Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Plan less, do more.

Published: 26 Mar 2013

Want to lose weight? Grab a smaller plate. Want to do more? Plan to do less.

I’ve previously written about my strategy for accomplishing more through the days. Since it’s very brief, I’ll do a recap. At the end of the day, before “clocking out” I:

  1. Write what I will do tomorrow.
  2. Put things away and verify everything is complete.

This type of simple loop is beneficial, but it requires discipline on two fronts: First, never (ever ever) commit to something you can’t do. Second, do everything on your list.

When starting the day, it’s easy to see what’s on the list. These are the priorities. Nothing else matters until these are done. After they are complete the day is done. Spend the rest of the day doing whatever you want.

This has helped me to accomplish more over the last 18 months. It isn’t perfect, though, which is why I’m tweaking it now. The biggest problem is that I end up losing long-term direction. My time slices were too narrow, but this system scales upward.

Planning weeks

Now at the beginning of each week (Sunday night), I list out at least 3 priorities for the week. Things I feel must get done and can get done. The same rule applies: Don’t put it down if it can’t or won’t be done.

My week now has a framework. My daily priorities must support my weekly priorities. In most professions, especially software development, there are plenty of moments where things come up. We’re working in the unknown or we’re dependent upon things out of our control.

By committing to a bare minimum, prioritization is forced and typically the things we must do comprise a small portion of the day. My average tasks I must do take up anywhere from 3 to 4 hours.

The rest of my day can be working with people or things outside of my direct control. If I cannot control the outcome, it is not one of my top priorities but a nice to have. By doing what I can I get a boost, which means I’m more successful in tasks that are outside of my control.

Why it works

I’m no psychologist, but I love reading about productivity hacks. I believe it works because there is a very positive experience from checking a box off. Even if it’s just mental. To set out to accomplish something, no matter how trivial, and succeeding feels very good.

I am the most productive when I feel good. When I feel bad, especially if I’ve let myself or someone else down, I’m not very productive. I languish and lethargy kicks in. By minimizing negative moments I’m keeping my momentum up and achieving more.

Tips for success

  1. Anything you cannot control is not important to you until you can control it.
  2. Question urgency. A phone ringing is not urgent. You are your master, not your phone nor email.
  3. Schedule Review and Reflection times. Review first thing in the morning and at the end of the day reflect and make your workspace orderly.
  4. Write everything down so you can review it. Your memory is not as good as you think it is.

Shameless plug for TDP.me here. Every night at 4pm I get an email (TDP Reminder) for “List tasks for tomorrow”. I can sit and think, and just reply to the email with what I’m going to do. The next morning I just review what I wrote as my refresher. If you use a similar system, let me know!