The Big Idea
Productivity should be customized to you.
Questions I Answer
- How can I figure out the best planning system for me?
- Which is better paper or technology for planning?
- What are some simple tips for planning?
- How can I feel more productive without spending very little time planning?
Key Topics in the Show
Why I advocate for using both technology and paper planning.
The most important pieces of making your own planning system.
How planning one day at a time sets you up for success.
What to do each night to jump start your mornings.
Resources and Links
- Listen to Episode 011: The Paperless Myth to Learn More About Using Technology with Planning
- Products that I Shared in the Podcast That I Use Weekly:
Hello, hello everyone, welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host Tanya Dalton and this is Episode 12. Today, we are going to be talking about creating your own personal ideal system for planning and productivity. I’m really excited about it because when you start creating your own systems, this is where things start to fall
into place and it becomes where your day is achievable and you begin to feel a lot happier. Now, in our last episode, we talked about getting rid of our dependence on technology as our sole organization and productivity tool because I know a lot of people are using that, just their phone or just their computer to do all the planning.
A lot of us are not feeling successful when we do that but you might be surprised to learn that I do believe you can create harmony in your life using technology when you integrate it with traditional forms of paper planning. I think you definitely want to have a combination of both. It’s kind of like using both sides of your brain. It creates a fuller picture and a more well-rounded system for you, so the best system truly integrates technology and paper.
At the end of the day, it is about finding a system that’s going to work for you and the way that you want to run your life and your priorities. Then, you have to figure out which parts need the paper planning and which parts need the technology. Without question, it’s about finding the methods that work best for you. Today, what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about my views on what works best for my own life and I’m going to be answering my most frequently asked question, which is how do I plan. The goal here with me talking to you about how I plan is not to tell you, “This is how I plan, so this is how you should plan,” not at all.
I want to tell you about how I plan and how I’ve created systems that integrate with my own life to give you some ideas of how you could do that for yourself. You might walk away from this podcast at the end of this episode, thinking, “You know what, I could integrate what she said here or maybe this part would work or maybe I need to tweak it or I don’t think that would work for me at all.” That’s okay, I’m not going to tell you, “This is how you need to plan.” I’m going to tell you how I plan, so you can apply that to your own life because at the end of the day, what’s most important is what is working for you.
Let’s go ahead and talk about how I plan out my weeks and my days. As I mentioned, I have a happy marriage of technology and paper planning. I use each of them in the areas that best enhance my life. I think about my planner as a personal item. It’s a private item for myself and not private in that it’s like a journal or diary, but no one really accesses my planner, but me, so I keep that in mind. No one else sees the tasks and the appointments and the information written there, only I do. This is important to note because I think that part of a good planning system is delegating to others, whether those other people are your partner or your kids or your co workers, whoever it is, all that matters is that you remember that you don’t have to do everything. It is really important to delegate to others.
I know we’ve discussed this in our past episodes, so you know how I feel about this, but it’s important to know that my planner is personal because I need to keep that in mind for when I’m delegating. Things in my planner are the things that I am directly in charge of or that I need to be aware of. I like too that my planner is a form of mono-tasking. Technology is where everything else in your life is stored, social
media, your accounts, your photos, games, emails, messages. There’s so many different things that hold your attention while you’re on your phone or computer. I feel like there’s so much that when I go into my phone, I end up finding myself scrolling Facebook for just five minutes or responding to an email that came in. You know from Episode 9 how multitasking hurts productivity, so I avoid falling into that trap by using a mono tasking tool like a planner because a phone and a computer are multitasking tools. Paper planning restricts me to a single task because that’s the one thing my planner is used for. It allows me to focus in just on those tasks in my day or the week ahead without all the distractions. This will help me keep on track with my priority system. It drowns out that feeling of overwhelm.
If you’ve heard me mention this before, you’ve heard me mention it a million times overwhelm is not having too much to do. Overwhelm is not knowing where to start. Having a planner helps me know where I want to start and so that totally squashes that feeling of overwhelm. Whether it’s a planner or a journal, I think having a dedicated space, where your one sole focus is productivity really does help you be a little bit more successful. A lot of people ask me how many planners do I have. Well, this is kind of a loaded question for someone like me since I design planners, I tend to jump around and use several planners simply from the standpoint of I want to know how the planners are working, I test them out, so I can make tweaks and adjustments to them when I’m doing my new designs. A lot of people use one and some people like to use two, again it really is up to you. You can easily separate your areas of your life using one planner and that’s one of the reason why we have a thing in my planner called magic dots, where you can divide your day in half, one half for work and one-half for personal and that works really well for some people, if they want to use one planner.
Some people really like to have two completely separate planners for the two different areas of their life. Again, it all goes down to what is going to work for you. Do you want to be in charge of two planners or does it work better for you to have just one? With my planning, I start with coordinating schedules. If you have a partner or family, it can be really nice to have a master calendar to help you coordinate events and plans. This works really well too if you’re on a team in your office. For my coordinating planners for my master calendar, I actually use iCal. I’m a Mac girl, so I have I iCal on my computer and I use that for work and home tasks. I like to have it where my master calendar shows everything, so I don’t accidentally double up and book a conference call on the day that I have to go to the dentist or anything like that.
I like using iCal because it allows me to have repeating tasks and appointments, whether it’s birthdays or soccer practice or carpool. It allows me to coordinate plans with John, so my husband can put appointments in while he’s at the doctor’s office and it shoots it directly to my master calendar. I like this as my shared calendar because multiple people can access it. That’s really one of the benefits with you doing your master calendar using technology because it allows you to coordinate with multiple people.
Then, what I do is I transfer items from my master calendar onto my paper calendar, anything that pertains to me. Now, you might think this sounds redundant,
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but it actually is to my own benefit because the act of copying these events and these notes actually enhances your memory and it enables me to more easily see connections between the different bits of information. That makes it more likely that I’m going to remember and actually get the tasks accomplished. One of the other benefits is it helps me keep my work life at work and my personal life at home. It creates a little bit of separation between the two and thus that creates more harmony for me. Now, you know how I feel about balance that I feel like balance is bogus. Balance makes it sound like it needs to be very equal and that’s not how life works. It’s all about finding harmony in the different areas. I love that with either method, paper planning or on technology, you can color code your activities and your tasks. I color code work and home on my master calendar using my iCal.
In our studio, we have taken one of our big desk pads and we hang that up on the wall and we use that as our master calendar. I love how that allows me to see everything easily at a glance and that’s one of the drawbacks of the computer, it shows a limited number of letters on the different events or even a limited number of events. I use that for my master schedules. Then, on Sunday nights, I do what I call Sunday night planning. On Sundays, usually starting in the afternoon, I sit down and I look over my master calendar. Then, I plugin those appointments and events that affect me into my paper planner. These are only timed appointments. I don’t put in my tasks.
Any of the appointments that are shared, I put in, so maybe it’s a doctors trip. It might be a doctor’s trip for Jack, but I have to take him or the carpool schedule or whatever it is, I put those in. This reinforces for me what I need to get done in the week ahead. It allows me to review these appointments, so I can adequately plan for what I need to get done to accomplish, to make these tasks or appointments or events happen. For example, if it’s a call with my own coach, I think about “Ooh, do I have work I need to get done to prep and send to him or do I have a list of questions? If I have a call with a vendor, what do I need to do to prepare?” It gives me a little bit of a jump start, knowing what I need to get done for the week.
Transferring them over ensures that I’m less likely to forget and once I’ve done that I call the family in for team planning time. We all sit together. Everyone sits around the table and we brainstorm everything we need to get done or accomplish during that week. We talked about the timed appointments and what kinds of other tasks and events are going on, whether it’s homework or school projects or household chores. We write down a master weekly to-do list. Now, I use our notepad, the weekly kick start for this and my family uses it as part of our home headquarters. If you’ve listened to my episode on creating a family mission plan, which I believe was Episode 5, we consider ourselves Team Dalton. Everyone in my family is responsible for making the teamwork. We can’t run smoothly if we’re not a team. The weekly kick-start ensures that this happens without me having to stand over everybody. It creates a master list of what each person needs to do and it holds them accountable. Because we hang this up in our home headquarters, they know that they need to check the kick-start pad to see what needs to be done each day. If Kate has soccer, she knows she has to get her soccer gear together or if there is a school project, they know they have to work on that. They don’t need to ask me. I’ve empowered them to know what to do next.
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Now, full disclosure, my kids are 10 and 14, so it’s really easy to say, “Oh this is so easy because my kids are older,” but I will tell you this, we started this back when my kids were teeny tinies and we used stickers or drawings before they could even read. When they were in preschool, it took a lot more hand-holding and now there’s so much less hand-holding. They know what to do. This took time. When they were little, sometimes it felt it would be much easier for me just to do the work for them, but the benefit is now they’re responsible kids. I love that they know what they need to get done on their own without relying on me. My goal, as a mother, is to have my children leave my nest, as sad as that makes me, but I want them to leave my nest and fly. I want them to feel successful and by setting up this system, my kids are able to be responsible for their own items. The extra benefit is it allows me to bank up that time because they are checking off their tasks when they’re completed, I’m not having to follow up with them. I can look really quickly and see what they’ve gotten done.
Everyone in my family has their own planner. They plug in the events and appointments and tasks that apply to them. If they have a long-term school project, I have them sit down and work backwards to create due dates for themselves and little mini goals and they plug those dates into their planner. Again, this helps make them accountable. They create these deadlines. I don’t do it for them. As a former teacher, this was one of those things that I took away from teaching that I thought was really important as a mother of how I wanted to raise my kids. I wanted to teach them how to work for their own long-term goals. They’re in charge of their long deadlines and they’re in charge of the planner and the tasks in there. I’m not standing over them for each and every one of those things.
After we’ve sat together as a family, we hang up our weekly kick-start in the home headquarters and it’s a prominent spot where they know to go each and every day. They check off the things themselves. Then, the kids go away and John and I sit down together and create a work week overview. Again, there’s that separation between work and family. I know this is unique because John and I are married, but we own our business together, so we do our work planning together during that time. What we do is we create a weekly snapshot in a work kick-start, so it’s different from our home kick start. Again, it’s keeping it separate because I want the work one for work and the home one for home. This weekly snapshot allows me to get an idea of the flow of my week. The only thing though that I plug in to individual days are the timed appointments, whether it’s a vendor call at three o’clock on Wednesday or it’s a team meeting for my team on Thursday at noon. I don’t plug in any daily tasks and this is really important. I’ll explain in full detail in just a minute, but I’m just at this point, focusing on my time tasks because every day what I do is I begin my day with 10 minutes of focused planning time. My computer is not switched on until I’ve completed my planning for the day.
You might ask, “What about the emergency emails that come in the middle of the night or those last minute things that need to get done?” I’m going to be honest, those are usually priority three, somebody else pushing their agenda on me. I don’t look at that until I’ve planned my day for what’s important to me. This really allows me to mono task on creating my priority list for myself. I don’t have those distractions. What I do is I sit down and I look over my weekly kick-start and then I
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plug in the tasks that I can accomplish that day into my planner. I don’t plan Tuesday on Monday. I plan Tuesday on Tuesday. I use this priority system that we discussed back in Episode 6. I plan each day individually because I believe that sets me up for success and it allows me to create an achievable day. Why do I do this every morning, why do I plan Tuesday on Tuesday and Wednesday on Wednesday instead of planning it all out on Sunday? Well, I really think it allows me to set that day based on that day. If I had mapped out what I was going to get accomplished for each day on Sunday, there’s much smaller chance of success.
Let’s say Monday was a rough day, we all have rough days and we don’t get nearly as much done as we want. That’s okay. Tuesday comes and it’s a fresh slate, but if I planned out everything for each day, I would start Tuesday already feeling behind. I would be starting with a little bit of overwhelm, so you have less chance of success. When you plan this way, you never worry about what you got done the day before. You use it as your springboard to move you forward. It also allows you for grace. Some days, you wake up and you have allergy head or you’ve had a sick kid all night that allows you to plan your day accordingly. If I’ve woken up and I don’t feel well at all, I’m going to put fewer things on my plate. I’ll say, “You know what, I’ll do better on Wednesday or Thursday, but right now I’m focusing in on Tuesday.” It allows you to plan your day accordingly for the highest chance of success. I really feel like that is important.
Then, what I do is I do a modified version of time blocking. I schedule blocks of times for me to focus and mono task throughout my day. These are the times, where I’m in do not disturb mode, kind of like what we discussed back in Episode 10. That allows me to dig into a project or an activity and get into that zone that we’ve talked about, where I’m really able to do higher-level thinking and my quality of work is the best. Now, my blocks of time are not always the same each and every day. Some people do that, I don’t. Again, this is a place where I do something that works best for me. I really like the flexibility of setting my day the way that I want to each day.
Sometimes, my first time block is at 5 a.m. Other times, it’s later. I base it off my day and how I feel. I know when my peak productivity times are, so I keep that in mind whenever I am setting these times. Then, what I do is I use my phone as a productivity hack. I turn off notifications, but I set my countdown timer for the amount of time I want to work. I place it face down. I don’t want to look at it while I’m working on my task, I don’t be distracted by it. I just want it to give me a quick little ping once my time is up, so I can move on to my next item.
Now, what I do next is I think one of the most important parts. Each evening, I finish my day with five minutes of download time. I spend a minute listing out my accomplishments of the day. Why do I do this? You’ve already gotten those things done, there’s no reason to write them, you might think, but for me I know that there are times where in my day and John says, “What did you work on today?” I can’t think of anything and I feel like I got nothing done, but when I sit down and I look over my planner and I write out the things that I actually got accomplished, I feel so much better about what I did. It holds me accountable for setting realistic days. I assess my day and how I felt and then I write down three things that I am grateful for that day, three things specifically from that day that I feel gratitude.
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Then, what I do is I focus on what I’d like to do for the following day. I do this, even though this is the end of the day. What this does is it allows it to get out of my brain and allows me to have a restful sleep. It allows me when I go home at the end
of my workday to focus in on my family. I have a lot less stress and worry. We have a daily download notepad that’s designed just to do this, but you could do it just on a sheet of paper if you wanted to, but I leave it out because it jump-starts my morning planning. I look and I already know what are the things I thought yesterday I wanted to get done today and that is my springboard to help me feel ahead of the game when I come in the morning and start with my 10 minutes of planning. Creating a planning routine has allowed me to take my thinking out of it and the more you take thinking out of things, the less stressful you are going to feel and it will teach you to make your days achievable and really having achievable days leads ultimately to happiness. Happiness is what it’s all about.
That is essentially in a nutshell how I plan. I could easily go on and on for hours about each one of those and maybe later on we’ll do an episode, where I go way more in-depth into those, but that’s how I plan my day. It works for me. I hope that you have found it helpful to give you ideas of how you can make your planning work for you. What are some tips and ideas that we gave that maybe will help you create your own system, I’d love to hear from you about what kind of systems work for you or what you took away from this that you think is going to help you create your ideal system. You can always find me at inkwellpress.com, but definitely connect with me also on social media. I’m under the username inkwellpress. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. I really would love to hear how you’re creating your own personal ideal planning system because that is so exciting. Once you start doing this, I truly believe your happiness will increase.
Now, next week, I’m excited because we are going to be doing an interview and this is our first interview on the podcast. We are going to be talking with Alex Mandossian, otherwise known as the productivity guy, who is going to be giving us some hacks and tips and tricks for productivity. I’m really excited for you guys to meet him because he is amazing. Until next time, happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton has been described as the best woman keynote speaker by multiple audiences. Her motivating and inspirational talks on productivity, time management, habits, goal setting and purpose have impacted women around the globe.