Here’s the best daily productivity hack I’ve ever found: End each day by thinking about the next one.
This means that almost every evening, I block out the next day’s calendar with an eye toward the most important tasks—the ones that will actually push my business forward.
I call this “living in my calendar,” and it’s my secret to a more productive day.
Essentially, “living in your calendar” is a to-do list brought to life. It forces you to think not only about what needs to get accomplished, but how much time each effort is worth. And even how to sequence your day.
Here’s what a day might look like:
- 6:15 – 6:30: Scan email
- 6:30 – 7:15: Work out
- 7:15 – 7:30: Meditate
- 7:30 – 8:45: Get ready/commute
- 8:45 – 10:00: Write proposal
- 10:00 – 11:00: Think
- 11:00 – 11:50: Product development meeting
- 12:00 – 12:30: Time-sensitive emails
- 12:30 – 1:00: Eat
- 1:00 – 1:45: Press call
- 2:00 – 2:50: Review test strategy
- 3:00 – 3:30: One-on-one meeting
- 3:30 – 4:15: Creative review
- 4:15 – 5:00 Commute
- 5:00 – 6:00: Zero inbox
- 6:00 – 6:15: Block out tomorrow
There are a few considerations that drive the way I approach living in my calendar, all having to do with how I try to manage my energy, focus, and priorities.
For one, I’m a morning person, so the harder work happens early in the day when I’m fresh. Consider assessing when you’re sharpest, and doing your most challenging work then.
To stay focused during the day, everything—including my personal activities like my workout or commute—is blocked out on my calendar. After all, they consume time, too.
I schedule in “think time” so I can take the bird’s eye view and be sure we’re doing the right things. When my day is so jam-packed that I don’t have a moment to take a step back and think more deeply, I know I risk being reactive, and it’s my warning to reprioritize.
Last, I try to minimize the risk of distraction, like checking email (this one is super tough for me, and I’m still working on it). So instead of living in my inbox all day, which is tempting because it appeals to my sense of order and desire to be productive, I set aside “scan time.” This is where I make a mental note of anything time sensitive, and try to only respond to urgent messages before the end-of-day “zero inbox” time block.
Here’s why you might try living in your calendar, too:
- It sets you up to start each day with your long-term goals in mind. The mere act of laying out your day in advance will remind you to focus on what matters most. Unless you’re in a role that requires you to be reactive, like customer service, I predict that if you stare at a calendar filled with email replies and other reactive tasks, you’ll adjust it.
- It lets you visualize your work in proportion to what each initiative is worth. With to-do lists, each item on it visually appears to be of equal importance. Laying out your tasks out on your calendar prevents you from feeling a false sense of accomplishment because you checked off a lot of little things from your to-do list. And it contributes to a real sense of accomplishment because it focuses you on the work that matters.
- It forces you to make it happen. There’s nothing like seeing a task on your calendar to ensure that you get it done.
- You start to time-bound tasks. Work can expand and take a lot of time. However, if I tell myself “this post deserves an hour and no longer,” something magical happens. It’s like setting a deadline. When you have to move on to the next thing, somehow you pick up the pace and finish faster. In addition, through conscious time-bounding, I’ve gained a better understanding of how long it takes to do various tasks well.
- It reduces your stress. It helps to go to sleep knowing you have a plan for the next day.
Of course, you still have to be flexible.
The unexpected will always pop up: team members or customers in need, an unexpected phone call from an investor, or the like. Being responsive is important. But, with your blueprint in place, you will bring a mindset of “I cannot shut down until I’ve accomplished x and y” and adjust your calendar only when necessary.
Of course, I’m far from perfect about living in my calendar. I don’t do it every single day, and some days go sideways, even with the best-laid plans. But I’m happier and more productive when I do.
I was recently talking to a high-level executive who described herself as “not in control of my calendar.” I thought to myself, “How did you end up as an executive?”
My belief is that if you want to be successful, you have to control your time—and one of the best ways to accomplish that is to start living in your calendar.