“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” Alan Lakein
From the moment we wake up each day, we’re faced with a continuous flow of choices. Many are minor and some are major. Even things that don’t seem so important, like what to take along for lunch or which task to complete first, can become bigger deals when we start to consider how aligned they are (or aren’t) with our goals and strategic priorities.
When we’re confronted with too many options, we tend to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed or otherwise out of sorts. This is known as decision fatigue, a state of mental overload that can impede our ability to make additional decisions. When our minds are fatigued, we tend to make worse decisions and exercise less self-control.
One way to overcome decision fatigue and boost willpower is to plan the night before. The decisions that drain us are usually the ones that we make repeatedly, like:
- What am I going to wear to work?
- What should I eat for breakfast?
- Should I go to the gym in the morning or the evening?
These can all be decided in 3 minutes or less the night before, which means you won’t be wasting your willpower on those choices the next day. Take time to plan out, simplify, and design your day so that you have more mental space for the day’s important choices.
You may be surprised to learn that we have a limited amount of willpower every day. With each decision we make, that willpower becomes increasingly depleted. If you don’t plan your days the night before, you waste your willpower on deciding what your essential priorities are. On the flipside, by planning your days the night before you reduce decision fatigue and preserve your willpower for your most important decisions.
This concept applies equally to our workplace productivity. Planning your next day as you get ready to leave the office will have a huge positive impact on your overall productivity. After all, if you have no clarity about what it is you’re trying to get done on any given day, you may be busy, but you won’t be productive. I suggest that you finish each day by writing three to five of the most important projects you want to get done tomorrow and start each day by working on those things.
The first hours of the day are the most important. They set the tone for what the rest of your day will be like. You should ideally spend them on meaningful activities, like self-care, journaling, and setting your intentions. If you spend them distracted by pings, buzzes, notifications, and other dopamine hits, the rest of your day will be pretty much the same.
My best mornings look a bit like this:
- Early wake-up (before 5:15)
- 35-45 minutes of exercise
- Check in with my VA
- Torah study with my children
By 8:30 I’m done with the above and ready to tackle my day.
If you develop a basic framework for your days (mornings in particular), you’ll be much more likely to get more valuable work done. The beautiful thing about a framework is that it’s not rigid. It can be adjusted day to day to your liking. It helps you to accommodate changes in your schedule.
Here are some other benefits to planning your day in advance:
- You will be more proactive – If you have a plan for your day, you will actively seek to complete it and will naturally thwart others’ attempts to derail you. On the contrary, going through your day without a plan will make you reactive; you’ll take on whatever comes to you.
- You can sleep better – When your mind knows that it has unfinished business, it keeps working. Which makes it harder to fall asleep. Some studies even suggest that when we bring our problems into sleep, we may often find the solutions in our dreams.
- You get out of bed with purpose – Lots of people find it hard to wake up in the morning. They hit the snooze button repeatedly because there’s nothing pushing them to get up. There is a high chance that they WILL wake up on time or even earlier than the alarm they’ve set when they have a flight to catch or an important meeting to make. It’s because they have a clear purpose that morning and are excited about it. Give yourself a reason to wake up each morning by planning your day and starting it with something that gets you going.
- You will become more accountable – By writing things down, you become more accountable to yourself. Why else would you do that unless you are serious about executing your plan?
- You simply become more productive – This, of course, is our primary objective. And the reason that you’re more productive is that when you know what to do, you don’t have to think about what to do anymore. You can just get to work. And you’ll know what to prioritize.
So, now the obvious question is, how do you do it? Perhaps the most important strategy is to “plan to plan.” If you are not used to planning, there is a good chance that you won’t, even if you decided to. To make sure that you plan, you need some form of reminder, such as calendaring it and setting a notification or putting your notebook or your planner next to your bed. New habits take time to develop. Set yourself up for success by making it as easy as possible to plan, so it becomes part of your daily routine.
Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach who helps busy leaders be more productive so that they can scale profits with less stress and get home at a decent hour. Register for his free productivity webinar at naphtalihoff.com/webinar.