When I’m interviewed, or meeting new people, I’m often asked for my “best tips” about productivity, time management and stress relief. And one of my frequent answers is to plan for tomorrow, today. That is, by the time you end your workday, spend a small amount of time making a realistic plan for tomorrow.
Why is this so beneficial? Well, it accomplishes 2 goals:
- To end work each day with a clear head, with all your work thoughts wrapped up in a bow, with nothing left “overdue” and everything with a next action date of tomorrow or the future, so that you can actually be mentally present with whatever it is you do after work and
- So that you can begin work the next day at a running start without trying to muster up the activation energy to make a plan when you’re just waking up and getting mentally ready for the day, or worse, not making a plan at all.
Or, as one of my clients put (quite viscerally) it:
“End of day planning allows me to avoid waking up in an “Oh shit, what does the day hold for me? panic””.
If you want a refresher on the simple steps to implement an end of day planning process, you can find them here.
However, today, let’s talk about some common pitfalls to end of day planning and how to avoid them so that your 10 minutes of daily planning acts as a time-multiplier:
You’re not actually planning, you’re “reviewing” or “updating”
There’s a big difference between planning and reviewing. Yet, it’s quite common to conflate the two. Often, when my clients describe difficulties with building the habit around planning, it becomes clear that the time they’ve set aside for planning is actually being used to review what they did during the day and update their task systems. A review covers the past, whereas a plan is about forward momentum
It’s about making sure that what you’ve got on your plate for tomorrow is doable, given the time available.
And when you spend this time reviewing instead of planning, it starts to feel like unnecessary overhead rather than a process that drives your work forward.
If you find that you’re stuck in review mode and that your “planning” consists of pushing everything you didn’t do today to tomorrow, I’m going to suggest that you actually update your tasks in the moment, as you work on them, rather than waiting until the end of the day. If there’s nothing left to update or review, you will spend the time planning instead.
You’re too tired to plan
You might have trouble building the habit of end of day planning because you’re just too tired at the end of the workday to do one last thing. And while I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face that planning is the most important work you can do, it’s work that you do for yourself. No one (but you) will know if you skip it. So it’s tempting to skip.
If this is you, then I want you to try thinking about your future self. Yes, you’re tired right now. I get it. But there are 2 paths and you get to choose.
- You take 10 minutes to plan for tomorrow, even though you’re tired, and:
- You’re able to be mentally present at the dinner table
- You fall asleep easily, knowing you have a plan for tomorrow
- You start the workday confident in your priorities instead of scrambling
- You say “I’ll plan in the morning”, and:
- You’re distracted at dinner, thinking about work, or even tapping out an email on your phone when you think no one is looking
- You can’t get to sleep, or wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about everything you didn’t do today, or need to do tomorrow
- You wake up the next day with the sinking “oh shit” feeling, your heart racing, because you’re not sure when your first meeting is, if you’re prepared for it, or what the day has in store.
When making the decision about whether to plan, think about those 2 “future you” scenarios.
Which one sounds better?
Is 10 minutes of your time now worth creating that future for yourself tomorrow?
You always prioritize that “one last email”
You know planning is important. You have every intention of sticking to it. But there’s always one last email to answer and, before you know it, your phone is dinging because it’s time to go pick up your kids.
If this is you, I’ve got a secret to share: End of day planning doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the very end of the day. It doesn’t need to be the very last thing you do.
You can play with the timing.
I find that almost anytime in the afternoon will work because, usually, by mid-afternoon you’ve got a pretty good sense of what you’ll finish today, and what your schedule holds for tomorrow. So, if you’re consistently failing to plan at 6pm, how about planning at 3pm? Or tying planning to your last meeting of the day? Or simply moving your planning appointment around based on what time you have available on any given day? In fact, when you’re planning for tomorrow, go ahead and plan for when you’ll plan tomorrow!
Planning always seems to take way longer than you expect
If you find that you’re having trouble with end of day planning because it takes “forever”, rather than the 10-15 minutes (or less!) that I recommend, it’s likely because there’s a planning gap. In order for end of day planning to be quick, it really helps to have made a plan for the week as a whole.
Personally, I spend just a few minutes a day on end of day planning, but I spend about 30 minutes on Fridays making a realistic plan for the following week,
When you make a weekly plan, then your daily plan becomes much more about minor calibration and pivoting based on new information vs. creating a new daily plan from scratch.
Another reason your daily planning might be taking too long is that, as mentioned above, more of your time is being spent on reviewing (looking backwards) vs. planning (looking forwards). One trick that will save you time every time is to update each task as you complete the steps. Do a task, update the task, move on to the next task.
You may think you don’t have time to update in the moment, but I can assure you that you’ll spend far less time overall by updating the in moment than you will by waiting until the end of the day.
My clients are often surprised when I tell them that my end of day planning process typically takes less than 5 minutes. Why does it take so little time? Because I update tasks as I go, I do a thorough job of end of week planning, and by the end of the day I’m really just doing a sanity check on tomorrow.