Leaving Work Behind

Planning Tomorrow Today: 4 Steps to Start Your Workday off on the Right Foot

Written by Tom Ewer on March 10, 2015. 34 Comments

Tom: The following is another guest post from Gina Horkey – she’s filling in while I’m sunning myself in Sri Lanka. This week she’s focusing on productivity, and has given me a few things to think about! If your days aren’t as productive as you would like, keep reading for some simple solutions.

ChecklistOrganization is great. But then so is flexibility.

I was attracted to the whole concept of leaving work behind in part because of the latter. Even though I have a bunch of systems in place that help me to be more organized, I try not to be overly rigid. This is to make my work as easy and enjoyable as possible. It’s also important that I’m keeping clients happy by meeting (or exceeding) deadlines.

However, I don’t want my days to be so so precisely planned that I’m feeling suffocated or stifled by my work. This is a rather creative business, and you can’t really force creativity. There is a balance to be struck.

With the above in mind, in this post I’m going to share with you four steps that enable me to plan successful days before they’ve even happened.

1. Build a Model Day

Figuring out the most imperative tasks to my business and scheduling them into a “model day” is one of the ways that I’ve found works really well to organize my work days. What are the tasks that I need to accomplish day in, day out to build (then later maintain) a successful freelance business?

It took some time (and trial and error), but I eventually came up with the below schedule. Each of the items on the list below represents a 25 minute block of time – or Pomodoro period, which you’ll learn more about shortly.

  1. Write article
  2. Write article
  3. Write article
  4. Check email
  5. Search/Pitch Jobs/Guest Posts
  6. Blog Outreach
  7. Social Media Promotion
  8. Write article/brainstorm
  9. Write article/brainstorm
  10. Write article/brainstorm
  11. Check email
  12. Non-fiction Reading
  13. Social Media Promotion

These aren’t the only things that I do on a daily basis, but they are the most important. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent framework to keep me on task and on schedule. It also ensures that I’m getting the MIT (Most Important Things) done if I use it as a checklist of sorts.

2. Write First (Or Whatever Your Most Important Task Is)

For me this is critical. I used to start my day with email. I now start my day with writing. Writing first is what all of my most successful days have in common.

For you, your ‘first thing’ might be different. Your business might be based around web development, photography, e-commerce or something else.

The key question is this: What do you need to do each and every day to be successful? Whatever the answer is, schedule it first thing. Don’t let email, blog posts (even if it’s this one ;-)) or something else get in the way of you being productive (and earning money) first thing.

3. Use the Pomodoro Method to Stay on Track

PomodoroBy now you’ve probably heard of the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management technique accredited to Francesco Cirillo that has been around since the late 1980s. I’ve been using it off and on for the last year or so.

Basically, you set a timer for 25 minutes. When the timer (or app) dings, you’re supposed to take a five minute rest. I will often use these five minutes to do a quick workout (five moves for a minute a piece) and try to combat my risk of death from sitting.

After the timer dings – signifying that your break is over – it’s time to start another 25 minutes of focused work time. After every 3-4 Pomodori (yep; that’s the plural), you should take a longer 20 minute break.

The whole premise is that we’re only able to stay in a hyper-focused state for about 90 minutes. By taking short, frequent breaks, you’ll be more productive than not taking any breaks and trying to work straight through.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect at this. After all, it involves setting a timer (so hard, I know!). Regardless, if I notice myself getting distracted, I try to start using it again to get back on track. It also jives nicely with my “model day” from above – i.e. it helps me to limit my time on social media and in my email inbox.

4. Track Your Results to Keep Accountable

I keep a really complicated system of weekly and daily task lists.

Just kidding. I keep a relatively simple system (that works well for me) of Google Docs to track my weekly and monthly goals and to do’s that will help me to accomplish said goals.

My weekly list houses that month’s goals at the top (roughly 3-5 each month) that include things like my income goal, product sales goal, larger projects I’d like to complete (like last month launching my first affiliate program) and a personal financial goal of paying down our last remaining consumer debt – our second mortgage.

The nice part about having these at the top of my weekly list, is it keeps them front and center. They are the reason I’m performing the tasks on my “model day” and everything listed on that particular week.

Underneath monthly goals, are my weekly goals, which are always the same:

You’ll see in parentheses I keep a running total of where I’m at for that week. Then I have to report these metrics to one of my mastermind groups on a weekly basis. I have more than just myself to keep me accountable.

On my monthly goal doc, I have a list of each and every writing project that needs to be completed that month in order of due date. Then I transpose what I feel like I can accomplish that week (or 10-15) of them onto my weekly document. When I cross something off, I cross it off in both places.

Income Reports Are the Ultimate Tracker

For me publicly tracking my income has been hugely motivational.

I know that Tom used to do this and has since stopped – and he’s got really great reasons for this. My husband keeps asking me when I’ll stop (he’s more private about money than I am) and I tell him when it’s no longer useful. But for now it is.

Since I’m the breadwinner and our young family of four is depending on me for their roof, food, etc., I’m hugely motivated to make things happen. I’ve had my fair share of struggles (and continue to have them), but my insistence on having a successful business – on my terms – keeps me motivated to keep pressing on.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, if I’m not making money, I’m not succeeding.

This isn’t the case for everyone (and every situation), but at this time, it is for me. The rest – the schedule, the order, the tracking – are just a means to getting things done and earning a living.

But they are all important. Without building a model day, focusing on the first things first (writing, in my case) and keeping myself accountable by using the Pomodoro Technique and tracking my results, I’d probably be working hard, but not smart! My preference leans towards the later and using any leftover time to do gymnastics with my babies. It’s worth a try, no?

Now it’s over to you – what helps you to plan your day ahead of time and stay on task?

Image Credit: Mufidah Kassalias and Wikipedia

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34 Responses to “Planning Tomorrow Today: 4 Steps to Start Your Workday off on the Right Foot”

  1. Beth Bakkum
    March 10, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Coming up with a plan like this is on my To Do list (yes, I see the irony). I only have 4 hours/day to freelance so it’s super important for me to be productive… yet I still catch myself doing time-wasting activities.

    Out of curiosity, how many masterminds are you in, and how much time do they take per week?

    • Gina Horkey
      March 10, 2015 at 7:11 pm

      Hi Beth! I’m actually in 3 masterminds (but none are of the “official” variety).

      One is weekly & completely virtual (we use a forum and email to keep in touch).

      Another is biweekly & we chat via a Google Hangout/communicate via email/FB as needed.

      The third is monthly and we have a private FB group/meet via Hangouts.

      Both are with different types of online entrepreneurs and serve their own purpose, but it might sound like overkill;-)

      • Beth
        March 10, 2015 at 8:14 pm

        No, I’m hearing this more and more—that people are in multiple masterminds. I am in a monthly one that operates much like your biweekly one, and that’s enough for now. Might add another one this fall when I go full-time, though. Thanks for responding to my question!

  2. Elizabeth Manneh
    March 10, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Loads of practical advice in here that’s very helpful. I am just experimenting with tracking results but I’m finding it helpful. Do you use Excel to do this or another programme?

    • Gina Horkey
      March 10, 2015 at 7:12 pm

      I use Google Spreadsheets, which is the cloud version of excel. I love that I can access my work from virtual anywhere:-)

      • Elizabeth Manneh
        March 11, 2015 at 3:31 pm

        Thanks Gina. I didn’t know about Google Spreadsheets, but I think they could be very useful for me as I spend time in two countries. I’ve tried out your strategy today, complete with Pomodoro app, and it was very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Chelsea
    March 10, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    I really like the idea of having a written down monthly income goal.

    Right now I just have a monthly target of a number that I think sounds nice – but since I know it’s ‘okay’ if I don’t hit it, I usually don’t, which might start becoming a problem by the end of the year.

    • Gina Horkey
      March 10, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      What about a minimum goal and a stretch goal? If you track it daily (or weekly) and monthly, it might be easier to commit/bring to fruition?

  4. Holly Bowne
    March 10, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Great stuff, Gina! I often use a timer but had not heard of the Pomodoro Technique. I’m definitely going to give it a whirl to see if it helps boost my productivity.

    As far as the 5-minute workout–love that idea! Have you heard of the Hot Five app?They’re great little 5-minute workouts. I use the app in the evenings but never thought about incorporating them into my day. Thanks for a helpful post.

    • Gina Horkey
      March 10, 2015 at 7:14 pm

      For sure! I like to try and fit mini workouts into my day to kill 2 birds with 1 stone. I didn’t know of that app, but will check it out, thanks!

  5. Kyle W. Weckerly
    March 10, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    I need to refine my planning system, but right now I have a small notebook that’s a running ‘to do’ list. It’s not real organized, it’s more or less the things I know I need to get done in no particular order. This means high priority stuff could get lost in the shuffle.
    I’ll have to work on that.
    Thanks for the great post!

  6. Iva Ursano
    March 11, 2015 at 2:11 am

    Thanx Gina. I know that right now my biggest downfall is my lack of organizational skills. 🙁 I have big dreams and big plans but often have little clarity and focus on how to plan my day. I still work full time at a j.o.b. so my time is limited. This method should work on my days off. Thank you again.

    I can and I will 🙂

    • Gina Horkey
      March 11, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      You’ve got this Iva! If you’re able to wake up a little earlier to work for an hour or two before your day job, I’ve found that to be really effective in the past too!

  7. Sean
    March 11, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Great tips! I love the idea of the model day, and have even kind of done it before, but have lacked the discipline to follow through. I don’t want to have to use a timer because I like to think I’m more responsible than that, but I think I’m going to give it a whirl.

    Thanks again for the tips!

  8. Claude Borel
    March 11, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    I’ve heard about the Pomodoro technique. I’ve tried it, it does help you to work longer by managing your time.

    Sometimes though when I’m really concentrated and passionate, taking a break just ruins everything.

    I think it’s really useful when you don’t feel like doing anything, it’s a good way to trick your mind and force you to do stuff but if you are in to what you are doing, it can be counter-productive I find.

  9. landon foxx
    March 11, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    What does a blog outreach entail just so I am clear…thanks!

  10. Leanne Lindsey
    March 26, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Hey Gina, I keep running into you online this week! 🙂 This post is a great reminder to get back to using a timer. I had one on my desktop but found that I would not actually get up – I’d check social media or something. I then started setting the timer on my oven as that meant I had to physically get up to turn it off. You’ve inspired me to go back to using it. I also keep monthly and weekly goals, however I love the idea of keeping a running total. It must also be very encouraging when you look back and see how much you have accomplished. Thanks for the reminders. 🙂

    • Gina Horkey
      March 31, 2015 at 1:39 am

      You bet! Love the idea of the oven timer, which forces you to move. I make a lot of tea during the day, which is perfect for breaks:-)

  11. Anton Roder
    March 27, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Well this was a really interesting read. Thanks, Gina! Excuse me while I go turn off my timer 😉

  12. Taylor
    April 21, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Today’s my first day on Pomodoro and… already I feel more accomplished! Thanks for this post!

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