My Experiment with Day Planning (inspired by Cal Newport)

Cal Newport is an MIT postdoc, now a tenured Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. Besides his grueling academic work like a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers every year, he has written 4 books (the last one, Deep Work being my favorite), and maintains a blog with 10000+ readers, still manages to finish his work every day by 5:30 pm.

This got my attention.

Fixed-scheduled productivity is what he calls his productivity system. I like the idea of day structuring over 30 minutes period. It gives me sense of reality what I can accomplish in a day. I am also note bothered by mosquito tasks that distracts me.

Because by default given the scheduling of tasks, you are suppose not to be distracted by such tiny tasks, that brings in quite an amount of focus and ensures quality. I do miss the fact the digression is a key part to creativity, but I think I have to compromise one thing for the other – a chosen trade off.

Here is my list of what I liked and what I don’t like in the system.

Pros

  • Day structuring
  • But brought in very great focus
  • It forced outcome-based thinking
  • Given reality perspective of what could be done in a day
  • Forced to reduce the number of projects, but I also missed variety of projects.

Cons

  • Felt great burden on the shoulder to maintain or stick to the schedule of activities.

However one of the major advantages that would ask.
It forces you to decide your to-do list right in the morning to the calendar.
Reduce task switching. In fact Cal suggests not to focus on any task less than 30 minutes. That he says will bring in focus for deep work and in turn

Top 10 one page Productivity Planners

I have been searching for short cuts for quite sometimes.

As a result of it, I have found some really interesting productivity systems – but it was not enough. I needed a smaller package which offers straight forward, no bs results.

Introducing you my personal collection of one page productivity planners.

  1. 6 Boxes To-do List: Peter Bregman, management consutant and coach, is the guy who put the word ‘right’ in getting the right-things done. Apparently his one-page 6 boxes to-do list has a lot of meat. It is basically this – a page with 6 boxes and each box represents areas of focus. Write your annual focus (not goals) on top of each box and write your day’s todos under it. That’s all. The 6th box (Other – 5%) is where you put anything that doesn’t fit in your annual focus and the 5% denotes that you should be spending not more than 5% of your day’s time on it. Makes sense!
  2. 1-Page Productivity Planner: Google ‘productivity planner’ and one of the first things that show up is this Sheldon-like funny looking productivity guru Mr.Brendon Burchard. Later I learnt that Brendon is already a youtube celebrity shaking hands with legends like Brian Tracy. The man is profilic – creating 100s of awesome youtube videos with more 100,000+ views EACH! So it comes at no surprise to try his productivity system – the 1 page productivity planner. It works brilliantly if you are majorly on a manager’s schedule.
  3. 7 Habits Weekly Planner: Now from the master himself. Dr.Stephen R.Covey is no stranger to tools for personal improvement and self development. I would say his weekly calendar system is one of the most comprehensive planner out there. Though you may have to read his entire book, The 7 Habits, to understand the philosophy, it is definitely worth a shot.
  4. 1-3-5 List: Idea to collate list of productivity tools came from this article at The Muse. And they recommend this pretty interesting 135 ToDo List. The idea is simple: Decide 1 big thing you want to that day + 3 medium tasks + 5 low tasks. There is a similar system ‘One big thing‘ that writer John Zeratsky has been blogging about. The concept is the same, but he explains it in a different perspective. There are even a couple of apps created based on this idea (135 app, One big thing iPhone app).
  5. Millionaire Day Planner: Host of Extreme Productivity and best-selling author, Kevin Kruse knows what he is talking about. While I learnt the idea of Most Important Task (MIT) from ZenHabits Leo Baubata, it was Kevin who gave me a Quick-Start-Action-Plan-Workbook (refer page 3) that helped me to execute the idea. The major idea that he stresses is scheduling one’s to-do list on a calendar. Though I am not too excited about this idea of his, I now have developed a routine to allocate first 2 hours of my work day on my MIT/s – which either could be my professional or personal projects. The remaining part of day, I usually circulate around my to-do list to pick and do tasks.
  6. Daily Get it Done List: This is from Justin Gesso of Victory Coaches that offers some great practical tips through his Victory Coaches’ Daily-Get-it-Done List. His suggestion is to write 10 to-dos, but superceded by writing 3 Big Goals (for one’s life) and 3 Weekly to-dos (for the week). It is a simple idea, but as I realised writing my big goal(s) and weekly to-do(s) intuitively influenced what I put on my to-do list and gave me a major outcome-focused mindset. Try it out for yourself and see how it works.
  7. Emergent Task Planner: Mr.David Seah is not new to creating printable planner templates, in fact he made his mission to create and experiment with such systems. Emergent Task Planner by David Seah is one of his most advanced and comprehensive planner ever designed. You could see influence of his designer self quite a lot, but nevertheless functional and quite effective.
  8. Daily Schedule: If you are one of those who like mapping tasks to a daily calendar, then this one’s for you. The design of Daily schedule is straightforward – an amalgamation of a to-do list with daily schedule on the side. You not only schedule events, but also block time for project, tasks, emails, etc. Inspired by Cal Newport, I extensively tried this method but found I either overestimated what I could do in a day by adding too many tasks in a day or in the name of focus I miss doing low key tasks. But if you are on a maker’s schedule or want to move to one, you could try your hands at it.
  9. The Energy Project’s 90 minute cycle: Relax! You will be More Productive says Tony Schwartz who is the Chief Energy Officer and a brilliant writer. He claims that leveraging the 90+30 minutes cycle (90 minutes work, followed by 30 minutes relax time) he wrote 2 books with half the time and effort, where he would have otherwise written only 1 book. Tall claim! I wish I could do that. Chase Jarvis has created a template out of this for himself. You could try it out.
  10. Getting Results the Agile Way: J.D.Meier from Microsoft based his Getting Results system on ‘Rule of 3’. While I don’t understand agile or scrum methodologies, this system is understandable even for a layman like me. I suggests creating 3 Weekly Wins, 3 Daily Wins ending the week with 3 Friday Reflections. Here is a template you could use for the same. Well I realised all of us have more than 3 things to do per day, but I guess this system could help you bring clarity in direction by helping you decide your priorities.
  11. Winning Planner: Bonus! It is not just 11 productivity tools and this from yours truly. But I cheated. It’s not my system. I just combined the best of the systems that worked for me and made a daily planner of my own and I creatively named it as

How to take it forward

I am a pen and paper person, failing at numerous affairs with fancy apps and tools. If you think any of the planners above could help you, download it and take a print out of it. Jesse Gusso from Victory Coaches recommends taking print out every day rather than taking print outs in bulk. It helps you to focus and restricts your temptation to migrate today’s taks to tomorrow.

At the end of the week, do a quick review. Ask yourself

  • How did you feel at end of each day of this week?
  • How are you feeling now? Accomplished and productive or Drained and stupid?

Reflect upon it for a minute and if you find it worth the effort continue with planner the next week. Or else, trash the system. You still got 9 more left.

So what ya waiting for! Go ahead and have a productive week!!

Failure: Catalyst for Growth

“I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

– T.S. Elliot

Orison Swett Marden tells us about the latent potential in a torpedo in the ode to self-determination called He Can Who Thinks He Can:

“There is enough latent force in a Maximite torpedo shell to tear a warship to pieces. But the amount of force or explosive power in one of these terrific engines of destruction could never be ascertained by any ordinary concussion.

Children could play with it for years, pound it, roll it about, and do all sorts of things with it; the shell might be shot through the walls of an ordinary building, without arousing its terrible dynamic energy. It must be fired from a cannon, with terrific force, through a foot or so of steel plate armor, before it meets with resistance great enough to evoke its mighty explosive power.

Every man is a stranger to his greatest strength, his mightiest power, until the test of a great responsibility, a critical emergency, or a supreme crisis in his life, calls it out.”

Often times the very thing that catalyzes our growth is our failure. It’s our greatest challenges that catalyze our greatest growth. IF WE LET THEM.

William James tells us: “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second. Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.”

Let’s embrace our failures and our challenges. Let’s blow through our perceived upper limits. Let’s find the extra energy to move forward.

To be an Original by Adam Grant

“If originals aren’t reliable judges of the quality of their ideas, how do they maximize their odds of creating a masterpiece? They come up with a large number of ideas. Simonton finds that on average, creative geniuses aren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers. They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them higher variation and a higher chance of originality. ‘The odds of producing an influential or successful idea,’ Simonton notes, are ‘a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.’ …

From the book ‘Originals‘ by Adam Grant.

While I personally don’t agree with his definition of the procrastination problem, I find this argument on ‘quality versus quantity’ surprisingly pleasing.

‘In every field, even the most eminent creators typically produce a large quantity of work that’s technically sound but considered unremarkable by experts and audiences. When the London Philharmonic Orchestra chose the 50 greatest pieces of classical music, the list included six pieces by Mozart, five by Beethoven, and three by Bach. To generate a handful of masterworks, Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five, Beethoven produced 650 in his lifetime, and Bach wrote over a thousand. In a study of over 15,000 classical music compositions, the more pieces a composer produced in a given five-year window, the greater the spike in the odds of a hit.”

– Adam Grant from Originals

“If you want to be an original, ‘the most important possible thing you could do,’ says Ira Glass, the producer of This American Life and the podcast Serial, ‘is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work.’”

One more gem from Adam worth noting here: “It’s widely assumed that there’s a tradeoff between quantity and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality. ‘Original thinkers,’ Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes, ‘will come up with many ideas that are strange mutations, dead ends, and utter failures. The cost is worthwhile because they also generate a larger pool of ideas—especially novel ideas.’”

Visual Notes: The Secret to True Happiness

Seneca and Will Durant writing about the secret to happiness.

Two interesting characters from different periods of human history and situations.

Seneca says,

True happiness is to rest satisfied with what we have.

While on the other hand,

Gladly I surrender myself to love and parentage!

says Will Durant.

I was inspired to make a visual note for my own reference. It was taken from the wonderful book ‘Light from Many Lamps‘. I’m sharing the same with you.

From Seneca:

From Will Durant:

May you all be bless with true joy and happiness!