It can be hard to find enough time to do everything we want to do. We all have things we want to accomplish. Goals that we have set for ourselves. Secret dreams we have never shared with the world.
The trouble comes in trying to find enough time to dedicate towards achieving those dreams on a regular basis. Prior obligations (work, family) and commitments (school, the gym) leave our time stretched and have us feeling exhausted at the end of the day. So we end up binge watching the latest show on TV, or playing on our phones, and finish the day having made no progress towards that which will make us truly happy, and ultimately fulfilled.
I wake up early each day in order to write. It works for me. But this may be too prescriptive for others, so rather than advise everyone to wake up early I will encourage everyone instead to set aside some time and create their own perfect day itinerary.
The Perfect Day Itinerary
Lewis Howes provided the inspiration for this in his book The School of Greatness.
The Perfect Day Itinerary (PDI) is an exercise of what your perfect day would look like. The day where you jump out of bed in the morning and crush all of your goals before falling into bed in the evening. It helps you become proactive about what spare time you have available, and realistic about the time needed to manage your obligations.
The PDI provides a shining benchmark to aim for. Or it will show you, as you work towards living it, that perhaps some of your aspirations are misplaced. Trial and error is how we evolve as people, but we’ve got to start trialing if we are going to make those errors.
Defining Your Perfect Day
It all starts with What.
- What do you want to accomplish in life?
- What are your previous commitments?
- What activities are non-negotiable to you?
Take out a legal pad (you keep those on hand right?) and start by listing your dreams and goals. Make them big. Want to become a published author? Finish your degree? Complete a triathlon? Write it all down.
Big accomplishments are reached through small tasks, performed repeatedly each day. Identifying what those small tasks are is a simple process. To become a published author you must write every day. Getting your degree takes study. Completing the triathlon means you must train. Don’t over-complicate things. It isn’t rocket surgery.
Next, continue by listing everything that you do on a typical day. Not a vacation day, or a weekend, but a standard run of the mill day. Note the hours you are at work. Your commute time. How much time you take for lunch. How much time you spend at the gym. And so on.
With these two lists in hand the final thing to do is write what time you wake up at the top of the page, and what time you go to sleep at the bottom. Write them boldly, encapsulating the day.
Now start a new page.
On the blank page start writing the time down the left hand side. Begin with your usual waking time, or better yet an hour earlier. Double space the lines so that each constitutes a 30 minute block. Continue on through bedtime.
With that in place begin to block in your workday. If you stay at home with the kids this will be their schedule. Include driving times, lunch time, and breaks. Add what time you arrive at home, and the time it takes to have dinner and clean up after.
With those items in place take a look at your list to find the areas of free time. These will typically be at the beginning, the end, and some smaller times in the middle.
Now comes the hard part. Go back to the list you’ve created with all of the extra things you would like to get done, and start crossing items out.
Getting more done and accomplishing goals is a matter of subtraction; removing the unnecessary in order to focus on what is important. You need to say no to more than you say yes to. People overestimate what they can do in a month, but underestimate what they will accomplish over a year.
Choose your most important goal and slot time to work on it into your list during your highest energy time of day. For some that is first thing, for the night owls it is much later. Working on this task early is always a good idea as you will rarely have a day spin out of your control first thing in the morning.
If first thing in the morning are your ‘A’ items, after work and the end of the day are good times to schedule ‘B’ items. For me this tends to be a project in the garage or around the house; something that gets me out from behind a computer.
The last areas to examine are your inbetween times; daily travel time, lunch break, etc. It is amazing what you can accomplish in only 15 minutes each day (especially if performed consistenly! Notice a trend here?). For example, the first time I get into the car every day, I immediately put on a Spanish audio lesson that lasts about 15 minutes. After seven months of this I can see a vast improvement, and in another seven I’ll be that much better.
Applying focus to a small number of tasks consistently will yield greater results than if you try to do everything all at once. Commit to a task or activity for a full year and you will go far with it.
No two days are the same. Things get in the way and practice sessions get missed. The key is to get back on track quickly, and logging your progress is the best way to manage this.
Marking an ‘X’ each day on the calendar, or writing a line in a notebook; how you track progress is up to you. But having a record of your progress is invaluable, both for motivation and in order to recognize how far you’ve come. It allows you to see what is working and make adjustments for what is not.
I use a Bullet Journal, with a monthly agenda handwritten into a notebook. This has dates down the left side, with daily tasks along the top. When I complete a task that day I’ll mark an ‘X’ in the box for that date. If I hit all tasks for the day I feel great! If I am lax in keeping my book updated I feel bad. It is a powerful form of self-motivation.
Normally I have four “must-do” tasks; Writing, Running, Training (weights, etc.) and Spanish. Certain months I will add a fifth line and try to incorporate something else that I am trying to get done. Some times this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but if I test it for a month then I can figure out if it is a good fit and I’ll have data to back it up.
The Final Point
The final point to consider on your PDI is the starting and stopping times. Are they realistic? Have you separated them by eight hours for a good night sleep?
I went through a phase where I was getting up at 04:45 a.m. each day, in order to be working by 0500. Trouble with that is I would need to go to bed at 09:00 p.m. to get enough sleep, which is a non-starter. Over time I’ve adjusted my wake up time to 05:45 a.m. which means lights out at 10:00 p.m. This fits my lifestyle much better and because I’m well rested, many days I’ll wake up before my alarm which buys a little extra time.
You like to stay up later? That’s fine. If you can use those night hours to get your training in and your projects completed then good. But if you are staying up past 11:00 p.m. watching Netflix, dragging ass the next morning, then complaining you have “no time” to dedicate towards your goals and dreams, then I encourage you to reevaluate your priorities and change up your routine.
Putting down your Perfect Day on paper is a great way to start. Imagine getting every single thing done that you set out to do today! It is an empowering feeling. With the PDI as a base, track your progress and modify until you come up with something that works for you. Then resolve to live that day just once, hitting each mark as written. Accomplish this once and you’ll be able to do it any day you choose.
Do you tend to have a rigid daily schedule? Do you work on certain tasks at the same time every day, or do you let things happen as they may? Where do you find the best results?