Not knowing what you need to focus on each day can lead to procrastination. In this post, discover the process you need to bring clarity to your daily actions.
So you’ve got your goals for the week. Your week’s appointments are laid out in front of you and maybe you’ve even scheduled time in your week to work on your top 3 tasks for the week. (If this all sounds like dutch to you, then you might want to read my previous posts here and here about planning out your week)
But you might still need further help to know what you need to focus on each day.
Let’s say, for example, your top 3 tasks for the week are blocked off on your calendar on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. What happens on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and even Sunday? Do you just kinda drift through those days?
Hopefully not. And in this post, I’ll cover a process that I (and other productive experts) use that will help you to be more intentional with each one of your days.
Let’s dive in!
How to know what you need to focus on each day
Before we get started, I should say that this is a good practice to do in the evening or whenever you can sit down and think about the day ahead. For me that’s just before bed. Although I know some people do it in the afternoon when they’re winding down their work day.
The benefit of doing this the day before is that you’ll make the most use of your time as soon as you get up. So let’s jump into these five points.
1. Know your available time
Before you can identify what you need to focus on in any given day, you need to know how much time you have available in that day. Trying to start a large time-consuming task will only lead to frustration if you will be out for most of the day.
So first, find out how much time you have available in the day to spend on taking action with your goals and To-Dos. I like to round my time down to the lower half an hour. What does this mean?
It means that if I calculate my available time to work on tasks to be 3 hours and 45 minutes, I will round it down to 3 ½ hours. Or if my available time is 4 hours and 20 minutes, I round it down to 4 hours.
Why? Because it’s always better to be conservative with how much time you’ll have. Chances are you’ll actually have less time as the day plays out and life happens. And if it turns out that you have more time, then that’ll be a great bonus!
Also, studies have shown that we’re generally poor at estimating how long tasks take to complete and things usually take longer than expected.1 So by shortening your available time, you’re less likely to overestimate how much you can accomplish in that time.
Planning tip: if you’ll have young kids with you throughout your available time, cut your available time in half! Seriously, from one mother to another, you have even less time to focus if your kids are with you throughout the day. I’ve been homeschooling for over 9 years and know that kids in the mix = less time to focus!
2. Know your goals
Once you know how much time you’ll be working with, now is a good time to review your goals. What are you aiming towards at the moment? What projects have you got on the go that require your attention?
If you spent some time creating an overview for your week, you’ll probably have identified a few big tasks that you want to complete. You may have even listed a few more actions from your goals that didn’t make your top 3 for the week.
Collect these tasks and any other tasks that have hit your To-Do list. If you’re starting to break out in a sweat with all the things that need to get done, don’t worry. We’ll cut it right back.
3. Estimate how long your tasks will take
Once you’ve got your list, scan through these items and quickly estimate how long each task will take to complete.
I should say that it’s important that this is a list of tasks and not projects. If you’re not sure of the difference, a task is something you can complete in one action, whereas a project requires lots of actions to complete. E.g. email Jane the RSVP to her dinner party is a task. Whereas, organising the bedroom closet is a project made up of smaller tasks (organise the sock drawer, organise the shirts etc.).
If your list has a couple projects on it, it’s a good idea to list these separately and identify some smaller actions that are required to complete these projects.
Estimating how long a task will take shouldn’t be a lengthy job. Don’t overthink this. Do it quickly and get through your list. Don’t be concerned about how accurate your estimates are.2 As I mentioned earlier, our estimates are generally overly optimistic. But that’s fine because we’ve rounded down our available time in Step 1 (and possibly even cut that time in half!).
4. Prioritise your most important and urgent tasks
Now you should have a list of tasks with time estimates on how long these tasks will take.
Scan your list for the most important and urgent tasks on the list, bearing in mind how much available time you have. This is crucial to being able to shorten our To-Do list. I like to put an asterisk next to important tasks and a ‘U’ next to urgent ones. Use any system or code that will help you easily identify your important and urgent tasks.
5. Focus on your top 3
Now you’ve highlighted your important and urgent tasks, I highly recommend focusing on just three tasks for your upcoming day.
I do this by asking the following prioritising question:
If I only had time to complete one of these tasks, which one would it be?
When I’ve answered that question, I then ask:
And if I am able to complete a second, which one would it be?
I move through the list prioritising my highlighted tasks in this way, putting a number next to each (1, 2, 3 etc.).
I then write my top 3 tasks for the following day in my planner so that I’m ready for the day ahead. Get my Daily Game Planner to help you focus on what’s most important below!
Planning your days this way will help you to be confident that you’re focusing on the most important things each day.
- Study on the Planning Fallacy: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Exploring-the-%22planning-fallacy%22%3A-Why-people-their-Buehler-Griffin/f91964dad8c0e54cd58b1aa99e430b900fcf082b
- If you’re really concerned about the accuracy of your estimates, there are steps you can take to reduce the ‘Planning Fallacy’ of overestimating time. Bear in mind that steps for counteracting the Planning Fallacy are generally intricate and time-consuming, best suited for large projects rather than for common everyday activities.