Why You Should be Realistic, And Not Hopeful, In Planning Your Day

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Let’s face it: Most of us overestimate our ability to get a lot of stuff done.

We often load up our schedule with priorities and non-priorities alike — thinking (wrongly) that we’ll be able to blow through all of them in record time.

That’s called hopeful thinking. Reality is often much different.

There are interruptions. There are crises. There is traffic, phone calls, and unforeseen complications with projects that leave us getting far less done than we planned for, and leave us feeling defeated at the end of the day.

I’m a big proponent of setting myself up for victory when I plan for the day. That means being realistic, rather than hopeful, about what I’m going to accomplish.

That’s why I try to never set more than three big priorities each day. Three priorities may not sound like a lot, but I believe in consistency over inconsistent intensity (another way of saying “Tortoise vs. Hare”).

By focusing on the “Big Three” priorities, I make my day manageable and I set myself up to accomplish all of my priorities, rather than piling on the to-dos and not being able to complete them.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and thoughts to keep in mind to help you realistically plan for your day:

  • Look at Your Historical Schedule Patterns. Look back historically at your calendar. Does your client usually surprise you with an unforeseen request every Monday at 10 am or Friday at 3 p.m.? Are your Thursdays usually pretty clear of calls and interruptions? If your schedule is like mine, you can identify certain patterns for each day of the week that can help you realistically plan and schedule around common interruptions, calls, etc.
  • Build in Buffers. Scheduling conference calls back-to-back-to-back is a surefire way to be late to one or more of those calls. Yes, there are things we can do to make sure calls don’t go over their scheduled time, but stuff happens, and calls can are more productive when you have a few minutes to plan for them ahead of time. Build in — and schedule — buffers. It will keep you on time (which will also help you look good to your boss and/or client) and allows you to be more productive in each call.
  • Build In Time For Your Life. “Parkinson’s Law” holds that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Making time for breaks and personal tasks is a good way to put time limits on your work-related tasks. But make sure you schedule these breaks. Did you promise your wife you’d buy those tickets to the upcoming show during your workday? Schedule it. Were you thinking of maybe taking a walk during your lunch hour? Schedule it.
  • Break Larger Projects Into Smaller Tasks. Don’t schedule something like “Write 6 Page Report” as a single to-do for a single day. Writing a six-page report has many different, individual steps that you can break into smaller tasks so that you complete it over time. Perhaps “draft initial report outline” is a task for Monday. “Download weekly sales report spreadsheet” could be a task for Tuesday, since downloading that spreadsheet is a necessary task for completing your report. “Analyze sales totals for July” could be a task for Wednesday. And so on and so forth. The bottom line: Stop scheduling confusing “projects” with “to dos”. Each project has many to-dos that can be broken up and completed over a period of time.
  • Accept That Sometimes, ‘S*** Happens’. Even if you only have one major priority schedule for a day — things can happen that make even accomplishing that one thing impossible. A car accident. Sickness. A client crisis. Whatever it is — these things happen. Don’t let it get you down. Hopefully, the fact that you’ve been limiting your priorities for each day makes missing a day not so overwhelming (you’re only missing out on three priorities instead of 23 to-dos).

You’re not superman/superwoman. Your day doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens in real life, with all the interruptions and unforeseen activities that it brings.

Be realistic in planning your day, and I’m hopeful it will make you more productive, less stressed and happier.

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