Plan the Day Part 2 – From List to Action

When Am I Going To Do This?

From List to Action: Scheduling Out a Day

To Do Books

Planning it all out

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about repurposing the To Do List to represent Soul Work as well as The Grind. Now I want to talk about how to make it happen.

In my day job, we have a saying, “Block, Light, Rehearse, Shoot.” In terms of filmmaking, this is a summary of the protocol that gets every shot accomplished: we set where the actors are going to go, illuminate them properly for camera, do a trial run and make adjustments, and then execute our plan. An abbreviation of our process, this little list is a repeating phrase which helps us stay on task.

I love the systematic nature of this protocol and have developed several similar pithy lists which help instill focus and order into my daily routine. (For example, every time I leave the house, I say, “Wallet, Keys, Cell phone, Sunglasses.) I also have one of these pithy lists for planning my day. My protocol goes like this:

Herd, Weed, Block, Shoot (the cute version of “Collect, Assess, Block, Shoot”)

  1. Herd: Collect all the things I’m going to do on the day and group them by category (appointments, errands, stuff at the desk, writing, business activities).
  2. Weed: Assess how much time I can devote to how much of each category, weed out any tasks that aren’t going to fit.
  3. Block: Make a decision. Block out the available hours of my day by category.
  4. Shoot: Execute the plan.

 

Some details about each of these steps:

The Bullpen

The Bullpen: everything you can think of to do, now or in the future, in any category, for any purpose, in any universe.

  1. Herd – Collect & Group
  • In addition to whatever you put on your daily To Do List, you should have an ongoing list of things you have to/might want to do (I like to think of this as The Bullpen.) Each day or each week, you can double check The Bullpen and see if there’s anything to do or start today. This is a project in itself if you’ve never done it before, and there are entire books about it, most prominently, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Whole ‘nother topic.
    • NOTE: You should try to get The Bullpen into an electronic form (a database). That way, you can slice it and dice it, rearrange and prioritize it at will. As I mentioned in Part 1, I use the Pocket Informant mobile app and Toodledo to sync between devices.
  • When you collect the day’s work, cull from The Bullpen, yesterday’s leftovers, and anything new that comes to mind when you brainstorm or look over your appointments and notes. I also make a list of intentions at the beginning of each week and month, and checking that keeps me in touch with what I really want to be doing.
  • I group simply by writing items from my specific categories in a particular color. When I look at the list to determine how much time to allot, my brain automatically sorts out “blue items” as a group, and I don’t have to worry about the order in which I think of things or write them down.
  • Or do it this way: Use columns across a page; skip down the page and leave space under some headings; put a letter in front of the scheduling column: D for desk, E for errands, W for work, P for phone calls, etc.; or use highlighters. For iPhone, the Clear app is great for easily assembling and rearranging a list (also very satisfying to “check off”.)

2. Weed – Assess
WHEN am I going to do all this? An important, often-overlooked or unanswered question. The crucial missing step in going from list to action. Goes hand in hand with the next step.

  • To Do with Scheduling Column

    Today’s To Do List, categorized by color, with scheduling column to right and checkoff column to left.

    When I look at the overall picture, especially once I start blocking (step 3, below) it’s often obvious that I can’t do all of this in one day. That’s when it’s time to take the reins and choose which things to fit. I started making an additional column in my To Do Book for scheduling. For any task that isn’t going to fit in the day, I put an X in the scheduling column (like the delete symbol) and make sure I put it in The Bullpen if it’s not already there to be allocated to another day. If it’s time sensitive or personally important, I flag it in The Bullpen so it shows up at the top. You can also set your software to notify you on a particular date. Then I can ignore it for the rest of the day.

3. Block – make a decision

  • I love this part – Each day I block off hours on a timebar in my journal. I make a solid outline in the corresponding color around the hours I’m going to work on said category. Once I’ve cordoned it off on the timebar, I check it off in the scheduling column of the To Do List. As I progress through the day I diagonal off the hours on the timebar that I spent with the appropriate color. At the end of the day, it’s easy to see where my time estimations were right for future reference, or if I deviated, see what’s really important to me. Notes about what I did go beneath (The Record).
Empty time bar

Empty Time Bar – I don’t even put the hours until the day of – because the time I start work or the hours I have available can shift.

Timebar in progress

Timebar in progress: solid outlines = what I planned, diagonal hashes/dotted lines = what I executed. Notes below document = the details of “The Record.”

Hate drawing? You can also use a calendar, analogue or digital.

4. Shoot – execute

  • Once the plan is all sorted through laid out, it’s a lot easier to take action. Just execute, with your mind free from worry that you’re going to miss something, and knowing everything that’s important to you is getting addressed in its rightful place.
  • Yeah, sometimes there are dark days when you just can’t do anything no matter what. I’m planning a post on that, too. Even for that, there are things to try. Will try for that post soon.

What this portioning-off of the day (or however much time you have) does is makes sure you do at least some of everything you want to do. Even if you don’t finish everything in the group, you’ve made progress in that area of your life or responsibility, and when you take it up next, you are further along. Remember the idea of the trajectory: today is not just any day, it’s a building block for the overall trajectory of your life, so if there’s something you want to make progress on, you’ve got to fit it into your day, even if it’s just a little bit.

One more thing, if you find you can’t stop when the block ends, set a timer. It’s really hard to stop sometimes, but if you don’t, you can get to the end of the day and have left something hanging that you really wanted to do. On the other hand, don’t go through the blocks with blinders on. When it’s important to make a deviation, you’ll know when it’s right. If you get to the end of the day and you still feel great, you’ll know you did the right thing. If not, you’ll know better for next time. Like anything, the blocks are a tool: they’re the steering wheel , you’re the driver.

Key to Symbols – these are the symbols I use, but use what you like:

Scheduling column:

___ (empty) – not scheduled yet

✔️- scheduled

O – might still schedule it later

❌ – removed from scheduling process – not scheduling it today (it’s in, or I’m now putting it in The Bullpen)

Check/Done column:

___ (empty) – not addressed yet

• in progress (this bullet point as “in progress” is a holdover from my Franklin Planner days – “bullet journalists” are using a bullet point as an empty, unaddressed task.)

✔️ – done

❌ – removed from the task list – I’m not doing this and I don’t need to reschedule

O – didn’t do it – sometimes I circle early in the day because want to focus my attention on it. At the end of the day I circle anything undone, make a decision about it, and fill the circle: ❌ for never doing it, → for migrating it forward or back to The Bullpen

→ – an arrow means I’m migrating it forward or back into The Bullpen (note: I don’t put the arrow until after the task is actually written down somewhere else – that way nothing falls through the cracks.) If I weed it out at the beginning of the day, it’s just a plain arrow and shows it was removed from today’s list before the day started. If I’m migrating at the end of the day, the arrow goes inside the circle.

You might wonder why I distinguish between the plain arrow and the circled arrow. It’s because at the end of the day, sometimes I count up my checkmarks against how many tasks were actually on tap for the day and come up with a percentage. What can I say, I like to quantify things.

So, to sum it all up, here’s a recap of my planning process:

  1. Collect
    ♦ Keep a running herd list of all things to do in the Bullpen
    ♦ Compile potential things to do today on the To Do List
    ♦ Group by category
  2. Weed (Assess)
    ♦ weed out what can’t get done
    ♦ migrate forward or send back to the Bullpen
  3. Block
    ♦ Assign blocks for each category
    ♦ checking off the individual tasks in the scheduling column as they get assigned
  4. Shoot! (Execute)
    ♦ I also like to account for what got done, through The Record, and sometimes through a % at the end of the day

 

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments. And if you have a favorite planning technique, let me know! In the mean time, here is some…

Lagniappe

Kara Benz (Boho Berry)’s planning routine (including her time tracker bar) – It’s not exactly the way I use it, but this is where I got the idea for my timebar.

Timebars by Bullet Journalist Passion Themed Life – similar to Boho Berry’s approach – couldn’t tell you which came first – these posts are within 2 days of each other

Getting Things Done, by David Allen – I have an earlier edition of this book, which is way dated (use a separate piece of paper for each idea and put the stack of papers in your in box!?!?), but I hear the newer version is not as well organized, ironically, so pick your poison when choosing an edition of this book. It’s the concepts that are useful, not necessarily his chosen execution.

Until next time, TTFN (Ta ta for now)!

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