By Robert Dodds
Being productive is a common goal, and one that I share. When I’m productive, I’m happy. When I haven’t gotten much of my work done, I get frustrated and enjoy my job less.
Usually, the reasons I don’t get my priority tasks done is because I was prioritising my schedule – elevating the meetings, emails and phone calls in importance.
Getting stuck in reactive mode leads to wasting time on unimportant, “urgent”, activities, and forgetting about your most important tasks.
Productivity Planner to the Rescue
Note: None of the links in this post are affiliate links. This post is a genuine recommendation of the product, and there is absolutely no motive to us posting it, nor have we been asked to.
Productivity Planner is a brilliant and beautifully presented journal, that will inspire you and keep you accountable to yourself.
It’s made by Intelligent Change, a Toronto based company who’s website bears the strap-line “We create products that help you become better.”
The first section is made up of easy to read “mini-chapters”, each a page or two in length, that will explain to you the concept behind the productivity planner, how to use it and why you’ll love it.
This first section will inspire you to be productive and also covers:
- Some sound life tips to set up a more productive mindset.
- How to decide your priorities.
- Tips for better to-do lists.
- Things to avoid in your search for productivity.
- How to write a task to ensure it gets done.
- How to use breaks to be more productive.
The introductory section also introduces the Pomodoro Technique, which features heavily in the concept of the Productivity Planner. This technique is explained and the reasons for its recommendation justified. You don’t have to use it, but if you are going to use the Productivity Planner effectively then you need to employ some form of tracking your time.
Making You Feel Accountable
The productivity planner did a fantastic job of making me feel accountable to myself.
Being in the UK and having to pay for shipping on top of the cost of the journal (total cost: £24), meant that this was a not insignificant investment. After spending that much money on a planner, I already felt like I would have to give it a good chance.
It starts with a page where you can fill in your name, an address for the finder of your planner (should it become lost) to return it, and the reward for doing so. It feels like you should take it seriously. There’s a section at the end of the introduction where you’re taught how to use the planner, even though it would have been fairly clear from the layout of the planning pages what you needed to do. The creators want to make sure you’re getting it and they hammer the points home.
Scattered throughout the planner are inspiring quotes from thought leaders in the world of business and other well known figures, to help place you in the right frame of mind each day to do work.
Right at the end of the introduction you’re presented with a page titled “My Commitment”. This section has you write your name again, committing to using the planner for at least 5 days in a row, with a start date.
You list the reasons why working with the Productivity Planner is really important to you, you write down a reward you will give yourself should you complete your first 5 days, and a punishment for yourself should you break your commitment. You also write down some of the things you will do to ensure you will use the planner each day.
It created what felt like an unbreakable promise. Even though I had tried other productivity solutions before, I was really motivated to see this through, saying “this time, it will be different.”
The Planning Sections
The rest of the Productivity Planner is made up of weekly planning, daily planning and weekly review pages.
All of these sections revolve around choosing limited numbers of tasks to focus on each week or day. There is a deliberate limiting of space, so you can’t write yourself an unmanageable list.
Tasks are broken down by priority, with each day containing a maximum of 5 tasks, one of which is labelled the Most Important Task. You may only work on secondary and additional tasks after completion of the Most Important Task.
Deciding on the Most Important Task is made easier by the planner, which prompts you “if this was the only thing you did today you’d be satisfied”.
A key part of using the daily planning pages is tracking your time. Each task has boxes and bubbles next to it for allocating and tracking blocks of time. The Planner suggests using Pomodoros as your blocks, which are 25 minutes in duration, but you could use any length of time, just as long as you are tracking it.
Once a task is complete, you can see if it took you a shorter amount of time than you expected, longer, or about right. This tells you about your ability to focus.
Reviewing Your Actions
There’s a small space at the bottom of each day for your Productivity Score, where you mark your day out of 10 based on what you got done. There’s also a space for a short comment.
At the end of each week, you’ll find a page dedicated to reviewing your week. Here you write down any weekly wins, note down tasks you didn’t manage to complete, what you’ve learned and what you’ll do next week to ensure it is productive.
This daily/weekly reviewing and scoring is important as it makes you realise just how much good work you’ve been doing. It also refocuses you back to what you defined as important at the start of the day/week, motivating yourself to still get these tasks done and not forget about them amongst the other tasks you’re no doubt given throughout the week.
Impact on my Productivity
The main impact of the Productivity Planner has been on my self awareness.
I’ve become aware of the following:
- How much time tasks take me
- Some tasks are quicker than I expect when I focus on nothing but the task (this tells me about my previous ability to stay focused)
- How I automatically put other less important “reactive” tasks in front of my real priorities
The Planner has had a huge impact on my productivity. I’m getting lots of tasks done that I set out for myself at the start of the week, and not letting them slip off the radar when other things come up.
As I’ve sometimes been planning the next day at the end of the previous one, I’ve been able to hit the ground running each day – and have also started to schedule in time to complete tasks. This has then led to other ad-hoc “urgent” requests needing to fit around my priorities, rather than me fitting my tasks around them.
And I’ve learned to tame emails! I now process them at set times, keeping them closed outside these times. If I didn’t, I’d never work for a single complete pomodoro without switching to email reading/replying/shuffling mode.
Productivity Planner has changed my working habits significantly, for the better.
I am definitely continuing to use it, and recommend you look into it too!