Leslie's Voice

How to Be a Productive Planner in 10 Steps

This month, the Sirens are all about reflection and decluttering. The year 2017 is at its halfway mark, and many of us may be gearing up to start the new school year. Let’s take this opportunity to get in touch with our personal and professional goals so we can plan to be productive.

1. Figure out your priorities.

Use an Eisenhower Matrix (also known as an Urgent-Important Matrix) to help you prioritize how you will spend your time. We have a tendency to focus on urgent tasks (that may or may not be important). Try to shift your productivity mindset so that you spend most of your time completing the important tasks (that may or may not be urgent). Delegate urgent tasks that are not important, and do your best to eliminate tasks that are neither important or urgent.

2. Plan your work ahead of time.

You’ll save so much time and energy down the road.

The first key to being productive is to just do the work. But a major game-changer is to plan the work that you’re doing ahead of time. Planning won’t happen magically, so schedule time for yourself to get your stuff together. It might be an hour on Sunday evenings before the workweek begins, twenty minutes with some coffee at the beginning of each day, or any other time or day that works best for you. Schedule it and stick to it.

3. Make sure your plan has a plan.

Don’t be intimidated. This is simpler than it looks. (Photo Credit: Best Excel Tutorial)

If you’re trying to tackle a complicated (or “high level”) plan, create a project flow diagram or Gantt chart to help you keep track of each of the major stages of development. Then, following the PRINCE2 method, “manage by stages.” This is just a fancy way of saying that you should break down your big project into more manageable chunks. Then handle each chunk one at a time. Before you move on to the next chunk, review and revise your plan. This helps you avoid getting too far ahead of yourself while also preventing you from getting overwhelmed at everything you need to do.

4. Clear your mind.

If you write these in the mornings, it will help clear your mind for a productive day.

Oftentimes its hard for us to get work done because we’re distracted by all the “stuff” in our heads. A good way to set your intention for the day and clear your mind is to write Morning Pages. Hand write three pages first thing every morning. There’s no wrong way to do this. You can write whatever you want to write. The point is to get it out of your head and onto the page so that you can spend the rest of the day focusing on your to-do list instead of worrying about the stuff in your head.

5. Keep your “stuff” organized.

File your “stuff” accordingly: action items, plans for the future, and reference materials.

Morning Pages are a similar mindset to the first step of the philosophy behind Getting Stuff Done. Once you’ve freed up your brain-power for decision-making by first putting all the “stuff” that’s in your head onto paper,  process it, organize it, review it, and then focus on what happens next. By sorting your “stuff,” you get a strong handle of all of the balls you’re juggling and where you want to focus your attention, which can help you build momentum. This momentum should keep you focused on finishing the one thing you’re working on so you can get to the next thing.

6. Focus on one task at a time.

Seriously. Don’t do this.

Studies have shown that multitasking is kind of killing you. So make it your goal to only focus on one thing at a time. A great way to maintain your focus is to budget your time into Pomodoros–a time-management technique named after the tomato timer. Complete your work during timed intervals that are spaced out by small breaks. By working in these sprints with breaks, you’ll prevent fatigue and encourage creativity. The key is that you can’t interrupt your Pomodoro. It’s an indivisible unit of time. So if something comes up, you’ll either need to end the Pomodoro early to handle it, or you’ll need to inform your interruption that you’ll need to get back with them later.

7. Keep track of your progress.

Your goal is to move tasks across the board as quickly as possible. (Image credit: LeanKit.)

As we’ve mentioned several times now, to be super productive, you want to be able to focus on one thing, finish it, and then move on to the next task as quickly as possible that way you don’t have a zillion things in limbo all the time. A great way to keep track of your to-do list is to use a KanBan board, which translates to “visual signal” (from Japanese). This system is a visual way of seeing where you are in your to-do list.

The KanBan board has a few variations, but at it’s simplest form, it should list tasks that haven’t started yet, what’s in progress, and what’s finished. It lets you visually see if you have too much work in progress, and causes you to focus on workflow and moving things across the board. This is great for a single person or for teamwork. You might use something as simple as a dry erase board or sticky notes, or something digital like Trello.


8. Continuously update your To-Do List.

Figure out what you need to do and write it down immediately so you don’t forget.

Chances are, while you’re working your way through your to-do list, you’ll have some brainstorming sessions and/or you’ll need to meet with other people to get stuff done. Using the Action Method, you can make sure that you leave every event with a set of concrete tasks you can perform, called “action steps.” Prepare before each event by making a list of areas you want to focus on. Then, as you identify action steps, list them somewhere you’ll see them and keep track of them. Finally, keep track of items on you “backburner”–as they may become action steps in the future.

9. Track your progress.

See that little gap? That’s exactly what you don’t want. (Image Credit: Ann Kroeker)

Also known as “Senfield’s Productivity Secret,” Don’t Break the Chain is really simple: pick something you want to start doing, do it, and then spend the same time every subsequent day doing that thing. Every day you do the thing you want to do, mark it down on a calendar. Seeing that little chain of X’s should give you incentive to keep going. The idea is to keep your little X’s going forever.

10. Embrace failure.

And that’s okay.

Let’s be real. You’ll probably need to try a bunch of planning systems and strategies before you find what works best for you. The goal of this post is to expose you to a bunch of the different concepts about productivity that are out there so you have a good idea for where you might want to start, based on your needs.


In addition to these starter tips and tricks for successful productive planning, we’d like to hear from each of you. What planning systems do you use? Is there a resource or methodology that you swear by? What are you professional and/or personal goals for the remainder of the year?

Lets keep each other accountable and help each other succeed.



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