Writing down your goals greatly increases your chance of achieving them. But what happens next? Now that they’re in the physical world, do they magically accomplish themselves? Of course not. If you want to reach your goals faster, with more purpose and focus, then there’s no method I’ve found more effective than daily pen and paper journaling.
As someone who is simultaneously working on a commercially viable passion project and borderline obsessed with eking out every extra ounce of productivity, I was surprised it took me so long to stumble upon a technique (or rather a philosophy) called time blocking (http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/time-blocking-secret-weapon-better-focus/).
Intrigued, I read voraciously about time blocking online, and after filling my Google Calendar with time blocks, found it to be a cluttered, overwhelming, intimidating mess. Instead of creating a separate calendar or getting fancy with digital tools, I decided to give the old school way a shot.
I ordered every structured journal I could get my hands on, but ultimately settled on a standard Moleskin notebook which I fill in daily with my own template. After I wake up and have made my bed and coffee, I put on some music and sit down for 20 minutes dedicated to planning and journaling. What follows is what I settled upon, but I recommend you adjust according to your own needs.
Hold onto your butts, this post is a deep dive.
Date: I write today’s date at the top of the left page for ease of reference later on.
Gratitude: In 2007, two researchers at the University of Miami found that those who wrote down what they were grateful for were “happier, healthier, and more likely to achieve their personal goals.” By writing down one to three things I’m grateful for, I have found that I cultivate a sense of joy that persists throughout the day.
My Goal: Reiterate your goal. Every day. Remind yourself of what you’re working toward to reinforce the big picture in your mind. At any given season, I have between one and three three-month goals, but in the mornings I only write down the one I want to focus on for that day.
Today’s ONE Thing: After reading the book “The One Thing,” (https://www.amazon.com/ONE-Thing-Surprisingly-Extraordinary-Results/dp/1885167776) which inspired much of the content of this post, I found that this clarifying question really helped me gain insight into what would make my actions more effective. Here is the questions: “What is the one thing I can do today that by doing it would make everything else easier or unnecessary?”
Time Blocking: Here’s the meat of the template. Since mornings are precious to me and often the only alone time I’ll be able to find in the day, I sometimes schedule my mornings in 15-minute increments on the left page. Then, on the right page, I schedule my work day and evening in 30-minute increments. Since I’m an early riser and generally only need seven hours of sleep, this makes sense for me, but over time you’ll find a system that works best for you.
Notes: Any reminders relevant to the task are useful here, but for me it does not replace my to-do list, which I keep separate. It can, however, include steps or tasks that must be done during that blocked time.
Some guidelines for time-blocking:
1) Schedule hard commitments like work meetings and scheduled phone calls first. I refer to Google Calendar and block these into my day so that I don’t overlap. If a meeting is off-site, don’t forget to include travel time.
2) Schedule meals, downtime, exercise, and reflection time next. It’s so important to make time for yourself to recharge. In Bead Stulberg and Steve Magness’s book Peak Performance (https://www.amazon.com/Peak-Performance-Elevate-Burnout-Science-ebook/dp/B01N1RNP9N/), the concept of intentional rest is presented as one of the most productive ways to spend your time.
For me, I generally block off my standard daily routine and include my journaling time, then schedule 30 minutes for meals, 30 minutes to one hour for exercise, and two hours of “whatever” time in the evening to hang out with a friend, play video games, watch movies, catch up on social media, or read. Although the activity for this last one is not set in stone, the time slot is. I respect this time like any other because I know that I need time to rest.
3) If you’re a knowledge worker (i.e. have a desk job), schedule time for deep, focused, uninterrupted work. I schedule six to eight hours (not necessarily consecutive) daily to work toward my most important goal, which is to release my mobile game. Again, treat these time blocks like meetings (with yourself), and only reschedule if absolutely necessary.
For those with full-time jobs, it’s just as important to set aside deep work time. Even just two hours per day of uninterrupted, headphones-on focused work can transform the quality of your output.
4) Lastly, set aside time for reactionary work, which can include things like answering emails and calling people back. It is important to schedule these times because handling them “when they come up” is a recipe for interruption and losing focus on your most important priorities. Two 30-minute time slots generally suffice for me.
After some practice, you won’t have many major gaps in your day. That may sound like an overly disciplined way to live your weekdays, but it’s actually incredibly freeing. If you are serious about reaching your goals, making the most of the 24 hours you’ve been given is essential, and you can end the day with confidence knowing that you made the most of it. If it’s difficult or tiring, you probably need to allow for more balance with downtime, or try scheduling in minimum one-hour increments instead of half hours so that you’re not constantly changing tasks. Context switching can take a real toll on your energy and focus.
In the morning, schedule your evening journal session. It only takes 10 minutes, and this time of reflection sets you up for success the following day.
Today’s Wins: AKA brag zone. Reflect on some things that went well today. Reinforce your self confidence and get into the mindset that you did some good today.
Lessons Learned: AKA oops zone. Reflect on any mistakes that were made today, and what can be learned from them.
Evening Gratitude: Once again, come up with and write down something you’re thankful for, big or small. Bookending the day this way takes little time but has a sustained positive impact.
This may all seem silly to some, but this method has completely transformed the way I approach my day, and helped me stay focused on reaching my goals. Yes, it takes a little time, but it makes the rest of your day far more focused. I look forward to making my coffee and journaling every day.
Keep in mind: This is what works for me. I am naturally an early riser, and your day doesn’t have to start at 5 am. The key thing here is to schedule your time and respect those time blocks as if they were meetings. Other than that, adapt the system where needed!
About the author: Jedd is an app and game developer from California, and is currently developing a mobile game called Gravity Dash.
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