How to Prioritize and Plan for a Busy Day

As the self-appointed queen of checklists, I sometimes have several places where I write and rewrite everything I’m trying to get done. At the end of the day, it’s extremely satisfying to lay in bed and have checked everything off the list(s). Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. 

Throughout the day, lots of things can get in the way of planning your day and getting things done at work and at home. If you can relate, then this article will help you with how to plan your day to be productive, save time, and prioritize.

young professional planning her day

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How to Plan Your Day to be Productive

The first thing to do when planning your day is to brainstorm a list of everything that you know needs to get done. No matter how small the task is, you’ll want to capture it on your list. 

Warning: This may feel overwhelming at first, but it’s more difficult to organize your day without first emptying out everything on your mind. Once it’s on a piece of paper, you can use your brain power on step two: prioritizing.

Why is prioritizing tasks important?

When it comes to how to plan your day to be productive, prioritizing your to do list is an integral part of that process. Prioritizing tasks is important because we only have limited hours in a day and thus, limited time to get our daily tasks done. While we could try to do everything, we will most likely give everything minimal effort and energy, make little progress, and end up overwhelmed, burnt-out, and stressed. The alternative of prioritizing tasks seems like a much better solution.

Prioritizing your day also gives you clarity on where you should focus your time first and what items are most pressing. It can provide valuable information by showing you where you may be overcommitted and what tasks can wait until another day.

The Impact of Prioritizing Your Day 

When we’re especially busy, it can be tempting to forget about prioritizing tasks and planning your day. After all, if your time is so precious, why waste time prioritizing your day when you could just get started?

But this approach actually has the opposite effect. This week, I made the mistake of not planning my day on Monday. The entire day, I felt scattered. Without prioritizing my to-do list, I was simply reacting to tasks when they suddenly became urgent instead of acting and being proactive.

It was as though the to-do list was in charge of my day instead of me. 

My Tuesday was a completely different story because I was planning my day ahead of time. I was better rested. I knew what tasks demanded the most attention and what could wait until another day. Though I was no less busy on Tuesday compared to Monday, I felt calmer throughout the day.

Related: How Not to Give Up – Dealing with Tough Work Situations

How do you prioritize when busy?

When it comes to how to manage a busy life, I learned it starts with prioritizing your day: understanding what’s most important to do today and what can wait. Even when you’re busy, prioritizing your day and planning your day to be productive are still important. 

Here’s how to plan your day to be productive by prioritizing tasks:

  • Ranking Method – On your brainstormed list of tasks and to-do’s, rank the items starting with 1 (being the most important) until the end of your list. Take the top five items (1-5) and ask yourself if you’d be okay if only these items got done. If the answer is no, redo the ranking until the answer is yes.
  • Pick Three Method – A variation of the rank method, this method for prioritizing your day asks you to pick the top 3 things that you need to get done. Yes—only three! This really forces you to think about what is a must-do and what can wait. 
  • Three Columns Method – My preferred method for prioritizing tasks is making a three columns on a sheet of paper with the headings: Must Do, Important, Can Wait. You could also use the headings: Priority #1, Priority #2, and Priority #3. Then take all your tasks for the day and distribute them into each of the columns.
    • Tip! You may need to do this exercise more than once, especially if everything ends up in the “Must Do” and “Priority #1” column. I usually repeat the exercise until there are the least number of items in the first column (“Must Do” and “Priority #1”) and the most items in the last column (“Can Wait” and “Priority #3”) I talk more about this method in 5 ways to stress less this week.

Related: Too Much to get Done? Here’s How to Ask for Help at Work

How to Plan Your Day for Success

Now that we’ve got a handy list of all our tasks and we’ve prioritized them, it’s time to progress to the next step for how to plan your day to be productive. The third step is planning your day for success.

Plans are what makes dreams come true. Planning your day is what gets work done.

Kara J Lovett Co.

How to be productive throughout the day

But before we dive into how to plan your day to be productive, what does being productive mean?

Before becoming a full-time student and part-time consultant, I would have said that being productive means getting the most things done. Therefore, my most productive days are the ones where I cross off most of my to-do list. 

However, now that my life has gotten much busier as a student and young professional, I’ve learned that being productive is about the quality, not the quantity, of the work I do. In other words, getting things done isn’t nearly as important as doing things well. Otherwise, I end up going back, redoing tasks, needing to fix problems that resulted from my poor work.

Here are other tips to keep in mind when planning your day:

  • Resist the temptation to stuff your day full of tasks and to-dos. 
  • Be critical and ruthless when you prioritize.
  • Be honest and realistic about how much time you need to complete each task well.
  • Set your mind to achieve better quality over higher quantity.
  • Remember that being productive is about getting the most critical items done to avoid emergencies and more problems later.

Related: 8 Easy Tips: How to Stay Productive at Work

How to manage a busy life

Planning your day is an important step for how to manage a busy life and how to plan your day to be productive. To create a plan for your day, make sure you’ve 1) brainstormed a list of daily task, 2) prioritized your to-do list, and 3) assessed your time. How do you assess your time?

Managing a busy life well requires understanding how much time you have and the quality of your time. Ask yourself some of these questions to assess your time before planning your day.

  • Do you have long blocks of time to get things done or several smaller pieces of time? 
  • Where will you complete these tasks? 
  • Are those places where you can focus or do you expect frequent interruptions? 
  • When are you most alert during the day? 
  • When should you focus on easier tasks?

Doing a full assessment of your time will help you in planning your day and completing tasks at the time that makes the most sense.

How to plan your day to be productive

Now that you have a full assessment of your time, you can begin to schedule tasks into your daily plan to be more productive. I suggest writing a brief schedule by the hour or half hour with a section for the morning, afternoon, and evening. 

Here are more tips for how to plan your day to be productive while filling in the schedule:

  1. Write in the “no-brainers”. These are the items or tasks that you have to do everyday: eat breakfast, make dinner, take a shower, walk the dog, sleep, etc. No matter how busy you are or may feel, you have to take care of yourself and nourish yourself. If you don’t have time for these “no brainers,” then you may need to work on maintaining a healthy work life balance or setting better work boundaries

It’s difficult to have a productive daily routine schedule when you start the day hungry and exhausted. As a result, you can’t concentrate or put quality effort into any tasks! Instead, put the no-brainers in your schedule first.

  1. Start with the high priority tasks. Schedule them in the times where your mind will be sharpest (likely the morning) and where you won’t have a lot of interruptions. 
  2. Next, schedule the medium priority tasks. I usually plan these tasks for towards the end of the day, where I may have less energy but still have the concentration necessary to complete them.
  3. Fill in the lowest priority items. Now, you can assess the time you have left and put in the low priority items, if there is time
    1. Remember, these are the “can wait” items. So if all of them don’t fit on your schedule, that’s okay! If nothing fits in your schedule, you can still prioritize the tasks so that if you finish something else early, you can add another task. 
  4. Make sure you have buffer time. Nothing ever takes as much time as we imagine. Often we tend to under or overestimate. Personally, I underestimate everything. This can be disheartening when a task takes me significantly longer than I hope—to the point that I throw out the daily schedule all together. Unfortunately, this just adds to my stress and makes me feel overwhelmed.
    1. Instead, implement buffer time. For example, 30 minutes for a nap, One hour for catch-up time, 15 minute breaks after every activity, etc. 

A productive daily routine schedule should always be flexible. These buffers offer grace in our schedule for the unexpected and tasks that take longer than planned. 

Daily plan example

For a daily plan example to help you with how to plan your day for success and how to manage a busy life, I’ve created several daily and weekly planning templates. These free templates can be downloaded and printed as many times as you need to find the productive daily routine schedule that works for you. 

In this template, there are also worksheets and examples to help you create daily and weekly goals, focus ideas, and set intentions for your week.

Image to download the weekly goals template and daily goals tracker

young professional woman using computer orange shirt

Benefits of Planning Your Day

If you’re wondering how to be productive throughout the day, you must have a plan for you day. Besides being more productive, some other benefits of planning your day include:

  • Being more focused the your day
  • Feeling less overwhelmed and scattered
  • Working with more purpose and motivation
  • Getting the right things done on time
  • Having less emergencies and problems to fix later down the road

Planning your day is like anchoring your boat in the ocean. Even when the waves and the wind toss you around, you remain still and focused. Why? Because you have a goal and purpose that’s anchoring you to the tasks at hand. So, iI hope with these tips on how to plan your day to be productive and how to manage a busy life, you find a productive daily routine schedule that helps you cross off your to-do list.

How do you plan to get things done?

Leave me a comment below!

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2 thoughts on “How to Prioritize and Plan for a Busy Day”

  1. Loved this article! I struggle to be productive every day, and I think it’s the prioritisation part that I’m missing in my routine. Thank you for the actionable steps here that I can work towards 🙂

    1. Hi Megan,
      I am so glad that you enjoyed this post. I agree that prioritizing is important, and I hope the steps outlined in the post will help you be more productive. Thanks!
      ~Trish, from KJL Co.

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