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How to Use a Productivity Planner to Maximize Your Workday

Erika Rasso Updated on February 29, 2020

productivity planner

When you’re an entrepreneur, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. You wake up early in the morning, take a brisk shower, eat a quick meal, and then you handcuff yourself to your laptop until it’s time to go to bed.

When you finally shut your eyes, are you confident that you did all you could that day? Seeing as how entrepreneurs are never satisfied, the answer is probably no.

So how do you make your days more productive?

Sure, you can cut down on sleep to fit in more work, but is that really the best idea? Isn’t it better to improve what you do with the time you are already given?

We’ve been over a couple of strategies to increasing your productivity, including the Pomodoro technique (working in 25-minute intervals) and how to multitask effectively. But while one strategy may work for you, it may not work for someone else. That’s why we’re always looking for new techniques to share.

One strategy we’ve recently discovered is using a productivity planner, or productivity journal. It’s quickly becoming a popular way to track time, work, and anything else to do with your day-to-day operations. Better yet, it has been shown to increase your productivity throughout the day.

Sounds promising, right? We think so, too; that’s why we’ve given it the old Empire Flippers breakdown.

What Is a Productivity Planner?

A productivity planner is a journal that tracks your schedule, the work you complete, and (of course) your productivity. While this may be comparable to a regular journal or diary, we assure you they are different in significant ways.

A regular journal is somewhere you can write anything your heart desires, whether that’s a poem, a short story, an anecdote you remember, or reflections on your day. It holds your thoughts, and desires, and can act as an outlet for your creativity.

A productivity planner doesn’t contain your thoughts about the day or the people you interacted with; it contains your actions. Whatever you write in your productivity planner, you should be able to complete and reflect on. It’s a means to keep you responsible, organized, and ultimately accountable for what you have and haven’t done.

How Can It Increase Productivity?

While a productivity planner’s main purpose is to document your work and plan out your day, writing in one can also increase your productivity.

Journals have been around for a very long time, so naturally there have been studies about their advantages and disadvantages. One Harvard Business School study focused on journals and the benefits they may bring to employees.

The study was conducted in the lab and in the field, but the researchers found greater results during the field test on an Indian outsourcing company. They split the employees into two groups, one of which kept a journal about their day, and the other of which didn’t.

The employees who were given journals were asked to write in them for 15 minutes at the end of each work day, reflecting on what went well and what did not. They did this for 10 days.

While the act of writing in their journal actually took 15 minutes away from their work day, the study found that these employees performed 22.8 percent better than the employees who did not keep a journal.

While there could be several factors affecting the workers’ productivity, the researchers concluded that the act of reflection led to a higher level of self-efficacy. Their confidence in their abilities was boosted, which helped them put more effort into what they were doing.

Another way productivity planners can boost productivity is by introducing a habit. Routines make entrepreneurs healthier, happier, and more productive. Without habits, many entrepreneurs find their productivity lacking. They dilly-dally through the day doing things as they become important. This lack of routine can lead to procrastination and more stress.

If you commit to writing in your planner every day, you are establishing a routine and creating a habit. Then, with the help of your planner, other daily tasks will become habits as well.

Where Can I Get One?

Before we talk about how you can use a productivity planner, we should probably go over where you can get one.

Intelligent Change has its own productivity planner called (yes, you guessed it) “The Productivity Planner.” This journal works in sync with the Pomodoro technique, breaking up tasks into the 25-minute units known as Pomodoros. Each page corresponds to a day, which lists five tasks to be completed, the time in which you complete them, a notes section, an inspiring quote, and a place where you can rate how productive you were that day.

If you need a little more structure in your life, Intelligent Change’s planner is probably a good place to start. It’s reasonably priced and can be ordered in bulk if you have employees you wish to gift it to.

You can also go for something a little more simple and get a daily planner, which you can find at your nearest office supplies store. You can even design your own here. There are plenty of options out there. Amazon is definitely your friend.

If you’re not a paper and pen kind of entrepreneur, there are online planners that function in the same way. Intelligent Change is currently designing an app for their productivity planner, but in the meantime, Week Plan or DayViewer will suffice.

Both Week Plan and DayViewer are planners/to-do lists with specific entries for each task, a way to track time, and a place to input ideas. However, when it comes to a more detailed interface, DayViewer seems to have Week Plan beat. It’s specifically designed for business professionals, and includes reminders, a diary, and booking capabilities in addition to general planner functions.

How to Use One

There are several ways to use a productivity planner that will help to increase your productivity. It really depends on what works for you. Still, it can be difficult when you’re just starting out, so we’ve included some ideas on how you can use your planner to get yourself organized and cut down on procrastination.

Where to Start

The best way to start is with a simple to-do list, as this will always be the basis for your productivity planner going forward. Before you start your work day, write down what you want to get done and then keep track of each task as you complete it. Don’t set too many goals for your first week of journal writing, just keep track of the major tasks and complete these as fast as you can.

These tasks can be as simple as:

  1. Check and answer emails
  2. Write blog post
  3. Fulfill order requests
  4. Update Terms of Service

As long as you write down the tasks you need to do and complete them, you’re on the right track.

Expanding Your Planner

After you get used to the act of planning your tasks, you can start making your planner more detailed and expanding the list of tasks you complete every day. Start with monitoring the amount of time it takes to complete each task. After you get an idea of how much time you need, you can start organizing both your to-do list and your subsequent day using timed tasks.

Other ways you can make your planner more detailed are:

  • Rating your productivity. After you are done with each task, determine how productive you were on a scale from 1-10, 1 being not very productive, and 10 being perfectly productive. Set goals for each task to try and achieve a certain rating and start competing with your past self. You have to be honest with yourself when rating though, because cheating will only hurt you.
  • Keep track of your distractions. If you keep a list of the activities that distracted you from work, you will be less likely to keep going back to those activities during your productive time. Becoming aware of weaknesses is the first step to self-improvement.
  • Break tasks up into sections. Checking your emails or writing a blog post are pretty nebulous tasks. If ambiguous to-dos are overwhelming, break them up by being more specific. Instead of checking your email, break up the task into “read 10 emails,” “respond to 10 emails,” and “delete spam.” Furthermore, if you decide to utilize the Pomodoro technique, breaking your tasks up will help them fit into those 25-minute intervals.
  • Set to-dos, and then set goals. In addition to the tasks you wish to get done during the day, set extra goals for yourself. These goals could be personal or work related and should motivate you to get your primary tasks done faster. If you really want to make it interesting, assign points to your goals, which you can trade in at the end of the week for a reward. It’s a little juvenile, yes, but if it gets the job done, then what’s the harm?

These are just a few ideas for you to choose from when organizing your planner. If you don’t feel comfortable expanding from a simple to-do list, don’t stress. Go at your own pace and just know that the options are out there when you’re ready.

A Place for Reflection

One final way you can use your productivity planner is to reflect on your work day. This is where planner and journal intersect and where you can build self-efficacy. When you’ve completed your tasks for the day, set aside some time to free write about what went well, what didn’t, and what could be improved upon for the next day. Reflect on what you learned or what you wish you could learn to make your job easier, and how you can go about learning those skills.

Even if you don’t expand on your to-do list, you should always try to include some sort of reflection in your productivity planner.

When you free write, you are improving your writing skills, which helps you to become a better entrepreneur. It also allows you to decompress from the day, allowing you to release all of the thoughts that may be running around that busy head of yours.

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What Are You Waiting For?

If there is even a little bit of truth to the research that found journalling about work could improve productivity by 23 percent, then why not give it a shot? We’ve given you the what, why, and how. You just have to determine the who (you) and when (now!).

Just remember, the productivity planner is meant for you to be able to track your work, and that means you get to be the boss of what goes inside the pages of that book. We’re all in the business of improving our own productivity, so if you have found a method that works better for you, share it!

Now, let’s get back to work.

Photo credit: grekoff

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