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Day 41: Radical Planning

There's one thing that has catapulted my productivity to an entirely new level: radical planning. I have developed my own way of dealing with tasks and planning my day, and here's how I do it:

My approach, which I call "radical planning," is based on 2 important pillars:

  • Task capture
  • Planning

The first step, task capture, is the most important and simultaneously the most challenging. There is a crucial rule that must be meticulously followed:

Capture a task immediately!

The moment I become aware of a task, I note it down. Since I have my phone with me most of the time, I use it for task capture. Specifically, I do this with the Google Tasks app. I have been using the Google Workspace Suite for several years, and Google Tasks has the advantage for me that it is directly integrated into almost all Google tools. For example, if I receive an email that results in a task, I can add that email to my task list with just one click.

But back to task capture: I do not differentiate tasks by priority. Nor do I have different task lists. Every task, whether personal or professional, goes into the same list, because for me it is irrelevant whether I need to complete a professional or a personal task. Task is task - what I capture, needs to be completed, regardless of the context.

I want to emphasize very concretely at this point that it is important to capture a task IMMEDIATELY. Immediately really means right away. You should not try to keep the task in your mind, even if it's just for a few minutes. No! It's not just about preventing the task from being forgotten by noting it down immediately; it's about consistently creating a feeling within yourself that all tasks are captured. If you get into the habit of noting down tasks at a later point, you can never be completely sure if you have remembered every task. It's about giving yourself the assurance at all times that everything that needs to be done is noted down. You don't need to remember any tasks. Instead, you can fully dedicate yourself to solving problems. Everything is noted.

Plan every task firmly in your calendar

Develop your daily routine to plan your tasks. I recommend setting aside 20 to 30 minutes every morning for this (create a recurring appointment for it immediately). I personally do this at 6 am, before I wake my children to prepare them for school. During the planning time, there are two essential decisions to make:

  1. Which tasks will I complete today?
  2. When will I complete these tasks?

For the first question, "which tasks will I complete today?", you can use the Eisenhower matrix, for example. Consider which tasks are important and urgent and then select them.

Then create a firm entry in your calendar for each of the tasks you want to complete today. Think about when you have time today to start a task and decide how long it will take you.

Important: this is where the radicality comes into play. If you notice that the originally planned time for a task is not sufficient, stop anyway. For example, if you plan to write a blog post and have reserved the time between 9 and 10 am for it in your calendar, but are not finished with the blog post by 10 am, stop. Then create a new task for the completion of the blog post or whatever task you could not finish at exactly 10 am.

Radical planning is about sticking to the plan to the minute. Do not allow yourself to exceed the planned time for a task. Even if it's tempting and you might think, "I just need ten more minutes, then I'm done with this blog post." Do not allow yourself to exceed your plan by even a minute.

Every minute you exceed your plan causes all subsequent tasks to be delayed by 1 minute as well. If this happens with all tasks, then by the end of the day it's not just a minute you're missing, but perhaps an entire hour. And this hour is on your shoulders. You might think, "I have built in enough buffer to absorb an overrun of my plans," but a buffer is also a task that you are reducing. A buffer could be, for example, a well-deserved break, a nap or power nap, or time for a phone call with friends. Do not let your plans be jeopardized.

Radical planning means sticking radically to your plans and times.

Over time, you will get a better feeling for the scope of your tasks. You will learn to estimate times more accurately and, with a little practice, make your plans better and better. Nevertheless, unforeseen events always occur, and a plan does not work out. No matter! Use the time you have planned for a task and then create a new task for its completion, which you can then again schedule in a free slot in your calendar.

Radical planning requires practice, both in capturing tasks and planning them. Especially with planning, you should aim to note tasks that are as small and fragmented as possible. Over time, I've become accustomed to formulating tasks that take no longer than an hour to complete. While this doesn't always work out, and I do allow myself to plan longer tasks occasionally, I've found that an hour is a very comfortable period for me. An hour can be worked through quite well in one go, without needing to take a break.

It also requires practice to realistically estimate the length of tasks and to block corresponding times in the calendar. I often find myself being too optimistic about the time I allocate to a task. However, I strictly adhere to my rule of leaving the task once the allotted time has expired and instead creating a new task for the completion of the unfinished task. This new task can then potentially be scheduled for the same day. The important thing is that subsequent tasks are not disrupted by also being pushed back. No: the plan must be adhered to.

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