconferences, doctor’s appointments, consulting calls, soccer games, dates, movies, concerts, exercise sessions…
A Daily Schedule Block
The Daily Schedule Block is your place to plan out your day by time. The blocks are abstract – they could stand for one discrete hour, or they could stand for chunks of time. Just indicate how you’re using it in the little double hash marks on the left of the block.
A Quick Rundown on How to Use the Planners
If your interest has been piqued and you’d like a walk-thru, I suggest you download the planners and print them out to reference while you’re reading this. Here’s the link to pick up the most up-to-date versions (don’t worry, I’ll wait):
The Weekly Productivity Planner
Start by circling the week in the monthly calendar and by filling in your events for the week so you have a good idea of what you’re looking at event-wise.
Now start listing your projects without worrying about when you need to do them. The point is to get it out of your head as quickly as possible.
I know that looks like a lot of lines, but it’s 32 projects, which really amounts to 4 a day with some change leftover. I figure most people will plan 5 a day for their workdays, but really, if you need more lines than this, you’ve either got way too much going on or you’re making your projects too detailed from a weekly perspective.
After you’ve listed them all out, fill in the due dates for the projects that have them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an external due date, i.e. your boss saying get it done by Friday, or internal due date, i.e. your goal is to have it completed by Friday.
Now we’re at the fun part. Start scheduling when you want to work on the projects. If a project has a due date, consider whether you want to just do it on that day or whether you want to work on it a few days in advance of its due date. You know yourself and your projects better than I do, but if you’re going to cram a big project in one day, I recommend you don’t have any other projects planned for that day. That is, unless you like being a stress-out train-wreck for the day.
Another thing to consider: If you have an all-day event, don’t schedule projects that you can’t do while at that event! All too often, people forget that an all or half-day event prevents them from getting other projects done, and they’ll plan away a full day anyway. The result: frustration, rescheduling, late nights, self-medication, etc.
A way you might want to account for events is to line through the Project Slots for that day. If it’s an all-day event where you’ll be occupied and unable to complete any projects (death by PowerPoint, maybe?), cross out the whole day. If it’s a half-day event, cross out two or three blocks. If it’s only an hour or so, cross out one – even that one hour will limit your productivity, as you’ll be planning around it anyway.
As you schedule a project in, mark a box off on the day(s) you scheduled the project. So, if it’s scheduled for Tuesday and Friday, that’s one slot apiece that comes off of Tuesday and Friday.
The key thing is to remember how you work – if you work intensely Monday and Tuesday but need a slower day on Wednesday, load up Monday and Tuesday with your projects that require more productive energy and keep Wednesday with fewer projects and/or ones that don’t require all you’ve got to complete.
Additionally, if the weekends are especially creative days for you, load up your creative projects for the weekend and use the rest of the week to get done all of the other projects so you can play all you want during the weekend.
You can use the “Completed Tasks” blocks daily or as part of your weekly review. It’s just there to give you a rough view of the your productivity.
Using the Weekly Productivity Planner hopefully won’t take any longer than 30 minutes. But completing it makes using the Daily Productivity Planner a snap…
The Daily Productivity Planner
Have your Weekly Productivity Planner in hand if you’ve filled it out. Circle the day of the week in the calendar and start filling in your events from the Weekly Productivity Planner.
Fill in the Project in Focus block by using the tasks you’ve assigned from the Weekly Productivity Planner. I recommend that you assign daily codes to the projects rather than trying to remember unique project IDs for the week – the main point of the ID is to give you a quick reference point for the day, and having to remember those IDs for a few weeks may be a bit much.
[Power User Tip: If you want to start keeping track of your projects by ID, then disregard the last paragraph. It may be motivating to know that you’re working on Project 175 if that means you’ve completed 174 other projects.]
Start filling in the “Supporting Tasks” blocks. 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.
[Alternative Use Tip: You may not be keen on thinking about your day based on your productive energy – for you, the blocks may mean importance or something else that makes sense for you in your context. Just assign a value to the colors and use them consistently and you’ll be fine.]
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.
As you plan your tasks, mark off the blocks 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!
Use your daily schedule to plan the hard times for your tasks. Start by filling in times in the time hashes. Remember that these are abstract, so they could be hours or blocks of time – whatever works for your day and context. Then fill in the column of blocks, representing your productive energy during those time blocks.
Hopefully, events with a low productivity value won’t be during blocks of time when you have a lot of productive energy. It’s always frustrating when that happens, and try to schedule low productivity events during low productivity periods, if possible. Nonetheless, record your events, as that’ll give the hard structure for the day.
Now plan your tasks by putting the colored tasks in their respective boxes. Red tasks go in red blocks, yellow tasks in yellow, etc.
[Alternative Use Tip: If having your tasks allocated to time is too much work or not representative as to how you actually work, then go by the feel of it. When you’re at your peak, work on your high energy tasks – if you’re feeling a little mentally sluggish, work on lower energy tasks – or exercise, go for a walk, take a nap, or play music.]