12 Tried and Tested Planning Tips to Maximize Productivity in 2024

Planning tips for maximum productivity

Allow me to begin this post with one of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker, the father of modern business management. “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

This strikes a chord with me and, I’m sure, with many of you who’ve ever found yourself knee-deep in tasks, wondering if there’s a better way. 

In fact, a study published in Harvard Business Review shines a light on a startling fact: workers spend about 41% of their time on low-value tasks that offer little satisfaction and could easily be delegated or automated. 

The solution? Intentional planning to ensure your time and actions align with your core goals. Over time, I’ve learned that the true value of planning lies not in tackling more activities but in focusing on the right ones.

In this post, I’m sharing my 12 best planning tips for maximizing productivity by focusing your limited time on what truly matters. With a streamlined system to identify and tackle high-impact tasks, you can work smarter, not harder.

Follow along as I walk through strategies to create daily plans that move you toward your most important objectives. Let’s cut the busy work and get purposeful!


Don’t have time to read the full post? Here’s a high-level snapshot of the key ideas and planning tips covered:

  • Focus on the Right Tasks: Prioritize actions that align with core goals over busy work.
  • Set Clear Goals: Define long-term ambitions and short-term objectives.
  • Daily Planning Discipline: Allocate time each evening to prepare for the next day.
  • Utilize the Best Tools: Choose between paper or digital planners based on your needs.
  • Optimize Your Schedule: Work during your most productive hours for high-impact tasks.
  • Plan Ahead: Anticipate and prepare for potential challenges.
  • Complete Your To-Do List: Write everything down to clear your mind and prioritize.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Identify and focus on your top one or two must-do tasks daily.
  • Employ Time Management Techniques: Explore strategies like time blocking and the Pomodoro technique.
  • Break Down Projects: Tackle large tasks by dividing them into smaller steps.
  • Maintain Flexible Planning: Allow room for adjustments in your daily schedule.
  • Reflect Weekly: Review your progress and adjust your planning strategy as needed.
  • Cultivate a Planner’s Mindset: Embrace a planning-focused identity for lasting productivity improvements.

Why is planning so important?

Planning tips: Why is it important to plan ahead?

Understanding the significance of planning in our lives involves recognizing our natural aversion to uncertainty. Research consistently shows that any element of unpredictability significantly increases people’s discomfort

Effective planning makes it easier to navigate through the unknown, offering a sense of relief from the anxiety and stress that uncertainty brings. Planning ahead equips you with a clear vision of your objectives and a roadmap to achieve them, considering the resources at your disposal and the circumstances you face. Though planning takes time up front, the benefits are numerous – lower anxiety, better decisions, greater chances of achieving your objectives, and increased productivity. Investing in intentional planning is investing in your future.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

– Alan Lakein

Let’s look at some of the most prominent benefits of effective planning:

  • Creates a roadmap to success. Establishes a clear roadmap, setting the direction and steps needed to achieve your goals, ensuring every effort is purpose-driven.
  • Saves time and resources. A daily plan helps you prioritize how to best invest your limited time and resources into the most important tasks. By knowing precisely what needs to be done, you dodge the detours and dead ends, fast-tracking your way to success with efficiency.
  • Sharpens focus on your goals. Planning turns your ambitions into actionable steps, helping you stay focused on high-impact tasks and prioritize them effectively to maintain momentum and make consistent progress.
  • Keeps stress at bay. Planning ahead enables you to prioritize tasks and stay organized, turning that overwhelming to-do list into manageable tasks. A realistic plan puts you in control of the workload. It keeps anxiety and stress levels low, letting you feel accomplished and satisfied as you methodically check things off your task list.
  • Enables you to measure and track progress. Establishing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and regular check-ins in your plan allows you to track your progress toward long-term goals and stay on track each workday, improving accountability.
  • Improves performance and productivity. The planning process nudges you to outline specific tasks each day, minimizing wasted effort and focusing energy on what matters most. Creating a plan is one of the best ways to boost productivity and make adjustments as needed, significantly increasing your chances of achieving your long-term goals.

12 effective planning tips for maximum productivity

“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”

– Thomas Edison

As a productivity enthusiast, I’m sharing my best tried and tested planning tips for conquering daily tasks and operating at peak productivity – whether you prefer a paper or digital planner, strategic planning is the key to maximizing your output.

Planning tips: My best tried and tested tips for planning ahead

1. Define your short and long-term goals

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Alice: “I don’t much care where.”

The Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”

The importance of setting your objectives can’t be overstated, and this dialog (one of my favorites) from Lewis Carroll’s classic perfectly explains why. Making plans without defined goals is like going on a road trip without choosing a destination. How do you “get there” when you don’t even know where “there” is?

Goal-setting is about taking the time to define your “where” (or desired outcomes) for work and personal life and the roadmap to achieve them.

  • Long-term goals help set the horizon we aim for. For example, “Where do I want to be in 5 years?”- The answer is your compass for major decisions.
  • Short-term goals, conversely, focus on the immediate steps needed to reach these broader ambitions, posing questions like “What can I accomplish today or this month?”

Both types of goals are essential for day-to-day motivation and ensure you can refer back to them throughout your journey, aligning your actions and keeping track of progress.

This layered approach to planning helps ensure you know exactly where you’re heading, making every step intentional and every achievement a milestone towards your grand vision.

2. Daily plan discipline: Commit to planning time every day

Planning ahead discipline: Commit to planning every day

My planning routine involves setting aside time each evening to organize the next day. This approach ensures I wake up with a clear direction, eliminating any guesswork from my work list. Having my planner and calendar updated the night before, I dodge excuses and procrastination head-on. I know precisely what’s planned for the day, allowing me to zero in on execution right from the start.

This method helps you keep track of yesterday’s accomplishments and sets the tone for a productive day ahead. You’ll learn through this practice, and you’ll feel more in control and purpose-driven.

Incorporating this into your planning system builds the habit of evaluating progress and adjusting course as needed, transforming your productivity. And by the end of each week, you’ll notice a significant improvement in how much you’ve achieved simply because you took the time to plan ahead.

Give yourself the gift of a few minutes each day – you’ll reap the benefits of productivity!

3. Leverage the right tools and automation

In the quest for peak productivity, the right planner can make all the difference. As much as I love paper planners, it’s hard to resist the convenience and benefits of digital alternatives for busy schedules.

Paper planners offer a tangible way to see your month at a glance and feel the satisfaction of physically crossing off completed tasks. However, digital planners and AI scheduling assistants bring to the table capabilities that far exceed traditional methods: automated scheduling, task delegation, and seamless team collaboration.

What should you look for in each?

Paper planners keep all your notes, goals, and to-dos in one place. A quality binder with customizable sections makes organizing intuitive. Monthly, weekly, and daily layouts give helpful structure. 

My favorite paper planners go beyond basic scheduling with sections for goal-setting, inspirational quotes, achievement recognition, and self-reflection. These features encourage you to connect your daily tasks with larger objectives, reflect on your performance and adjust your approach, pause to celebrate success, and stay motivated. These thoughtful planner sections encourage mindful planning that powers productivity.

Digital tools should add flexibility across devices, easy integration with other software, and automatic reminders or scheduling. Automated scheduling prevents forgotten deadlines or meetings. Apps like Motion can entirely outsource calendar management for you and your team. For guided, mindful planning, check out Sunsama. Trello and Trevor allow easy task management and categorization and are free (wink* wink*). Asana enables robust project management and collaboration for teams. 

With so many options, you can easily find the perfect tools to complement your planning style.

4. Plan your day around your most productive time

Planning tips: Plan your day around your most productive hours

Our energy and focus fluctuate throughout the day, directly impacting productivity. To optimize your schedule, pay attention to when you feel most energized and focused. 

For me, peak productivity happens in the early hours after waking up. I schedule difficult tasks then when my mind feels fresh. I also schedule my deep work sessions early since mornings have fewer distractions, reducing the chance my day gets derailed.

Start logging your patterns:

  • Note what tasks you work on and how long they take.
  • Track when you feel most focused and productive.
  • Watch for drains on your energy.

Once you identify opportunities in your daily rhythm, schedule important work and get it done during your peak hours. Power through complex projects when you’re sharpest, and leave quick tasks for later. Careful planning around your natural ebb and flow can maximize output.

5. The Strategic Advantage of Planning Ahead

As John F. Kennedy said, “The best time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” This applies to your work as well. Planning ahead enables smooth sailing when challenges inevitably arise.

Mapping out projects in advance allows you to realistically estimate the time needed to complete a task or project, providing a clear timeframe and structure. This foresight makes it easy to allocate resources, align teamwork, and build in buffers for unforeseen challenges.

Thorough preparation leads to more accurate plans and a better ability to handle curveballs.

Overall, taking the time upfront to chart projects, foresee needs, and align efforts sets you up for success. Don’t wait for stormy weather to make preparations. Daily planning builds resilience to face whatever comes your way. To learn more about the many benefits of planning ahead, check out my in-depth blog post that unpacks this important topic.

6. Write your complete to-do list

Planning tips: Write a complete to-do list

After setting clear goals and objectives, the next step in the planning process is creating a comprehensive to-do list. I can’t stress enough the importance of writing everything down at first – no filtering or editing yet!

Dumping all your tasks and ideas onto a list offers many benefits:

  • Clears your thoughts: Whenever ideas or tasks pop into my mind, I add them to my list. This simple act allows me to return to my focused work, knowing I won’t forget anything important.
  • Visual overview: A compiled list provides a snapshot of your entire workload at a glance, whether it’s multiple projects or daily errands. This visibility helps with planning.
  • A reminder of responsibilities: It keeps me aware of what’s expected, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.
  • Accountability: Seeing all tasks listed helps you stay committed to completing them.

I used to keep a physical to-do list that sat on the corner of my desk. Transitioning from paper lists to digital tools has streamlined my planning immensely. Now, I use Trevor, a beautifully designed to-do list app that invites focused completion of categorized tasks without forgetting anything. It also integrates with Todoist for mobile task portability.

The takeaway? Don’t censor yourself when creating your initial list. Write it all out, then use it to prioritize and plan. Your list guides your work and maintains momentum. Try Trevor or another digital planner to compile tasks in one place!

7. Prioritize tasks identifying the single most important must-do

“Action expresses priorities,” Mahatma Gandhi wisely said. Identifying one or two must-do tasks aligned with your goals is key when planning your day.

Attempting to get everything done leads to stress, distraction, and wasted effort on low-value tasks. In my experience, working from home makes it especially easy to let home tasks derail my most productive time. That’s why I make tackling my top one or two work priorities part of my morning routine – I know they’ll truly move the needle.

When choosing your daily must-dos, don’t worry about difficulty or time – focus on importance and impact. Highlight the tasks on your list that will advance critical objectives, even if your day gets disrupted. 

Here are effective strategies to help you prioritize tasks:

  • The Eisenhower Matrix categorizes tasks by urgency and importance.
  • The Pareto Principle identifies the vital 20% of tasks that yield 80% of results. 
  • Eat the Frog: Tackle big/complex tasks that take the longest to complete first.
  • Assessing dependencies ensures you sequence interrelated tasks logically.
  • Task Batching: Group similar tasks to complete them in batches, minimizing interruptions.
  • Reevaluating regularly keeps priorities aligned with changing needs.

“There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”

― Peter Drucker

With practice, you’ll get better at discerning your daily must-do’s for effective planning. Don’t get overwhelmed trying to get everything done – focus on the vital few tasks that truly move you forward. Remember, action is the most accurate indicator of your priorities.

8. Use time management strategies

Planning tips: Use time management strategies

Planning goes hand-in-hand with strategic time management. When you purposefully structure your time, staying focused on priorities is easier. Here are powerful techniques to try:

  • Timeboxing – Tackle tasks in focused bursts with defined time limits. Helps avoid distractions.
  • Time Blocking – Designate set time blocks for specific activities. Reduces task switching.
  • Pomodoro – Work in concentrated time slots (typically 25 minutes) followed by regular short breaks. Boosts energy and focus.

Experiment to find which strategies work for you. Wise time allocation gives order amidst chaos so you can operate at peak productivity. With more effective use of your precious time, you’ll master both planning and execution.

9.  Break complex projects into smaller tasks

Big, complex projects can quickly become overwhelming.  The solution? Break them into smaller, bite-sized tasks.

This approach aids in planning and execution by breaking the project into smaller, more manageable pieces. Here are the benefits of this technique and how to effectively implement it:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety: Segmenting big projects reduces the anxiety and overwhelm that can come from the sheer scope and complexity.
  • Enhanced Focus: Dividing a project into smaller tasks allows you to concentrate on one aspect at a time, reducing overwhelm and increasing the quality of your work.
  • Improved Planning: Each smaller task can be carefully considered, allowing you to set achievable deadlines accurately and ensure everything you need is accounted for. It fosters careful thinking through required steps and resources.
  • Increased Motivation: Completing smaller tasks provides a sense of progress and achievement, keeping motivation high throughout the project’s duration.
  • Better Resource Allocation: Understanding the scope of smaller tasks enables more effective distribution of resources and teamwork.
  • Flexibility: Should priorities shift, a plan that’s broken down is easier to adjust without jeopardizing the entire project.

Look at your priority goals and pick the ones that will take the most effort. Then, segment each into discrete, manageable actions. Suddenly, you have an executable plan!

Let’s look at a simple example – planning a large family dinner. Break it down:

  • Choose a date
  • Make the guest list
  • Ensure enough seats
  • Send invites
  • Clean house
  • Shop for groceries
  • Pre-cook dishes
  • Cook fresh meal

Then, order tasks, estimate time, and refine. The key is never getting overwhelmed by the totality. Tackle each piece systematically to get big things done.

10. Keep your daily plan flexible

Planning tips: Keep your daily plans flexible

Many plans fail to account for flexibility by design. Leaving room for the unexpected is vital because, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Scheduling flexibility is key for several reasons:

  • It allows adaptation for emergencies or priority shifts.
  • It prevents derailment when challenges arise.
  • It helps to sustain productivity amidst change.

When planning, focus on desired weekly outcomes rather than rigid processes. Build in open time blocks to permit flexibility. Schedule your must-do priorities, but leave gaps for the unforeseen.

From my experience, ensuring your daily plan is flexible enough to adapt to unforeseen challenges is both a necessity and a challenge. I strive to keep at least 30% of each day unscheduled. This provides a buffer for interruptions or impulse inspiration. It also leaves space to accommodate tasks taking longer than expected.

The takeaway? Avoid scheduling every minute. Leave breathing room in your plan and your mindset. With the right balance of structure and flexibility, you can manage changing circumstances smoothly.

11. End your week with a reflection

Planning without regular self-reflection risks misalignment and inefficiency. Set aside time each week to review your plans and overall progress. This reflection fuels growth in several ways:

  • It builds self-awareness around your work patterns, energy levels, and efficiency. Over time, you become an expert on your needs.
  • It reveals when plans stray from big-picture goals or core motivations so you can course correct.
  • It highlights what’s working versus what’s not, enabling change. I suggest adjusting your routine incrementally to find the right groove.
  • It tracks progress on goals and surfaces roadblocks for problem-solving. Plans should evolve with the circumstances.
  • It incorporates feedback, keeping strategies fresh and effective as conditions shift.

The key is maintaining an adaptive mindset. Through ongoing tweaking and analysis, you land on planning methods that optimize productivity and fulfillment. Reflection provides the insights needed to keep growing as a planner.

12. Cultivate a planner’s mindset

Planning tips: Cultivate a planner mindset

Implementing new tactics can improve your planning, but cultivating a planner’s mindset creates lasting change. As James Clear says, “The more pride you have in an identity, the more motivated you’ll be to maintain associated habits.” So, in addition to new productivity skills, nurture beliefs that reinforce planning.

What defines a planner’s mindset? According to personality frameworks, planners value structure, rules, reliability, and security. They aim to create order and stability. Personally, I find embracing this temperament empowering. By leaning into my natural inclination to plan, I reinforce the behavior.

Here are tips for developing a planner mindset:

  • Identify limiting beliefs about your planning abilities and consciously shift them.
  • Surround yourself with inspiring examples of effective planning.
  • Practice mindfulness to strengthen focus and self-awareness.
  • View setbacks as opportunities to learn.

Planning doesn’t always come naturally, but the right mindset fuels growth. Focus on the joy of increased productivity rather than viewing planning as a chore. Celebrate small wins. With time, you’ll find satisfaction in progress enabled by improved planning.

Final notes

Reflecting on my journey of continuous planning refinement, I recognize it as an ongoing adventure—a path marked by discovery, occasional setbacks, and valuable lessons. The insights shared here on tips for planning your day and your life are not mere suggestions but stepping stones to a more organized, productive, and fulfilled life.

I sincerely hope this post has not only been a good read but also a catalyst for a positive change in your approach to planning. Remember, as Stephen R. Covey so aptly put it, knowing without doing is no better than not knowing at all. The true essence of learning lies in application.

Whether you look for a planner to guide your planning journey, attempt a new time management strategy, or redefine your goals from scratch, taking that first step is key. Through commitment and consistency, you’ll be amazed at how your intentional planning transforms your productivity and gives you a greater sense of control and accomplishment.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post – now go start planning! Wishing you a focused, fulfilling planning journey ahead.

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