When I woke up this morning, I knew exactly what to do:
- Drink two glasses of water with my fish oil and multivitamin
- GMB Elements workout
- Mckenzie back exercises
- Catch train (07.53)
- etc. (you get the idea)
I knew exactly what to do because I sat down the night before and made a plan.
It started by looking at my google calendar. I wanted to know what hard commitments I had first.
Then, I made 3 lists:
- big things (actions in areas of my life that are important to me at the moment)
- small things (admin type stuff)
- people (friends, family etc.)
If I knew when I wanted to do something, I made a note next to it (early, am, pm, eve or a specific time).
After making the lists, I realised I had too much (this happens quite a lot). So, I removed a few things, until I was left with what felt like a realistic number of things for a day.
OK, time to get specific. On the top line of a moleskin notepad page, I wrote the number 5. I continued this down to the bottom line of the page, ending at 22 (a new number every other line). Each line represents 30 mins – starting at 05.00 and ending at 22.00
Then, I started to block out time, and write specific things in those blocks.
For example, I blocked out the four lines that represent the two hour block 08.00 AM to 10.00AM with:
Catch train – 07.53
Write (on train)
After I finished, I had a well thought out and specific plan for the next day in front of me. Every damn minute scheduled. It had a nice balance – a good mix of big things that are important to me, smaller admin type things and people I need to connect with. I try and aim for that mix most days.
And that’s why when I woke up this morning, I knew exactly what to do. I didn’t have to waste an ounce of energy thinking about it. I just got started on the plan.
Discipline equals freedom
Jocko Willink popularised the saying ‘Discipline equals freedom’.
It’s a bit hard to get your head around at first – because on the surface, it’s counter-intuitive. But, when you know what it feels like to start the day in a prepared and intentional way, you start to understand what it means.
When you start the day like this, you start off on the right foot. There are no decisions to make. You start doing important things. and get an early wind of productivity. It’s incredible how that builds a momentum which carries through into the rest of the day. You spend more time on things that are important. There’s less reaction. You get more done. You’re in control. You’re happier.
Contrast that to how it feels to start the day in an unprepared way. You tend to start the day off with immediate decisions. You feel rushed and get dragged into things that feel urgent, but aren’t important (or at least, there are probably better and more important things to do). That builds its own kind of momentum and it sets a the tone for the day. You’re reactive. You’re sometimes left wondering what you really achieved that day. You’re probably not at your happiest.
You might think, it’s just one day. Can it really make such a big difference to attack it with intention and discipline? I think so.
Here’s the thing about discipline, habits and small steps – there’s often a compounding nature to them. And this delivers massive results over the long-term. This is true both personally and professionally.
It might not seem like a big deal to work out a few times a week. But, over a number of years, you end up with a decent level of health and fitness which makes a huge difference to your life. You’re less likely to get a chronic disease, you’re more likely to be active, you’re more likely to be a part of your children’s, and their children’s lives etc.).
Think of two people in similar professional roles. Imagine one arrives on time and just jumps into a simple to do list, whatever’s in the calendar or pops up. Now, imagine the other one attacks it with a well thought out, intentional and detailed plan. It might not seem like a big deal at the end of the day. But over a year, several years, or an entire career, the difference will be gigantic. In fact, it might be one of the easiest ways to gain a competitive advantage at work.
I would go as far to say that taking the time to plan your day is the single, biggest thing you can do to have a better life and career.
You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about establishing a direction for your life. Or anything about planning at a weekly level. Whilst these are both super important and impactful (and I do them), they’re not in the same league as a proper plan for the day.
In most cases, I would advise learning how to plan your day first, before doing the bigger thinking. This is because most of us have a general sense of what’s important to us if we take a few minutes to think about it. Looking after yourself and doing meaningful and focused work. Connecting with people you love etc. That gets you at least half the way there. From there, the bigger picture stuff just directs your actions.
So, yeah. I think planning your day is kind of a big deal 😉
Note: In case you’re wondering, I didn’t mention much about my work. That’s because I tend to think about my work and career as a contained area of my life. I have a separate planning process for planning my work day (which is quite similar).
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