Flexible task planning


We all have good days and bad days. Busy days and days we don’t get a lot done. Days when we’re full of energy and days when we need a nap.

So, why do we plan our days assuming we’ll always be at our best?  

We’re not always at our best. Sometimes, we’re tired or ill or overwhelmed. We don’t feel up to everything. Other days, we feel great and are ready to take on the world. 

Instead of rigidly planning our days, assuming we’ll be able to work at full speed, what if we create two versions of our day’s schedule?

  1. Bare minimum (to use when we’re tired, feeling sick, overwhelmed, feeling down, etc.) 
  2. Crushing it (when we have lots of energy and feel like doing everything) 

When you’re tired or feeling bad, you do the bare minimum. You take care of deadlines, important obligations, things that can’t wait. You get through the day and live to see another.

And, when you’re full of energy, excited about the day ahead, you put on your Superman cape, look at your other list, and crush it. 

In other words, you pay attention to how you feel instead of following a rigid schedule. 

You don’t literally need to make two lists. Just put a star next to everything on the list that qualifies as “bare minimum”.

Most days, you probably feel somewhere in the middle. You do more than the minimum, but probably less than you might do when you’re fully charged. With two versions of your day’s list, you can ramp up or scale down, depending on how you feel.

Of course, there will be days when you feel good in the morning but poop out in the afternoon. Or high energy early in the week and low energy as you approach the week end. That’s another way to use your lists.  

I know, we’re told consistency is our friend and we should make a schedule and stick to it no matter what.

But hey, Superman never gets sick or tired, but the rest of us need some options.


The last piece of work I do every day


Years ago, I used to plan my day in the morning. Check the calendar, to-do list, and the pile of documents, letters and files I need to work on.  

Today, I do that the night before. 

“Plan tomorrow before tomorrow begins,” became my motto after I heard the wisdom of doing that from an expert in productivity and tried it. It’s made a big difference.  

I start my day knowing what to do, when and for how long  

I’m not trying to plan my day in the morning when my energy is high and is best used doing the actual work.  

If something unexpected comes up during the day, I don’t stress about it. I either fit it in, or more likely, (calmly) schedule it for another day.

I’m more realistic about my tasks and time

When I wrote my task list in the morning, I usually put down too many things I “planned” to do. I focused on being busy, not productive, and usually finished the day with a lot of tasks undone. 

Now, I take a moment to reflect on my day and imagine myself doing those tasks. I’m more mindful and selective about what I do and have more time to do my most important tasks. 

I’m also more likely to start my workday doing something important instead of whatever is at the top of the list. 

Planning and executing are different. I execute better (more quickly, more thoughtfully, with fewer mistakes, and less likely to get distracted) when I’m not also doing the planning. 

I’m less likely to procrastinate

Not only do I have a schedule for the day, planning it the night before allows me to break down the various steps and schedule those as well. 

I know what I will do first, and what I will do after that, and because each step is smaller, I’m more likely to do them. 

I don’t feel guilty about relaxing in the evening, or compelled to get to work first thing the next day

Once I’ve planned my day, I go “off the clock”. I take it easy, watch videos or shows with my wife, read, play a few word games, and do other things humans do. 

Similarly, in the morning, I don’t feel in a rush to get to work.  

Sometimes, I get to it. Sometimes, I don’t. 

I might do some light admin work in the morning before I do my “deep work”. Or I might watch some frivolous videos and do nothing meaningful at all until I’m ready for “work mode”. Either way, because I have a plan, I don’t stress about starting my day. 

I sleep better

According to one study I heard, spending five minutes in the evening writing a task list for the next day often makes it easier to fall asleep. 

I don’t toss and turn as I remember things I need to do the following day. I’ve already decided what I will do and recorded it.

Yes, sometimes I remember things I neglected to schedule, but my phone is always nearby and I can record a quick reminder. But because I know I have a well-planned day, I can forget about it until the morning. 

I’m more productive

By making a schedule the night before instead of “the day of,” I may or may not get more work done, but I almost always get my most important work done. 

Planning your day in the morning is okay. It’s better than starting the day without a plan. But planning my day before it begins has been (to use an overused term) life-changing for me.

And I recommend you try it. 


My new list


I’ve tried adding tags to my tasks, estimating the amount of time each task will take so I could be more effective in planning my day. It sounded like a good idea, and I know many folks do this successfully, but I couldn’t make it work for me.

But I’m going to give it another try. 

Sort of. 

I’ve started a new list of “10-Minute tasks” that I can pull up when I have a few minutes between appointments, calls, or other scheduled tasks, and don’t want to waste that time scrolling through my phone or playing a game, or I need a “palette cleanser” before I start on the next task on my list. 

On my list are things I can complete in 10 minutes or less, or work on for 10 minutes and come back to later. Things like processing email or my task list inbox, filing notes, reviewing one of my projects, reading an article or two in my “read later” app or a few pages in my Kindle, or checking in with (someone). 

Productive things. Yay me.

Another example: I organized the documents folder on my hard drive recently and wound up with a big file of “old stuff” (digital detritus) to go through and purge or put to use somewhere. It’s a big, boring project, perfect to hack away at 10 minutes at a time, so yes, it’s on the list.

A list like this is also valuable when you’re mobile, so make sure you can access your list on your phone. When you arrive early for your dental appointment, you’re in line to pick up your kids after school, or you’re on a bus or train on your way to work, grab something on your 10-minute task list and use that time to tick something off your list.

Or scroll through your dang phone. The kids will be there soon, and having a few minutes for “me time” is good for your sanity.



Cleaning up your notes


Just when you think you’re done for the year and can take it easy for the next few days, I’m giving you another project to consider—to organize or re-organize your notes and notebooks.

That means deleting notes and notebooks you no longer need (or moving them to an archive), moving out-of-place notes to folders for appropriate projects or areas of focus, consolidating tags, and otherwise making your notes easier to find and use.

One thing I’ve done with my setup is adding a “Dashboard” folder at the top level. I use the PARA method (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives) and my dashboard folder, which I’ve named “Home,” sits at the top.  

My “Home” stack currently contains the following sub-folders: 

  • INBOX. I used to keep this “top level” but moved it into Home because I think it looks better. I don’t want to see these notes until I’m ready to process them.
  • QUICK REFERENCE. For notes such as shopping lists, checklists, contact info for key people, and a list of vitamins I use when I refill the container on Sunday.
  • TODO. Tasks I need to take action on but haven’t yet added to my task management app, or notes relating to tasks I have added to my task app and need to reference.   
  • READ NEXT. I use a “read later” app but also use this folder for articles I want to read soon. 
  • READ/WATCH. Articles, etc., I plan to add to their respective Projects or Areas, or to the READ NEXT folder when that is empty.  
  • WIP. Notes, ideas, links, and other resources pertaining to projects I’m currently working on. I’ve decided to delete this folder, however, and move the notes in it to their appropriate Project folders. No need for both. 
  • JOURNAL A place to record thoughts, ideas, plans, quotes, etc. I don’t use this regularly, however, and may move these notes to their appropriate Area folders. 

Other than the contents of the Quick Access sub-folder, everything in the Home folder is temporary. For now, anyway. I tend to move things around quite a bit. 

I’m planning to add a sub-folder to my Home folder for Indies or MOC (Maps of Content) with internal inks to notes relating to key areas of interest. 

If you use a notes app that doesn’t have folders or notebooks, or doesn’t allow you to use nested folders or notebooks (or enough levels) but uses tags and nested tags, e.g., Bear, you can effectively accomplish the same structure I use. 

Do you use a dashboard note or folder? What do you keep in it? 


What do you block when you time block?


What do you put on your calendar? Sure, you schedule appointments, conference calls, and other activities that have a date and time component, but do you also block out time for things you might not do if you didn’t block out the time in advance? 

Like marketing, working on a business project, reading or personal development? 

The best way to “find” time to do those things is to schedule them in advance. 

Some people schedule most of their day. Every hour is dedicated to something they need to do or want to do. Some break down their day into 15-minute increments. Others schedule blocks of time for “focus” work, an hour or two or three for so-called deep work that requires a fair amount of energy and concentration.

Me? I schedule two hours in the morning for writing. I often do more but almost never less.  

How about you? 

Do you calendar blocks of time for returning calls or email? For research or studying? Reviewing case files or getting your client billing done? Writing your newsletter or blog. Posting on social? Exercise?  

Do you go to the office (or close your door) on Saturdays to catch up on “paper work” or organize and plan your tasks and projects for the week ahead? Is this time on your calendar?

Some people schedule “intake time” for reading articles and books, listening to podcasts and videos. Some schedule “output” time for writing, creating, or communicating. 

Some schedule one or two “A” tasks each day, or bundle several “B” and “C” tasks, and block out time to do them. Some schedule 15 minutes a day or 30 minutes twice a week for routine work and get a lot done that way.

What are you committed to doing on a regular basis? Do you block out time for it? Should you?   

We have lots of options with our days, including the option of doing things only when you think of them. But I recommend scheduling your most important work—the things that pay the bills, “move the needle,” or bring you closer to achieving your goals.

If you get your most important work done, the rest of the day is “bonus time” and you can do what you want with it.

Sound like a plan? Put it on your calendar.


One (for now) 


“Do one thing at a time,” we’re told, and for good reason. When we focus all of our available time and resources on a single task, project, or goal, we’re more likely to start and complete it, and do a better job of it. 

But it’s not always necessary or practical to do that. 

You might have several projects on your “current” list—moving your office, hiring new staff, starting a new marketing campaign, preparing for trial—the list does go on, doesn’t it?—and you can’t do everything “today”.

You need time to find candidates or ideas, make a list or outline, talk to different people, draft documents, or time to finish up other projects before you can start working on the next one.

Which is why you work on a project and switch to another before the first project is done. 

You know what that’s called? Normal. Another day at the office.  

Hold on. You’ve probably heard the expression “task switching,” which is what we do when we multitask, meaning going back and forth from one task to another, and why this isn’t recommended. 

Starting a task and then switching to another task before you finish the first one isn’t optimal because when you stop working on a task before it is complete, your brain tends to keep it in “RAM” and your mental resources are still being used for that task and you can’t use those resources to work on other tasks. 

Better to finish one task before moving on to another. 

But task switching isn’t the same thing as simultaneously working on multiple projects, and you often don’t have a choice.

If you’re planning to move your office, hire and train a new assistant, prepare a case for trial, and start a new marketing initiative, you might not be able to finish one project before you start another. 

Do it if you can. You’ll be glad you did. But if you can’t, if you need to work on multiple projects in parallel, do what you have to do.

Start working on one, take it as far as you can for now, start another project, and keep going back and forth until you finish everything. 

Messy, but often necessary. 

For tasks and for projects, one thing at a time is the default, and when possible, finish one thing before you start another. 

But you know this, right? So why am I mentioning it? Because if you’re like me (and we both know you are), you’re reading this because you took a break from doing something else you need to do, and I’m just reminding you to get back to it. 

You’re welcome.


How much research is enough?


I have a problem. Unless I have a fixed deadline, I often find myself endlessly researching a subject because, you know, there might be other citations, articles, examples, or ideas. Something I need or might be able to use. 

And I don’t want to miss it. 

Do you ever feel that way? 

Why are we like this? Perfectionism? Self doubt? Fear of making a mistake or leaving out something important? 

Anyway, does it really matter why we do it? We do it and we want to know how to stop. Maybe we innately know that the more time we spend on research, the greater the risk we’ll lose interest in the project or get another idea and start working on that instead. 

Rabbit holes. 

We can do the grownup thing and ask ourselves if we’re seen this idea (or something very similar) before. Is it cumulative? Does it give us the essentials—the 20% that deliver 80% of the results? 

Sometimes this works. And sometimes, it makes it worse because we feel compelled to “re-search” to confirm or deny what we see or what we think it means.  

It’s a curse.

Okay, advice. If you don’t have a fixed deadline, pretend you do. 

Promise the client you’ll get the work done by a certain date. If there is no client, promise your secretary, your wife, your coach, or your partner. Maybe put some teeth in it by also promising a penalty if you don’t deliver. 

When we are accountable to someone else, we usually do it. 

What if that’s not in the cards? It’s just you and your unfinished project or unrealized goal? 

What then, you ask? 

I don’t know. I need to do more research. 


One more thing before you start your day


You know how things always take longer than you think and how your carefully thought out plan for the day too often goes to pot? You start the day and discover you allocated too much time to one thing and not enough time to others, or didn’t do things you’ve been putting off.

Yes, you can adjust. We all do. But there’s something else we can do before we start our day that makes it less likely we’ll need to adjust and more likely we’ll get our most important tasks done.

After you make your list, visualize the day ahead in as much detail as possible. 

Run through the list and imagine everything on it, as though you are doing it.

See yourself waking up, doing your morning routines, checking your list and calendar, and then making calls, responding to email, talking to your staff, reviewing and drafting documents—everything, until it’s time to call it a day.

See the entire day—what you do, how long it takes, and how it feels as you do it.

It’s a simple way to know if your plan is both realistic and likely to accomplish your most important tasks. 

Does anything seem unnecessary? Do you have enough time to do everything? Is there something you should do (or want to do) that’s not on the list?

Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the day. If you don’t like your performance (in your head), you can make adjustments before the day begins.

Or realize you need to call your understudy so you can take the day off. 


Add this to your weekly review


Over time, my weekly review has become more about tidying up (emails, notes, tasks, projects) and choosing tasks for the upcoming week rather than an actual review of what I did the preceding week and using that to plan the next.  

You too? 

One thing we can do to improve our “review” is to take a high-level inventory of the week by asking two questions: 

  1. What went well? 
  2. What can I do better? 

We can take a quick look at our calendar and/or task management app and note everything we did that week, what worked, and what didn’t, or drill down into specific projects or cases and identify our progress or lack thereof.  

We could record our results in a diary, or spreadsheet, so we have something to look back on. We could also gamify what we’re doing and reward ourselves when we follow our plan.  

Sometimes, it’s difficult to be objective about what we’ve done and we should consider asking others for feedback. Talk to a partner or friend, or email your subscribers, and ask what they think about your recent offer, article, action, or idea. 

What went well? What can improve? 

Perhaps the biggest benefit of tracking our activities this way is knowing that by doing that, we’ll develop the habit of thinking about what we’re about to do before we do it. 

How’s that for a novel idea? 


When your calendar and task app aren’t enough


Do you ever get notifications about an upcoming appointment or scheduled task and miss it? You don’t see the pop-up or hear the chime and, oh well, there has a be a better way. 

Besides having an assistant knock on your door to tell you your next appointment has arrived. 

I just heard about a guy who uses a stupidly simple way to make sure he doesn’t miss things. Or ignore them. In addition to setting notifications for events on his calendar et al., he sets the alarm clock on his phone. When it rings or buzzes or chirps or plays a song, he can’t ignore it because it doesn’t stop until he stops it. 

And, unlike the polite notifications most of our apps give us, the alarms on our phones are loud. And obnoxious. Which is why we use them to wake up (especially when we have an early plane to catch and it’s still dark out). 

He sets an alarm to notify him to wake up, of course, but also for meetings, to eat, exercise, shut down for the day (and plan the next day), and for important tasks and time blocks that often get away from him.

I thought this was a great idea and set up my first alarm for 9am tomorrow to try it out. You might want to give it a go yourself. 

Especially to notify you it’s time to do something you don’t want to do.