Designing Your Day

Design Your Day: Optimize Your Time, Energy and Results!

This article is featured in the new 2010 book with Brian Tracy, Jumpstart Your Success

Do you feel overwhelmed with the demands of the day? Are you at the mercy of whatever comes up, unable to find time to focus on the high priority work that would move your business and life forward?

How can you create comfortable balance with all you have to do?

Reduce stress, improve productivity and increase peace of mind by Designing Your Day. “But, wait,” you may be thinking. “I don’t want to be boxed-in, rigid, in a straight-jacket!” Of course not! The good news is you really can have the best of both worlds – freedom with a solid foundation.

It’s your very own custom plan, including spontaneity and time for you! It will be much better than being scattered and overwhelmed, and easier than you think. You may have many of the components already in place. Designing Your Day can optimize your time, energy and results!

Consider these ideas to simplify the process of Designing Your Day.

Set up a grid or spreadsheet that represents the time available during a seven-day period. Block out each day in thirty-minute increments of time (or download and print out a pre-formatted “Reality Check Time Grid” worksheet at Effective Day Reality Check

Block out time for your essentials and customize with choices that are vital to your progress. These blocks of time might include:

Focus time (High quality time for your most important tasks.)
Thinking and planning
Breaks (Scheduling time every hour or so for standing, stretching and a few deep breaths can make a difference.)
Energizers (Include things in your day that you love to do and enhance your energy. These may be outside work.)
Phone calls
Meetings (Be very selective, avoiding as many as possible.)
Processing mail
Processing e-mail
Sleep (studies show too little sleep negatively impacts productivity)

Look at the most important things to be done each week- things that give you the highest return on time invested. The 80-20 Rule says 80 percent of your results typically come from 20 percent of your activities. Spending 20 per cent of an 8-hour day (just over 90 minutes) on your highest priorities will give a substantial return. Take care to identify the critical 20 percent that will create the maximum impact. Ask:

What moves your business forward?
What moves your life forward?
Where can you best use your strengths?

Group similar tasks and create “designated days”. It’s easier and more efficient to go from one task to another when you’re already in that mode. For example, tasks like project work, client prep, writing, client time, phone calls, meetings and appointments, etc. can be grouped together to get them done more efficiently. “Designated days ”let you focus on what’s really important for large blocks of time.

Decide the best place and time for each activity. Factors to consider:

If a quiet place that provides uninterrupted time is hard to come by, you may want to try one or more of these strategies:
Put a sign on your (closed) door, indicating the time when you will be free. For example, “available at 3 p.m.” like professors’ office hours.
Use an empty conference room.
Go to the library.
Wear a special hat to let your team know you are focused on a high priority.
Develop a workplace culture of honoring an hour or two of uninterrupted time. Watch everyone’s productivity and morale improve!

Energy level. Don’t waste your best energy on a low-energy task (like going through most e-mail). And don’t set yourself up for diminished results by scheduling a critical task that requires your best when your energy is winding down. Work with your energy patterns:
High priority and difficult tasks when at your best.
Secondary and easy things, like phone calls and e-mail, later in the day when your energy is waning. Open mail near the end of the workday, but do deal with it! Today’s unprocessed mail is tomorrow’s pile!

Create modules in your day–Windows of Opportunity–to help you balance all the things you want and need to do. These modules should be blocks of time designated for focused attention. Consider starting with 30, 60 or 90 minutes intervals. Modules keep you on track with your goals and help create balance. They make it easier to adjust how much time to spend on any particular task, and help you remain realistic with your choices. You can still be flexible. You are ultimately in charge of your life! Modules are moveable. Stay with your structure if possible, but be flexible to accomplish what you want. Examples of module activities include:

Thinking and planning
Client work
Prospect follow-up
Weekly or monthly planning
Administrative (tying up loose ends)
Phone calls
E-mail (five minutes in the morning for time-sensitive e-mail only, such as a change of appointment, afternoon for routine matters)
Resting and relaxing
Schedule these blocks of time for your most important responsibilities. These blocks of time should be focused time, which means no e-mail, phone calls or interruptions. That’s vital to achieving your goals. Just start, even if you don’t feel ready. You’ll find it gets easier each time, and gives you a real productivity boost! We don’t find time. We must make time, or it won’t happen.

Schedule only 50 percent of your day to allow for the unexpected. If unexpected events do not occur, you will have bonus time for additional priorities.

Designate a block of time to take care of “naggers”– those things that are nagging at you every time you see them (“Take care of me! You know you should! You never get anything done” etc.). Often they are little things, such as the pile of mail, or the phone call to correct a problem. Once you give them attention, they usually take less time than expected, yield wonderful relief and a sense of accomplishment, and won’t nag you any more! Bigger things (such as updating a manual) can be whittled away week by week. Spend 30 minutes, or an hour, for example, and then don’t worry about them until their next time comes around. To prevent naggers from accumulating, use the two-minute rule. If it takes two minutes or less – just do it!

Eliminate everything that isn’t vital to the vision of your life, and especially anything that conflicts with it. Is one more committee or surfing the ‘net more important than the time you need to achieve your most important goals? Real satisfaction comes from doing the things that are truly important.

Every day, include things you love to do; and every week, include things you want to do but never get around to! Don’t wait for some day. Life happens now!

Adjusting Your Day
Once you have your patterns established, you will want to adjust for comfort and/or changing circumstances. You may want to keep a simple “Cue Card” of your basic design for quick reference. List the days of the week and the special tasks for each day on a 3 x 5 card and keep it handy.
So what if things don’t go according to plan? That’s life, and that’s the beauty of “designated days”. We will never get everything done (sorry to burst that bubble). Wait until the “designated day” comes around next week, and do it then, unless it’s truly urgent. But Designing Your Days makes those emergencies less frequent. Your mind can let go in the meantime, because you know the time is coming when it will get done. Or maybe you will realize it isn’t how you want to spend your precious time.
You won’t always adhere to your plan. Life happens. But you now have a framework with guidelines to remind you where you want to be. Like the painted lanes on the highway, this framework will help keep you on track. Of course, you may decide to take the next exit for some good reason, or just because you need a break. But it will be a more conscious choice. You will want to continually evaluate and make adjustments. Designing Your Day will make your choices more apparent.

Final Touches
You may want to have little rituals to complete your day at the office: planning tomorrow’s work, clearing your desk, backing up your files, etc. Think of what you would like to accomplish, how you would like to feel, what would help you get there, and build them into your day.
Designing Your Day allows you to capitalize on you at your best, taking care of your needs and wants, and elevating your quality of life! Be kind to yourself. We are not machines! Skills improve with experience.
Someone once said, “Time isn’t money. Time is life!” Are you getting the most from yours byDesigning Your Day?


nancyNancy Hagan, Effective Executive LLC, works with business leaders who want to be more effective and productive, and focus on their highest priorities. Please contact Nancy at or (513) 899-9949. For information about workshops and other services, visit

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