A better approach to daily plans

I was talking to a friend a week ago and we were discussing my overwhelm with all the unending daily to-do’s. He had something interesting to share. He said, “Plan your days with ‘must do’s’ and not ‘should do’s’. Start small. Start with just one thing a day that you must do. Check that off. Then add one more thing. The trick is to plan your day with ‘must do’s’ and check them off.

Something clicked in my brain. I realised that I was creating an impossible to-do list daily and then spending a lot of mental energy figuring out which tasks and projects to tackle or not. On many days I’d push myself to do it all and when I’d ‘fail’, I’d beat myself up. Basically, I was playing a game I could never win.

Realising that I was expending way too much mental energy led to another realisation – I need to reduce my cognitive mental load in other ways too. That was to run some part of my days like clockwork. I could have:

  1. Specific evening routine and sleep time
  2. Specific morning routine
  3. Specific times for doing routine activities such as exercise and meals
  4. Specific times for fun activities and socialising
  5. Specific times for doing focused work

All these realisations helped me decide the following:

  1. Print my daily routine tasks on paper have it in front of me so as to not spend any mental energy on deciding when to do them. I’ll keep checking off items as they are done. I’ve used Ultraworking lights spreadsheet for this in the past and it worked great for me. I’m going to use them again.
  2. Plan only a few (2-3) must-do’s in my task manager Things. Check them all at the end of the day.
  3. Brainstorm exactly what my morning and evening rituals are going to look like.
  4. Assign times during the day for exercise, meals, fun, and focused work beforehand.

My intention is to do this for a few weeks and then take stock. My prediction is that many of the activities will become second nature by then. My biggest curiosity is to see how this approach will impact my sense of control over my time, energy, mood, and productivity.

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