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I have a special guest today.
Aaron Dowd joins me to talk about his really interesting method of planning a successful day in advance.
Aaron works at seanwes full time as podcast editor for the seanwes network. He also has his own show on the network, The Podcast Dude.
Aaron regularly wakes up as early as 4 AM and even 3 AM! He creates a hand-written schedule every single day in a basic journal. He writes, he edits shows, he rides his bike, he’s working on a book and a course called Successful Podcasting, he works out almost every day, and plays in a band.
Tune in to hear Aaron share how he plans his day for success.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- Wake up earlier to get more done.
- Identify long term goals and work backwards.
- Triple the amount of time you think it will take you to do anything you haven’t done before.
- Plan your day hour by hour and take notes retroactively on things you did differently—not only do you have a plan for your day, but you also have a log.
- Your journal is not a prison—it’s yours, so do whatever is best for you.
- Write down the most important thing you need to get done during a block of time and protect it.
- Spend your time the way you want to spend it and your day is a success.
- Practice planning out your day and you’ll learn how long things take.
- Try both writing out a schedule by hand and using a calendar app.
- Plan for success, but be willing to adapt.
- Always think about what the most important thing to do is right now.
- Write down whatever is distracting you from what you should be working on.
- Be intentional with how you spend every hour of your day.
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- 03:12 Sean: I know this is something that Aaron has been doing. He has this really interesting method of planning a successful day in advance, and that’s what I want to talk about today—some compelling reasons for why you want to plan your day, as well as practical ways to go about doing it. Aaron is going to share some of his favorite tools.
- 03:43 Do you find that a lot of people plan their day, or do they not plan their day? Aaron, what’s your argument for why you should plan your day?
- 04:12 Aaron: I am the kind of person who, in the past, completely rejected the idea that I should schedule my day or my time. I did not like the constraints of having a schedule. If you plan out every half hour or hour block in your calendar and you stick to that, if you have the discipline to do that, in the past I thought you were crazy. Now, I have immense respect for you, and I’ve started doing something similar. It’s been a game-changer for my productivity and, honestly, my happiness as well.
- 04:55 This system that I’m going to talk about today, how I plan my day, is for you if, like me, you feel overwhelmed and like you have too much to do every single day. I’ve felt that way for quite a while. Or, maybe you don’t feel like you are making the most of your time. If you’re like me, you want to work on really important things every day, but you’re easily distracted, and sometimes you find yourself bouncing from one thing to the next thing. You’re all over the place, and maybe you do a lot of little things that aren’t really the important things.
- 05:29 Sean: That describes a lot of people. I resonate with a lot of those things myself, even this week. I’ve got some projects and things I want to work on during the sabbatical, and it’s really hard. Suddenly, hours have gone by, and you think, “What have I really done today?” On days when I wake up early, I try and wake up early because I feel like I can get more things done, and I do often get a lot of work done in the morning. I can get pretty much everything I need to do in a day done by the time a lot of people are starting their day, but it hasn’t always been super purposeful.
- 06:13 I’ll wake up early, I’ll write, I’ll look at my to do list and see what I can poke at, but Aaron is actually writing this out. I’ve seen his notebook, and he made a template for you guys if you want to use this. He’s writing out every hour of the day that he’s going to be awake, and he’s putting things at a specific time.
- 06:54 Aaron: This is not an original idea by any means. People have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. I was exposed to it by a book I read recently called Deep Work by Cal Newport, and since I read it, I haven’t been able to shut up about it. It is so good. In this book, the author put forth this idea that you should be intentional about how you spend your day. That word “intentional” really resonated with me, and the way he does it is by planning out his day hour by hour, and he calls them “time blocks.”
- 07:48 Think of a time block as 8am until 10am. That would be a time block. There is so much fantastic advice in that book, so I can’t recommend it enough. I wrote in that notebook every hour of every day. I found that the earlier I wake up and the more intentional I am about how I spend that time, the more productive I am during the day. I’ve woken up at 3am or 4am a couple of times in the past couple of weeks, and I have Snapchats to prove it.
- 08:20 Sean: He’s not kidding. I’ve seen the Snapchats and the messages in the Community chat. At first, he was all about the #6amclub, and then it was all about 5:30am, 5am, 4am, and next thing I knew, he was waking up at 3am because he was seeing such great results from this. He’s got this light that shines really bright, like daylight.
- 08:52 Aaron: It’s a daylight lamp. It simulates the bright light that is sunlight, and it tricks my brain into thinking that it’s daytime. It’s really great.
- 09:01 Sean: So Aaron, you’re waking up at 3am and turning on this daylight lamp. What’s the reason? Why do you keep waking up earlier and earlier?
The earlier you wake up, the more you’ll get done, especially if you plan your day and you’re productive about it.
- 09:22 Aaron: My productivity, the results I’ve seen, have been insane. It’s been so much so that I won’t shut up about it in the Community because I’m so excited about how much I’m getting done. I started off using a Moleskin for the planning, but I ended up buying a journal called a Self Journal. We’re skipping ahead to the how, but I want to talk about the why first.
Why Plan Your Day?
- 10:02 Why for me? I told you earlier that I’m the kind of person who does not like a schedule. I don’t like people telling me what to do. Here’s the key: I want to work on exactly what I want to work on, and in order to do this, I realized that I have to think very carefully about what my priorities were. To plan out my priorities for my day, I had to have some goals. If you’re going to do this, you have to have some pre-defined goals. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals are great, but you need to think about years from now. Where do you want to be in five or ten years?
Identify long term goals and work backwards, so you know what you need to do day to day, week to week, and month to month to get there.
- 10:49 Sean: Give me an example of a five or ten year goal you have that informs the kinds of things you schedule for yourself in a given day.
- 11:01 Aaron: One of my goals is to be a great audio engineer. There are a lot of things that go into being a great audio engineer, to be able to record and produce music or any kind of audio, and in order to get there, I need really good gear. Good gear is really expensive. I also need a lot of skills. I need to learn how to use that gear and how to do post-production very, very well. In five or ten years, I want to have a recording studio and have people come in and record podcasts and music. If Sean, Ben, and Cory want to come in and have the seanwes band, I need to have a lot of experience, knowledge, and gear.
- 11:52 I need to invest time in learning, and I also need to have enough money to buy that gear. I need to spend time learning and making money. One of the ways I’m planning on making money is that I’m going to create some courses about podcasting.
- 12:15 Sean: Aaron is working on this epic course for anyone who wants to start a podcast. You have to go check this out. If you’re listening as this comes out, it’s still early and we’re still setting it up, but the course will be at SuccessfulPodcasting.com.
- 12:37 Aaron: This course isn’t going to be exactly like the Learn Lettering course that Sean put out, but there are going to be modules, screen casts, videos, and an eBook, so I have to do a ton of writing for this course. If I do a great job with this course and provide a ton of value and people buy it, this will enable me to invest money into some more recording gear, and possibly even into further education on audio things.
Focusing on Goals
- 13:04 Sean: Do you have multiple goals, Aaron, or do you really try and focus?
- 13:09 Aaron: As of right now, there are many, many things that I wish I could do. I think a lot of people resonate with that. How many of you have three or four things you would love to do? I wish I could be a better drummer and spend three hours a day playing drums. I wish I could learn programming. I love the idea of programming. I want to write more. There are so many things! I’ve learned that, to be effective and reach a goal, I need to focus. This year, especially, is my year to focus on Successful Podcasting.
- 13:52 I have what I would call my day job, which is editing the seanwes podcast, but I also have this course that I’m working on. This course is my main focus. It’s a priority for me, and it’s going to enable me to reach my long term goals, which means that I need to write every single day. Sean talks about this idea a lot—it all starts with writing (Related: e139 It All Starts With Writing (Again)). I know that writing is a thing that I need to do every day, and that’s how I established one of my main priorities.
- 14:24 Another quick example is exercise and fitness. I would like to be in better shape, physically, in my 30s than I was in my 20s. I got in pretty good shape in my 20s, but I want to go even further, because I want to be healthy into my 30s and 40s, currently my 30s. Writing is one of my priorities, and exercise, health, and fitness are also one of my priorities. That’s how the long term goals play into the day to day things.
Planning Reduces Stress
- 14:57 Sean: What are some other reasons that someone might want to plan their day?
- 15:04 Aaron: Less stress. This is a huge one that I didn’t even anticipate. Back before January, when I started doing this, I would not have pegged myself as a person under a lot of stress. I felt pretty good about everything. I felt like I had control over how I was spending my time and how much work I was getting done, but honestly, since I started planning out my day, stress has all but evaporated.
- 15:32 Sean: A lot of people think, “If I’m going to schedule my whole day, every hour, that feels really overwhelming. That’s a lot to manage and take care of. If anything, I feel like that might make me more stressed. If I don’t plan that stuff out, I’ll probably get the important things done, but at least I don’t have to worry about it.” Why do you think I’d be less stressed if I planned out my day, Aaron?
- 15:55 Aaron: There are actually a lot of reasons, and I want to address some of them. One of the main things that causes us stress is feeling like we have more things to do than we have time for. There’s always more to do.
Before I was planning out every hour of my day, I was overestimating how much I could actually accomplish in a day.
- 16:27 Sean: That’s so true. While we’re on the sabbatical, we’ve got a couple of people who are doing their own sabbatical weeks for the first or second time. I see this classic sabbatical mistake, thinking that you can accomplish so much. If you think about taking a week off every seven weeks, like we do at seanwes, when you’re not doing that regularly it sounds like a huge amount of time. You think, “I could never take off a whole week! That’s so much time!”
- 16:59 If you ever get to the point where you do, you’ve been thinking all along, “That’s so much time,” but when you do it, you realize how little time it is. People think it’s so much time, so they schedule all these things, and they think they can accomplish everything in the world if they have a week. Really, you can’t. You can do maybe one project, because it’s just not that much time. There’s always so much to do.
- 17:31 Aaron: Something that a lot of people who are into productivity have done, and I’ve done this in the past and still do, is to write down three important things that you need to get done every day. I’m all for this. This is a fantastic idea. If you can get three things done every single day, you’ll make a lot of progress. If you’re over-scheduling and not feeling like you have enough time and then you go through and start planning how you’re going to spend your day, you’re going to learn exactly how long a lot of things take. A lot of things take longer than you think.
- 18:07 You might think that you can complete this one reoccurring task in two hours, but after you schedule out your time for a couple of weeks and you do this thing every couple of days or every week, if you’re being intentional and keeping track of how long it actually takes, you might realize that this thing you thought would take you two hours usually takes you about four hours.
- 18:31 Sean: That’s very true. If you’ve done something before, you get a better idea of knowing how long it actually takes. If you haven’t done something before, this is the rule of thumb: triple the amount of time you think it will take you to do anything you haven’t done before.
Planning Helps You Say No
- 18:49 Aaron: Another reason this planning is great is that you can use your schedule, your daily plan, as an excuse to say no. Sean’s all about saying no (Related: e140 Supercharge Your No With a Reason for Saying Yes). I’ve come to really enjoy saying no. If somebody calls you up and says, “Hey, I’d like you to do this thing,” and you don’t really want to do it, you can say, “Let me check my schedule. You know what, I’m so sorry. I’ve got my day scheduled out and I have some things planned for this afternoon. Maybe next week. How about this day?” You have an out. As weird as it is, it’s about prioritizing and saying, “This thing on my schedule is more important to me than what other people are asking me to do.”
- 19:42 Sean: You’re not just making up that you can’t do it. You literally can’t, because you have a schedule, a list of tasks assigned to time blocks that are taking up your day.
Planning Helps You Know What You Did
- 19:56 Aaron: Finally, if you do this like I do it and start the day by intentionally planning out how you’re going to spend each hour, as the day goes by, you’re keeping track of what you actually did. Go back and take some notes. Maybe, from 7am to 9am, you were planning on writing, but one of your friends called and they had a flat tire. You had to go help your friend fix their flat tire. When you’re done with that, go back to your notebook, scratch out the writing part, and write, “Helped friend fix flat tire.”
- 20:27 Sean: That’s probably enough of a reason for me to do this. I was journaling every day, and I stopped doing that. I got out of the habit. I really miss that. I don’t miss having to take the time to do it, but I miss having a log of what I did, so I can look back and say, “What did I do yesterday? Why didn’t I get anything done?” I don’t have that when I’m not journaling, but when I think of journaling as this task that has to be done, then I don’t want to do it and I resist doing it.
By planning your day hour by hour and taking notes retroactively on things you did differently, not only do you have a schedule and a plan for your day, but you also have a log as a result.
- 21:11 Aaron: This is amazing. I started this back in January, so I can go back and look at any day in January or February and see almost exactly what I did that day. Two, three years from now, how cool would that be, to be able to look back and see exactly what you did? This has the added side effect, the massive bonus, of making you feel good every day. If you actually get stuff done, you look back and you can say, “Man, I got a lot done today,” and it feels really good. You get that dopamine burst for being productive, and that’s awesome.
- 21:56 Sean: Aaron shared his outline with me, and I know he’s got these potentially opposing views. People are still struggling with this idea, but I want to press on and get into the how, how to plan your day. Let’s get really practical, because I think we’ll convince a lot of people at that point. Aaron has some of these things listed, “What about people who don’t like structure? They feel more creative or freeform, and it sounds like this scheduling thing takes too much time.” Let’s get to those things later. I want to get to the practical stuff.
- 22:41 Aaron: I started off in a very plain moleskin notebook. You can get these 8.5 by 5 inches at any bookstore or on Amazon, and they’re relatively affordable. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be any notebook. Along the left side of the page, on alternating lines, I would write, “5, 6, 7, 8…” going down the page.
- 23:01 Sean: Those numbers are representing time, like 5am and 6am, the hours of the day.
- 23:09 Aaron: Then, I just think about how I want to spend my time, and I write those things in. At 7am, maybe I want to write for an hour, so at 7am I write, “Write.” It’s very simple.
- 23:23 Sean: Do you write the topic, Aaron? I started doing this after Aaron told me about this last week, and that’s when I went hard core and scheduled out every hour. I got a ton done, but I didn’t get as much done as I had thought. I was working on a block that was dedicated to some specific thing, and it bled over into the next one. It kept pushing things and pushing things, so I didn’t get the crazy list of things that really should have been for three or four days done in a single day, but I still got a ton of things done.
- 23:58 What I did was, if I was going to write, to say, “Write Supercharge Your Writing public content page 1,” or something really specific. “Write lesson 1 for module 3.” Do you do that, or do you just say, “Write”?
- 24:13 Aaron: I keep it simple, but this is something I really want to stress.
Your journal is not a prison—it’s yours, so do whatever is best for you.
- 24:34 As much as I want you to take it seriously and try to stick to this, one of people’s objections is, “What happens if I get into the flow and I don’t want to break that?” If you want to break something, break it. Sean, if you’re hot on this writing thing, and you think, “I know I was supposed to go for a run at 8am, but I’m really on fire right now and I’m getting a lot done,” then let yourself do it.
- 25:07 Sean: That’s exactly what happened to me. I had two blocks. One was to write the outline for my presentation. Last week, I gave a presentation called Landing Pages that Convert, and later on this training will be available for sale, but I gave it live for the previous workshop customers, the people who signed up for Supercharge Your Writing. Later, I’m selling it, but I gave it to them for free because I wanted to reward loyalty. I was preparing this presentation, and I had a block that said, “Write the outline for the presentation,” and I had a block that said, “Create the slides.”
- 25:46 Even after that, I had other things for different pages that I needed to write, but all I got done that day was the outline for the presentation. I didn’t even get to the slides. I was in such a state of flow, like Aaron said, and the words were just coming and coming. It was amazing. I was getting all of this great stuff out, and even though I was originally planning on writing just a basic outline, this was for both. This was detailed stuff, and I wasn’t holding back. I let it take the time it needed to take, but when it was said and done, even though that was a success and turned into a great presentation, I couldn’t help but feel like the day was somewhat of a failure.
- 26:30 I tried planning it out, and I didn’t do all of the things at the right time stamps. What Aaron is saying right here is really helpful to me. The journal and the schedule aren’t a prison. They enabled me to do some really good work, so the day is a success. It doesn’t have to be followed exactly, to the T.
Plan in Spite of Potential Interruptions
- 26:57 Aaron: Do you consider that day a success? Did you get the important thing done that day?
If you spend your time the way you want to spend it, that’s a success.
- 27:08 An objection I see come up a lot is, “What do you do when things you don’t have any control over happen? What if your friend calls you and asks you to help them fix a flat tire?” You do it, because it’s an important thing, you write it down, and then you say, “I did good work today,” at the end of the day.
- 27:27 Sean: That’s exactly the note that I had. I saw a similar question in the chat before we started. People worry, because if we plan out every hour, it seems like there’s no flexibility. If anything comes up or something more important surfaces, then we can’t do anything and the day is ruined. No, the day isn’t ruined. What people are really wanting is to say, “I shouldn’t plan my day for success, because maybe something will come up. It’s better to go freeform and not have a plan going into the day, because that way, I have flexibility.”
It’s better to plan for success and then be willing to adapt—if interruptions don’t come up, then you have a full day of success.
- 28:13 You have a full day of exactly the things you want to be doing at the times you want to be doing that. More often than not, the day will be like what you’re planning. You’re not going to get every single thing interrupted by someone. It may happen here and there, but if you have a willingness to be adaptable when those things happen, the day will be more of a success than had you not planned it at all.
- 28:53 Aaron: It is about being intentional with how you spend your time. I want the listeners to focus on the most important things. What are the most important things you need to do today? Be intentional about putting that down and having somewhere you can see it and holding yourself accountable. Don’t beat yourself if you can’t get to something. You may realize that you wrote down ten things today, but you can realistically only get to four of them.
When You Can Do Less Than You Think
- 29:23 Instead of putting down ten things every time and saying, “Why can’t I get to these ten things?” You need to say, “I can really only get four things done, so I need to start putting four things down and getting those things. Then, I’m going to feel good about myself because I’m getting these things done.” Eventually, you might start getting them done faster, and you’ll say, “I have an extra two hours today. What else is important that I can get done right now?”
- 29:51 Sean: That approach is like a beginner weight lifter. You go into the gym and you’ve never lifted weights before, but you think, “I could bench press 500 pounds.” You lay down on the bench, and it’s a big fat nope. You can’t even do it. Do you say, “I guess I can’t do it then”? You wouldn’t quit then. You would adapt. You would say, “I guess I can’t lift 500 pounds right now. I guess I can’t do ten things in a day like I guessed.” You practice and you adapt and you say, “What can I do?”
- 30:26 Like Aaron said, as you do it, as you continue to plan out your day and you practice, you learn how long things take. In the beginning, I probably thought, “I could do a podcast in a couple of hours—record it, edit it, do some tagging, and put it up. Pretty basic.” Then, you get to the podcast and you realize that if you do want to do show notes, a featured image, music, and a newsletter, that’s 16 man hours. That’s how many hours it takes to produce one episode of the seanwes podcast.
- 31:01 That took us a lot of time to figure out, to figure out and learn how long that takes. Now we know. We have different people on the team helping out with different pieces of it, but we each know our part from experience. We can say, “It’s going to take me 90 minutes or 110 minutes to record this episode, and 12 or 15 minutes to write the excerpt.” You’re not kidding yourself anymore.
- 31:30 Aaron: Let’s say that you figured out that recording, editing, and publishing a podcast episode took 16 hours. Sean, being the productive person that he is, might say, “If I only sleep eight hours, there are 16 hours in a day. I could do all of this in a single day. If I wake up at 6am and I go to bed at midnight, I could do a whole podcast episode. All I have to do is stick to my schedule.”
- 32:01 Sean: That’s when Laci reminds me that we have to eat.
- 32:05 Aaron: That’s exactly it. There are probably things that happen to you during your day that will break up your flow. Let’s be honest—I don’t know of that many people who can do focused, uninterrupted, real work, for more than 8, 10, 12, or maybe 14 hours without exhausting their willpower and brainpower. It’s really hard to do.
Becoming a Productivity Machine
- 32:37 Sean: The new thing with the seanwes team is that we’re using Snapchat now. If you want to follow Aaron, he’s aaroncwa. You can follow me on Snapchat at seanwes tv. Aaron, I’m seeing you waking up super early in the morning and getting work done. You’re writing, and then you’re often going for a run, eating healthy, or going on a bikeride in the middle of the day. It’s not so much the middle of the day when you wake up at 3am. When do you go to bed when you wake up at 3am, Aaron?
- 33:11 Aaron: If I’m going to wake up by 3am, I have to be in bed by 8pm, ready to go to sleep. If I get less than six hours of sleep, it isn’t going to go well. I really should get seven and a half.
- 33:27 Sean: It seems like Aaron is doing these physical activities in the middle of the day to break things up.
- 33:34 Aaron: Yes. I wake up, I take a shower, and I start my day with 15 minutes of stream of consciousness writing in Flowstate, an app that will delete your words after five seconds if you stop typing, so I can’t stop.
- 33:57 Sean: Which sounds super scary, but it will quickly show you that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Let’s say that you set your timer for 15 minutes, you’ve been going for 10 minutes, and you’ve got hundreds of words, if you stop for a few seconds, it’s going to delete all of them. You can’t do any tricks like selecting all and copying. You have to go the complete duration that you said. It’s a pretty cool app that keeps you writing.
- 34:36 Aaron: Then, I get into writing for my course. I realized that, when you wake up in the morning and you get enough sleep, your brain power is at its maximum. You’re the most alert and you have all the energy. You feel ready to work on something, and the most important task should come first or second. I do some writing, respond to some emails, write some show notes, and I pack all the important things into my morning. By 11am or 12pm, I’ve already gotten in five or six hours of really good work if I’m being intentional and I’ve protected that time and not gotten distracted by things like Twitter and Reddit.
- 35:22 Sean: Aaron’s output has been insane lately. Obviously, this is how he’s doing it, but that was my question before. I didn’t know how in the world he was doing all this stuff. He’s writing in the morning, doing show notes, editing a bunch of shows, getting his full time day job work done, engaging with people in the Community, responding on the forum, engaging with pretty much everyone that talks to him on Twitter, getting a run in, going on bike rides, eating healthy, and working on his course. Aaron is a productivity machine.
I became super productive when I started being intentional with how I spend my time—the things I get done during the day are all things I planned out in advance.
- 36:15 I like to plan out my day the night before or sometimes even multiple days before. I get Cory to help me, because he’s in the office here with me. I’ll brain dump things that need to be done, the deadlines, and he’s compiling all of these things. We put together a schedule of my day to make sure I’m staying on track and getting things done. I like to plan ahead of time, either the night before or further in advance. Aaron, is it true that you typically are planning your day the morning of?
- 36:49 Aaron: I’ve flip-flopped between the two. If I’m going to recommend that someone do this, I think that the night before is better. For me, for example, there is a problem with that, though. If I wake up at 3am or 4am and I’m really intentional about my day, I get a bunch of stuff done and I have a super productive and successful day, by the time 6pm or 7pm rolls around I’m getting ready for bed, my brain is toast. I can’t think about stuff. I’ve given everything I have, and that’s it.
- 37:37 Sean: That makes sense. Even when I was doing 4:30am workouts, which I need to get back to, I went to bed at 10:30pm. We’re on similar schedules, but Aaron’s 8pm is like my 10pm, and I couldn’t imagine planning out my next day at 10pm. I would need to do that more towards the end of my work day. In Aaron’s case, he’s waking up so early that he has enough time to plan his day.
- 38:15 Aaron: That’s a habit I’ve gotten into that I really enjoy. First thing, after I take a shower, I make breakfast and coffee, and as I drink my coffee I’ll be planning out my day. I really like that. I’m not convinced that either way is better. One of the Community members in the chat had mentioned that there’s a guy, John Maxwell, who plans out weeks or maybe even months in advance. I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m doing days. How much could I get done if I planned my whole week, my whole month?” Wow.
Tools for Planning
- 39:15 Sean: I’m an app kind of a guy. I like having things on the computer. I like having things automatically synced. What’s the argument for using a physical notebook and writing it down vs. apps? Do you use apps?
- 39:31 Aaron: I’ve tried apps in the past, but I don’t really like them. Again, I’m not convinced that either way is better. I’ve found that I love the notebook. I love the act of writing with a pen or a pencil, and if I don’t get that thing done, I just cross it out. I put a line through it, and I write down what I did do. I really enjoy that. A calendar doesn’t feel the same. There are probably some benefits, and I know people who do a similar thing with a calendar, but maybe I like the physical aspect of it because I spend so much time on a computer. Also, now I have a physical notebook that I can flip back through to see exactly what I did.
- 40:14 Sean: That is fun. I know that I remember things better that I’ve written. Whenever I do sketchnotes, I remember that way better than typing up something in text editor. Try both writing out a schedule by hand and using a calendar app.
- 40:27 Aaron: I tried doing a similar thing with a calendar, and I thought, “Do I want to spend the time to type in and moving the time borders around,” but it seemed like there was way too much fiddling. With a notebook, it takes me less than five minutes to write down the numbers, and I don’t even do that now because I have this Self Journal. If I was using a moleskin, it took me 30 seconds to write down the numbers and another two minutes to write down a couple of words about what I wanted to do with each couple of hours or time blocks.
Schedule in Margin
- 41:08 Sean: Aaron has a note here that says, “Focus on the most important things.” What does that mean to you, Aaron?
- 41:16 Aaron: That just means that, as you’re planning, whenever you sit down to plan, think about the top three important things you need to get done. Put a priority on those. Adina in the chat had asked, “I struggle with a very limited time schedule because I have kids I have to constantly drive from school and activities. It kills my workflow. How can I still be ultra productive with the time I have while still making time for my family?” She mentioned that she takes them to school at 8am or 9am and she has to pick them up at noon, and then there are things later. In that case, you have to plan for those things.
If you have a lot of transitional time, scheduling could actually help you.
- 42:06 You might think that you have between 9am and noon, because that’s when you drop the kids off and pick them up, but you’ve actually got between 9:45am and 11:15am. I was guilty of this for a long time, too. I would say, “I’ll do this at 9am, this at 10am, this at 11am, and this at 12pm and 1pm,” but I wasn’t planning any kind of margin.
- 42:33 Sean: That was totally my problem. That was what I did. I thought, “From 11am to 12pm I’ll do this, and from 12pm to 1pm I’ll do that.” Of course, I don’t plan lunch, but not even 15 minutes of margin between the tasks. There isn’t time to set up for or prepare for a call, and you have to have that margin.
- 42:55 Aaron: When I go on a bike ride, I like to ride around the local lake. It’s about a 10 or 15 minute drive. If I put down “bikeride from 10am to 11am,” if I want to be on my bike at 10am, I have to leave at 9:45am. Whenever I get done with the bike ride, I’m not going to be home instantly. I’m not going to get back until 11:15am.
- 43:20 Sean: You drive your bike to the lake?
- 43:42 Aaron: The lake I like to ride around I actually drive to, yes.
- 43:46 Sean: There are these transition things, these transportation things, that you have to account for. For me, what’s worked is actually scheduling lunch or the 15 minute transition, or just leaving a 15 minute gap and setting realistic start times. I say, “Well, I’ll stop at 12:45pm,” or, “I’ll start at 2:15pm.”
- 44:11 Aaron: Sean, you do the seanwes podcast normally on Tuesdays at 10:30am?
- 44:19 Sean: Yes, but Ben gets here at 10am, and we talk about the show a little bit. We start a pre-show at 10:15am. Before Ben gets here, I spend an hour writing the outline, so it’s really from 9am to 12pm, but Ben sticks around a little bit and we talk, so he leaves at 12:20pm. Then, I need to write the excerpt, the tagline, the newsletter conclusion, and the cover text. That’s another 20 minutes, so it’s really more like 9am to 12:30pm or 12:45pm.
- 44:51 Aaron: That’s an example of just being aware of how long things actually take, and that’s how this can help, especially if you’re taking notes after the fact like I do. So often, we think, “I’m going to go to the coffee shop and work from 8:30am till 10:30am,” but you’re not thinking about before and after, the time it takes to get ready to drive there, to get everything set up, to throw stuff in your bag, and all of that kind of stuff. That’s important. If you can, identify times during the day when your kids are at school. Say, “I’ve got from 9:45am to 11:15am. What’s the most important thing I need to get done?”
Write down the most important thing you need to get done during a block of time, and be very careful to protect it.
- 45:38 It’s hard. I know, because I am the kind of person who is very easily distracted. I love this system so much because it has helped me be more focused, be more intentional, and get more stuff done. I’m not as likely to start on something, get distracted, and then work on something else. I look at this notebook sitting next to me, and I say, “Oh, during this time, this is my task. I need to do this and I need to stay focused on it.”
- 46:05 Sean: Aaron, you’ve got here that you “check in during the day.” What does checking in look like, and how would you define whether or not a day is successful, especially if things have changed or unexpected things have come up?
- 46:20 Aaron: Checking in, for me, just means that I keep this notebook close by. I have an idea of how I’m going to spend the day, but if something comes up, I make a note about it. If I accomplish something, I go and I put a little check mark. If I don’t accomplish it but I did something else, I X it out and I write what I did, and I put a check mark.
Take five or ten seconds to check on your schedule every hour or two, because it makes a huge difference—it brings you back to how your past self wanted to spend your time.
- 46:57 Sean: I know that there are people thinking this right now, because it comes to my mind. When I hear all of this, “I go back and I check it. I X it out, I make a mark, I write a note and say what I did,” I think, “I don’t have time to do all of that. It sounds like a bunch of extra work. I’m barely getting the work done, much less writing about the work that I’ve done. This system sounds like too much hassle.” I’m reminded that the alternative is not being productive and efficient and not having a successful day. You’re not writing down what you did, but then you get to the end of the day, and you think, “What did I do?” You don’t know.
- 47:39 You feel unaccomplished. You go into the next day, and you repeat that all over again. When I was really on top of my journaling, I would take five minutes at the end of the day and write all of the things down. When I saw even the mediocre things that I got done, I thought, “Wow, I actually did 12 decent things today.” As business owners, there is always work to be done, and just because we’re forward thinking, we tend to think more about the things that haven’t been done more than we think of what we have done and accomplished.
- 48:20 This results in us feeling like we hardly got anything done, because we just see the mountain in front of us. We feel bad about ourselves. We go home thinking about how much more needs to be done. When I have kept a log of these things and you have all of the silly five second notes of what changed and what you did, looking back on that lets you feel good about your day and about being done at 6pm, or whenever you would stop work and normally feel guilty.
- 48:57 Aaron: You’d be amazed at how many little things go by that you do that you don’t think to log in some way. You have a five minute phone call with somebody about something they need help with. You write 300 words in an email and respond to someone. I’m not saying that you have to log all of those things, but those are the kinds of things that can break your focus and mess up your day. For me, if something like that comes up, I write it down. If I get distracted when I’m supposed to be writing about something related to podcasting, responding to someone on Reddit or Twitter, at the end of the day I can say, “I had a conversation about microphones on Twitter.”
- 49:44 It wasn’t like there was an hour block where I didn’t get anything done and I should feel bad about it. I can see what I did there. Maybe it’s not the best way for me to spend my time, maybe I could have done better, but at least I did something and I’m moving forward.
- 50:00 Sean: This is probably kind of a silly question. Most of us who plan out our day will plan too much. That’s usually what happens to me. For some reason, if someone was done early and they run out of things that they had planned, what should they do?
- 50:17 Aaron: That’s the beautiful thing. This comes back to the intentionality. This happens to me occasionally, that I’ll finish editing one of Sean’s podcasts. I usually plan for three or four hours in the afternoon. For whatever reason, if I focus, I can get it done in less, and then I have an extra two hours. I think to myself, “Was there anything important I wanted to get done? What’s the most important thing I can do with this time? Is it going for a run? Is it calling my mom and telling her that I love her?” It could be anything. Maybe I want to relax, go outside, sit on the porch and have another coffee.
Always think about what the most important thing to do is right now.
- 51:09 What do you need? Do you need a nap? Are you fried and exhausted so you need an hour nap? Now you have time for that, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Write it down.
- 51:23 Sean: If you have a pocket of time and you finish early, plan the next day. Keep getting more and more ahead. Next thing you know, you might have a free day. Maybe you can take a sabbatical or something.
- 51:36 Aaron: Read a book! Even an hour of reading a book, for me, is very relaxing.
- 51:46 Sean: The biggest piece of this is the guilt-free free time. Aaron and I did an early episode about this back in the day (Related: e004 Guilt-Free Free Time). That’s the biggest thing for me. I rarely feel like I can have guilt-free free time, and I think a lot of people feel that way. A lot of people feel like they don’t deserve to have free time, because there’s too much work to be done. If you define a successful day for yourself and you plan it out ahead of time, you plan an efficient day in advance and you say, “This day is good,” if you get your work done, you can just be done. It doesn’t have to be 9pm, 10pm, or 11pm. If you’re done with your work at 5pm, go home! You’ve earned it! Be done for the day. Watch Netflix, read a book, take a nap, go on a walk, have fun with your friends, or go out to dinner with your spouse.
Write Down the 3 Most Important Things
- 53:32 Aaron: This is something that, if this is your first time trying this, I promise that you will do. You’ll try to schedule too much, and you won’t get it all done. It’s okay. You’ll learn, and you’ll say, “As much as I wish I could do 10 hours of focused, important work, I get through four or five and my brain stops.” There’s nothing wrong with you. You’ll learn. Keep at it and keep going.
- 54:15 Sarah asks, “Is planning your day as simple as a to do list? What other variables should you take into account when you’re planning your day?” I think people should start with the three important things. Write down three important things you need to get done today, and then go back and put it on the schedule and plan it whenever you can. What other variables? If you have kids this is really hard, and I don’t have the perfect answer to this. There are a lot of Community members and listeners who have kids, and they say, “Great for Aaron. You don’t know how it is. These kids are crazy.” Let’s have a discussion about this. I want to hear from you. If you do something similar to this and you’ve figured out what it takes to make this happen, or if you’re struggling with this and you’re having a hard time, write in, and let’s talk about it. We’ll revisit it on a future episode.
- 55:15 I’m a single dude, and I haven’t experienced this. I don’t have a great answer for you other than trying to be intentional and rolling with the punches. Allow things to change. Adjust your schedule. Don’t beat yourself up if you have to take care of something, but always come back to what you wanted to accomplish in that time. Are there any other variables you think people should take into account when planning out their day, Sean?
- 55:45 Sean: It’s mainly margin, for me.
Plan for success, but be willing to adapt.
- 55:58 If you do write up the three most important things you want to get done and you schedule those first, you increase the chances that you will get the most important work of the day done even if you do have interruptions. Anything that’s disposable or expendable can be put later in the day, and it’s not a big deal if that gets pushed off.
- 56:24 Aaron: Cory Miller asked, “I easily find myself overwhelmed if I over-schedule my day. In a similar fashion, I get frustrated when I see things I was ‘supposed’ to do that day and didn’t manage to get to. As you can imagine, it usually means I don’t do a fully strict schedule during the day. Is there a good number of things you recommend scheduling so as to avoid feeling overwhelmed by these things?”
- 56:48 Cory, you’re like me. You’re beating yourself up. You’re feeling constrained. You’re ambitious, and that’s great. Cory Miller is part of the seanwes team. He’s a smart dude, a hard worker, and he wants to get a ton of stuff done, and that’s awesome. He’s full of energy, and I enjoy having him on the team and talking with him, being around him virtually and otherwise. He feels bad, because he thinks he’s Superman. He thinks he can do 20 things in a day. He thinks he can do all of the things.
- 57:26 You can’t, Cory. I’m sorry. You’re getting a ton of stuff done! If you write it out and keep track of what you’re actually doing, you could show the world, and I bet you everyone in the Community would say, “Holy crap! He’s doing all of that every single day?”
- 57:41 Sean: He would, too. I’m glad Aaron brought that up, because that’s totally what’s happening. He says, “I get frustrated.” If you’re getting frustrated, I know for a fact that you’re not writing down what you did during the day. If you did, you would see how much you actually get done, all of the things you kind of take for granted that you get done and don’t think about. You’re not giving yourself any credit for those things, and you should.
How to Handle Distractions
- 58:10 Aaron: Maybe you’re writing about the things that you do that you feel guilty about. Today, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t plan out my day, which was a mistake, and I had two things I wanted to get done but I didn’t get to either of them. Do you know what I did? Just about everything else you can possibly imagine. It was still a pretty good day. I went on a run this morning, I spent some time with my friends, and I sort of got some work done. If you’re spending a bunch of time on social media and you actually write those down, then you might feel a little bit guilty about that, and that’s okay.
- 58:57 Understand that you have to look at it and say, “It’s fine that I spent my time that way, but it wasn’t the important thing I wanted to get done today. Tomorrow, I’m going to come back and hit it harder, and I’m going to make sure that the very first or second thing I do is this important work.”
- 59:14 Sean: That’s a way to look back on it and realize that you shouldn’t have done those things, but to prevent them from happening, I like doing what I call the Whiteboard Trick. Whenever I’ve gotten distracted, it’s because I didn’t do this. I didn’t recognize that these distractions are coming up. I’m not dealing with them. I’m letting them happen. I should be using the Whiteboard Trick. When a distraction comes up, and I know I shouldn’t be doing that thing, I write that thing on the whiteboard, whether it’s checking Twitter, email, Facebook, my analytics, chatting with someone, or even the Community chat.
Write down whatever is distracting you from what you should be working on.
- 1:00:07 Write it down on the whiteboard. If you don’t have a whiteboard, write it on a piece of paper or in a text document. Write, “Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, analytics, email,” whatever it is. When that distraction comes to your mind or it inserts itself into your life through push notifications and you remember it, if you’re tempted to go check it, you say, “Nope!” You point to your list, and you say, “It’s already up there. These are things I’m not doing.” When you call those things out like that, it becomes so much easier to focus.
- 1:00:47 Aaron: Do you know what I actually do? I put them on the schedule. I block off 30 minutes, and I say, “Email, Twitter, Community.” When 11am roles around, I go do these things for 30 minutes, and I feel good. Occasionally, something really valuable will be happening on Twitter, in my email, or in the Community, and I’ll stay longer than I maybe should have, but it’s okay at that point. I’m not just mindlessly browsing because I want a distraction because I don’t want to think about the work I’m supposed to be doing.
- 01:38 Sean: I know that there are a lot of listeners right now who are excited and thinking about planning their days, but I also know that there are some people hearing this and thinking, “That sounds like a great idea,” but in their mind they’ve already made the decision to not do it. They already know that they’re going to listen to us, turn this off, and not do anything. I know that we have those listeners, and it bums me out. What would you say to someone, Aaron, who is passively listening and hasn’t made a decision to make a change? What’s the main takeaway that you want this person to get from this episode?
- 1:02:18 Aaron: Listen to or read Deep Work by Cal Newport, because the way he lays out this argument in that book is impossible to argue with. Read what he says and think about how this can help you achieve your goals and make your time more valuable in the future. I can’t do it justice. It’s so good. If you think what we talked about tonight is remotely valuable, Deep Work is 10X what we talked about tonight.
Regardless of the system you end up choosing or if you decide not to do this at all, be intentional with how you spend every hour of your day.