Setting Up a Great Day

This is a continuation of Having a Great Day: The first 5 Steps

Before I start

I bring my Weekly Canvas, which contains my goals for the week. I want to ensure that my daily activities align with longer term goals.

Step 1: My Biggest Win

Firstly, I write down the single biggest win that – if everything went pear-shaped and I achieved only that – I would be happy. This is not necessarily the most urgent thing. It’s the most important to me. It might be something I have procrastinated about or I just need to start but not necessarily finish.

A big win builds momentum and motivation, making me more productive. 

Don’t confuse urgency with importance

Step 2: Think Now to Execute Later

Using my Weekly Card (or monthly canvas), I write down my next 3 important objectives so I have four daily goals in all. For each goal, I do the following:

  • Think: What three steps must I take to progress? It is so important to think now to allow focus on execution later. This reduces mental effort and avoids procrastination when my brain is less fresh  later.
  • Timebox: I give each a deadline by which I must complete. This focusses my mind to ensure the day doesn’t get away.
  • Recover: I decide how I will celebrate or rest after each win, e.g. a walk, meditation, coffee, sunshine etc.

I make it easy for myself. Each activity is either thinking or non-thinking. Non-thinking I do at my desk preferably after lunch and I denote with PC. Thinking tasks I denote with T and generally do in a quiet space outside. I always seek the opportunity to take work outside. This keeps me fresh. Days where I spend time outside are much more satisfying.

Four By Forfour goals, by a certain time, for a simple reward or rest activity.

Why Four?

Four goals each day might seem small compared with a typical long to do list. There are good reasons for this. I can generally kick 2-3 big goals each morning and 1-2 in the afternoon, accounting for overhead such as emails, calls and meetings. This might be different for you. I will write shortly about the science behind why four bursts a day is an optimal way to work – TBD.

Step 3: Turbo-charge!

Next, I think about how I can make my day easier. This is divided into three areas:Daily Card (3)

  • Help: I note down anyone I need to contact today to get help, make decisions or move my goals forward. This can be face-to-face, calls or – as a last resort – email. I generally do this walking between tasks or after lunch.
  • Learn: I consider any lessons from yesterday’s Daily Card and write down how I will gain time today. Today I will keep email closed until 12pm.
  • Cheat? I try to identify where I might get a quick win or gain something with minimal effort. I call these freebees.

Step 4: Stuff I cannot Ignore

Now I think about administrative tasks or what I call overhead. This is stuff not aligned to my goals that I still need to do. I write down…

  • Meetings: Some meetings contribute to my goals or help others achieve theirs. Some are overhead I try to minimise. I try to keep meetings to the post-lunch fade because morning is my most creative time.
  • Admin: This is any emails, housekeeping, quick tasks or any requests I need to send. I bundle and do them standing up at my desk after lunch.
  • Tonight: Anything I need to leave until I am home.  I try to avoid this as I like to switch off in the evening.

Step 5: Schedule it!

Finally, I schedule all activities from the card into each hourly timeslot as shown below.

Daily Card (2)Scheduling helps me to:

  • Translate intention into actions.
  • Prevent my day being derailed.
  • Be realistic.

As I schedule, I see what is possible ahead of time and adjust. This avoids disappointment at the day’s end.

Executing a good Day

My typical day after planning goes like this. I do not open email until lunchtime. I spend the first two hours achieving 1 or 2 big wins. I take a break. I then get another win before meditation and lunch. After I Lunch my way to Wellbeing, I go to stand-up mode. I open email for the first time and do all of my admin, sending any requests I need to. I then close email immediately. I move onto my next one or two big wins. Finally I review the day to complete any last-minute items I absolutely must get done. I quickly preview tomorrow and process email for the last time before I leave. I avoid checking emails, instead processing them to get to an empty inbox. This includes extracting anything so I can avoid email tomorrow morning.


If you’ve read My Top 10 Commitments for Stress-free Productivity, I’m sure you have that red notebook on your bed for gratitude! I am now adding today’s achievements, what worked and why. This helps me to celebrate and to gradually improve how I plan as my brain brings these into the next day’s planning.

Little Tips for Motivation

I’ve added a few things to my Daily Card that work for me.

  • I call it “A Good Day” rather than “Daily Plan”. This helps me start positively because I picture the satisfaction I will feel at the end of this day.
  • It has a “Will do” list rather than a “To Do” list. It just feels like I am setting the priorities and have control rather than having something forced upon me.
  • I use check boxes so I can tick things off. This builds momentum, creates flow and really encourages me by celebrating the little wins during the day. I get my dopamine rush and a reward – which I am about to take now after publishing this!

Have a great week and if you have any comments please feel free to contact me.

3 thoughts on “Setting Up a Great Day

  1. Pingback: Having a Great Day: 5 Steps before you even start – James Parnell

  2. Pingback: Eight before 8 – James Parnell

  3. Pingback: Is evening the most important time of the day? – James Parnell

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