To the majority of us, productivity doesn’t come naturally. Accomplishing everything effortlessly is just not who I am as a person.

However, everything can get done if you make an effort to think ahead and get organized. Just as success, productivity starts with a plan.

Do you know how to make a plan that will maximize your productivity? If you don’t – you’re in the right place. (But even if you do, stay with us, you may learn something new!)

In this article, we’ll learn how to make a productivity plan – from getting into the right mindset to execution and practical tips.

How to make a productivity plan - cover

Get into the right mindset for productivity

Everything starts from the mind, so this article will too.

Start your productivity planning by getting your head in the game. If you want to build something that will stand the test of time, you have to make sure the foundation is of good quality. Your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits… you know the deal.

The first step is the awareness that being productive doesn’t equal being busy. You can work for hours and, at the end of the day, realize that you haven’t accomplished anything of significance.

Being productive means that you make the best use out of your time and energy. It’s more focused on quality (getting results) than quantity (spending a lot of time working).

The productivity mindset consists of a few different aspects:

  1. Vision. You have to know what exactly you want – only then you’ll be able to set adequate goals and create a good strategy.
  2. Discipline. How often are you truly motivated to work?
    Even though I love my job, I’m absolutely not feeling motivated every business day from 9 to 5. I also can’t afford to wait for the muses of motivation and inspiration to bless me with their presence, at least not if I aim to pay my bills for the month.
    That’s where discipline comes in. Successful people are able to delay gratification and get things done even when they’d rather do something more fun.
  3. (Intrinsic) motivation. To be disciplined for more than a few days, you have to know your why. What’s the true reason you’re doing what you’re doing? The motivation we get from inspirational quotes won’t carry us far, but intrinsic motivation will.
    It will also help you stay persistent even when things get hard.
  4. Critical and strategic thinking. Look at things coming your way objectively, rationally, and from different perspectives.
  5. Open-mindedness and willingness to learn. You need these qualities to improve not only your work but yourself too. The better you get, the more effective you get, and as a consequence, the more productive you get.
  6. Self-confidence and positive attitude. Last but not least, you must believe in yourself. As the famous Henry Ford’s quote goes, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
    You have to somehow convince yourself that you’re capable of doing everything you need to do and that you can do it very well (which may not be an easy thing to do – but I believe in you).

Make a productivity plan in 5 steps

When we set the right foundation, it’s time to take action.

1. List out all the tasks you need to do.

Brain-dump everything that comes to your mind, whether it’s a big project or an everyday chore like taking out the trash. Don’t worry about prioritization for now, you’ll do it in the next step.

2. Organize them by importance.

What tasks will get you the furthest in achieving your goals? What tasks will have the biggest consequences if they don’t get done? What tasks are the most urgent?

Organize them in the order of priority.

3. Note your time.

Figure out how much time you need for each task and how much you have in total (an afternoon, a week, a month).If you don’t know how much time each of your tasks takes (most of us don’t, it’s hard to estimate accurately when you’re immersed in work), try tracking your time.

It couldn’t be more simple: start a timer when you begin a certain activity and stop the timer when you finish. If your activities are digital, you can use an automatic time tracker and make things even easier – you don’t have to do anything, it will automatically track your activity.After using it for a while, you’ll have a clear picture of how you spend your time and how much time every task usually takes. That data is crucial when you’re making a (new and improved) schedule.

A user of Clockify noted: “I love how seamlessly and with ease I can track my time to better support business productivity and planning. I like how many users I can track and the way the reports show how time is used.”

4. Make an optimal schedule.

When I was in school, I prepared for quizzes and exams by counting how many days I had left and how many pages/chapters I needed to learn. I would make a study plan by dividing the number of pages by the number of days.The fourth step of productivity planning is essentially a grown-up version of this. Take into account everything you gathered in the last step and make an optimal schedule. To maximize your productivity, have in mind your natural rhythm (are you a morning person or a night owl) and schedule the most important task(s) when your focus is at its peak.

Be realistic, though. Leave a buffer, just in case. Take into consideration that something unplanned might happen. Your cat may unexpectedly throw up on the carpet so you’ll need to clean that up and take the carpet to get cleaned. Or you may have one of those days when it seems you can’t do anything right.Don’t leave too much time (Parkinson’s law!*) but, on the other hand, make sure you leave enough, so you won’t have to rush and/or panic.

* Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands to fill the time allotted”. For example, if you give yourself a week to complete the task, it will take you a week, but if you give yourself 3 days, you’ll manage to complete the same task in 3 days.

5. Get to work.

Good luck.

Find a productivity strategy that works best for you

There are a plethora of tried & true productivity strategies and methodologies. There are no good and bad strategies, just strategies that may be good or bad for you.

Try out a couple of them yourself and see if they’ll fit your lifestyle and make your productivity planning go smoother.

Don’t be afraid to experiment or make your very own productivity strategies Frankenstein, made of the different aspects you like from different methodologies.

Life’s too short to follow a strategy that’s not tailored just for you.

Here are a few interesting ones.

Warren Buffett’s “2 Lists” strategy

When he was talking with his personal pilot, Mike Flint, they touched on the topic of Flint’s career priorities. Buffett asked him to go through a 3-step exercise:

  1. He asked him to write down his top 25 career priorities.
  2. After that, Flint had to review the list and circle his top 5 priorities.
  3. He ended up with two lists: List 1, with his circled top 5 goals, and List 2, with 20 other goals.

As Flint said he would start working on the top 5 immediately, Buffett proposed a question: “And what about the ones you didn’t circle?”

“Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”

Buffett replied: “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

Anthony Trollope’s strategy for working on big projects

We talked multiple times in multiple different articles about how the most important task should be done first. But what if that first task is really big, takes way too long, and frustrates you?

Anthony Trollope is a prolific English novelist. Writing, let alone writing novels, can take a long time and get disheartening.

Trollope had a solution: instead of measuring his progress based on the completion of chapters, he measured his progress in 15-minutes time intervals. It allowed him to feel a sense of accomplishment and get an immediate payoff.

“It had at this time become my custom,—and is still my custom, though of late I have become a little lenient of myself—to write with my watch before me, and to require of myself 250 words every quarter of an hour…

This division of time allowed me to produce over ten pages of an ordinary novel volume a day, and if kept up through ten months, would have given as its results three novels of three volumes each in the year…”, he described his working habits.

The Ivy Lee method

This may be a good choice if you’re a beginner in productivity planning. The method is simple – so simple that it raises suspicion of its effectiveness. But maybe its simplicity is the reason it’s so effective?

  1. At the end of every workday, write down 6 tasks you need to accomplish tomorrow.
  2. Organize them in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive to work, focus on the first task. Work until the task is finished, then move to the second one.
  4. Work through the rest of your list in the same fashion. If you don’t manage to finish all of them, move the unfinished tasks to tomorrow’s list.
  5. Repeat.

Pareto principle (The 80/20 Rule)

Pareto principle is not a law, but an observation that most things in life are not distributed evenly. It stemmed from an observation that 80% of the wealth in Italy belonged to 20% of the population.

20% of our activities make 80% of the result.

20% of customers make 80% of the revenue.

20% of causes make 80% of the circumstances.

Additional example: remember when you were doing group projects in school and one person would always do the majority of the work? Yep, that’s the Pareto principle.

What does that mean for us and how to apply it?
Find what are those key 20% activities that make the difference for you and focus on them. Our time and energy are limited resources and should be used wisely.

Additional tips to make productivity planning easier

Here are some additional tips to make productivity planning easier. Good habits go hand in hand with being productive, so that’s what these tips are mostly focused on.

Work in a cooler room

Your workplace of choice shouldn’t be warm and cozy.

That environment makes you relaxed and sleepy, which is the exact opposite of what you need if you want to be productive. Your mind should be focused and awake, and a slightly cooler room helps with that.

Notice that I said slightly. You shouldn’t be uncomfortable and cold either. Ideally, all of your needs should be met so you can completely concentrate on your tasks.

Track your progress visually

In 1993, Trent Dyrsmid was a 23-year-old stockbroker in a bank in Abbotsford, Canada. Due to his age and the fact that Abbotsford isn’t exactly the place where big business deals were made, no one expected Dyrsmid to be as incredible as he was.

Within 18 months, he brought 5 million dollars to the company and started earning 6 figures (in today’s money) by the age of 24.

How?

He had two jars on his desk. When he made a sales call, he would move a paper clip from the full jar to the empty one. “Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar,” he said.

One of the reasons this worked so well is because it gave him a visual clue of his progress. Each moved paperclip gave him a little satisfaction and motivation that pushed him further.

Habit trackers function in the same way. They visually show you your progress, but not only that; the longer you track your progress, the longer your streak gets, and the worse it feels to break it. The thought of “I don’t want to break my streak, I’ve been doing so well” motivates more than you might think.

Use the “2-Minute Rule” to develop good habits

James Clear, the author of Atomic habits, created a 2-minute rule that states: “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” It’s inspired by David Allen and Getting Things Done, whose version states “If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.”

The idea is to make habits as easy as possible to start. That’s the hardest part – when you start doing it, it’s not that bad. We all learned Newton’s law of motion in school: a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by a net external force.

In this case, we don’t have external force, only internal, and we create it by focusing on the very next step (that will take 2 minutes or less).

If you want to start reading more, start with reading just one page.

Start working out by putting on your workout clothes.

Start folding your laundry by folding just one piece of clothing.

That’s doable, right?

Conclusion

You make a productivity plan by listing all of your tasks, prioritizing them, and using the time tracking data to make a perfect schedule. You can also try productivity strategies made by someone else, if they fit your lifestyle – after all, you may pick up some tricks that you can use for your own strategy.

Knowing what you’re doing in advance is important, however, even the most elaborate plan doesn’t mean much if there’s no execution. The way to improve your current productivity plan is also by doing – seeing what works and what doesn’t and making changes accordingly.

Keep in mind that the most important step of any plan is taking action.

Are you productivity planning? What does your plan look like? Let us know at blogfeedback@clockify.me.