We all wake up every morning with the wonderful possibility that a new day brings. Now if you’re rested and refreshed this possibility feels wonderful and endless. If you’ve been up with your kids all night, didn’t get to bed until late, or couldn’t “turn your brain off” and spent much of the evening with worries racing through your head, all that possibility can feel wasted before you even throw back the covers.
No matter how good your sleep was (or wasn’t) last night you still need to get your stuff done today. This can be challenging if you don’t have a plan from the get-go, and especially so if you are not feeling 100%. But if you make that plan the night before you have a foundation to springboard off of into productivity.
When I try to hit the ground running without a plan it’s like jumping in the car without a destination in mind. If it’s a lazy Sunday that can be a nice ride, but only if you don’t have anything else to do. Otherwise, it just takes twice as long to get something productive done, and I’m not even sure if what I have managed to accomplish are the most important items on my to-do list.
Sometimes you may just start doing busy work and the least important but seemingly “urgent” items (i’m looking at you email and laundry!) and the next thing you know its noon and you haven’t had a chance to make a plan for the day. In order to have control of your day and not let the day run you it’s important to wake up with that plan in place.
Review Your Day
Start by carving a little time for yourself after you’re done doing work and getting the kids to bed but before you start relaxing with the TV or a good book. Sit down with a notebook, bullet journal, or planner and review how your day went.
What were your big wins and what could you have done better? Include lessons learned (both positive and negative) and try to take the time to really think deeply about these. Reflecting on what actions you took and how those actions either moved you forward or backward on your goals will help you take the initiative to do better tomorrow.
What Are You Grateful For?
I also like to think of at least three things I am grateful for every day. Sometimes its the same thing (My kids! My amazing husband!) every night but often there is something big or small that I want to reflect on and note in my heart to be grateful for.
You can also choose to incorporate some journaling into this exercise or add this on as another step. Some people like to do journaling in the evening and some like to start the day with writing if they do a Miracle Morning or Morning Pages.
Now it’s time to make your to-do list. Start with the items that didn’t get done today. Do they need to be added to tomorrow’s list or did they not get done because they are not essential? If they are essential is there a specific reason you are avoiding them? If so, dig deep and figure out why you are not pulling the trigger on getting them done.
Sometimes there are underlying issues that make it difficult to get tasks done. You may not want to sort through the baby clothes because your baby is becoming a kid and you’re not quite ready for that. Or maybe you are afraid of public speaking so keep putting off creating your presentation because it gives you anxiety just thinking about it.
Unfortunately putting these things off does not get them off your to-do list and you will have to deal with them eventually. It’s better to work on the underlying issues now so you don’t end up doing a mediocre job on your presentation because you didn’t start practicing until the night before.
After you’ve added the lingering items from today’s list you can start adding any new items. Hopefully, you’ve kept a running list as things come up throughout your day to go over. And look at your upcoming calendar to see if there is anything you need to start working on.
I like to keep a “master running list” of all the items that pop into my head. That way things aren’t swimming around my mind and I am sure not to forget them. I can then review this list and see what, if any items can be completed tomorrow.
Most Important Things
Now that you have your list it’s time to prioritize by what is most important to you. Pick 3-5 things that must get done tomorrow. No, in fact, pick 1-2 things that have to happen tomorrow. These are your rocks and everything else that gets done after them are gravy.
Here’s the hard part: you have to finish these MITs (most important things) before you do anything else. These are the items you start the day running with. When you wake up and look at your list you start on #1 and don’t stop until you’re finished. Then you go on to #2. This is what helps you hit the ground running, stay focused, and accomplish the things that will get you closer to your goals.
But it is sooo hard!
It can be rough because often those MITs are also some of the most difficult things you need to do in a day. My brain is constantly trying to get me to check email, do dishes, fill out a survey from my doctor’s office, anything other than the difficult items on my list. But every time I fight back and persevere it gets a little easier.
It is how I am writing this article right now. Even though I have a hundred smaller items to do that I could get done quickly (and my brain is calling me to do), I know that this article will help me achieve my goals in ways these other items won’t. So I am sticking to it and getting it done. Then I can go on to the next.
Time blocking is not for everyone (or every situation), but many folks find it helpful to carve out time slots within their day to get their tasks done. This can be difficult if you have an unpredictable schedule or are home with your kids, so don’t feel like you have to do it if it doesn’t fit with your lifestyle.
What I really like time blocking for is scheduling breaks (you can also use the Pomodoro technique for this). If I know I can check email or surf the web in 45 minutes when my work block is over I am much less likely to allow myself to get distracted by these distractions right now. You can even employ one of the social media blockers on your phone or browser to help you stay focused by making it impossible for you to visit social media or other distracting sites.
I also like to include my morning and evening routines in my schedule so I know they are going to get done. You can even create a tracker so you can check them off (yay, gold star!) and see your progress throughout the week. Creating a chain of success is a great way to keep the momentum going even when you don’t want to do something because you’re too busy or tired.
And You’re Done!
Okay, now it’s time to relax and wind down for bed knowing that you are all set up for success tomorrow. You can even take it up a notch by picking out your clothes and packing lunches so you really take on the day like a boss!
The best way to start your day off on a productive note is to start ahead. Reviewing today and planning for tomorrow every evening allows you to reflect on what went well and what you can improve. You can also jump out of bed ready to tackle your most important things without any hesitation. It’s the perfect way to start your day off right!