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At the end of a long day, you finally close your laptop and get ready for bed. You even unwind for a bit beforehand, perhaps watching some television or curling up with a good book. When you eventually wrap up your evening and head off to bed, you seem ready for a good night’s sleep. But you just lie there, wide awake.

Thoughts of what you need to do tomorrow race through your head. Thoughts of what you didn’t do today find their way in there as well. You’re restless. You finally drift off to sleep, but when you wake the next morning, you feel unsettled because your sleep wasn’t as restful as it needed to be. This is a constant pattern. You work all day and scrape by with an average amount (at best) of sleep every night. There is, however, a way to combat this pattern and give yourself a far better chance at a more restful sleep and a more productive day.

You need to plan your day the night beforehand.

It sounds simple, but putting it in practice isn’t. We tend to get caught up in our day-to-day activities and try to squeeze productivity out of every minute we have. The thing is, by planning your day the night before, you make the most of your time by being proactively productive. The reason we have these to-do lists is not to focus on today but to focus on what we want to accomplish over the long haul. Today’s actions are just small steps towards those larger accomplishments. Simply worrying about today and not looking ahead to tomorrow moves us forward far slower than we need — or want — and it has very adverse effects.

If you’re not sure where to begin when pre-planning the day to come, the following steps are a simple way to get started:

1. Have a definite end time to your workday.

This doesn’t have to be at 5 p.m. It can be whenever you decide. My “wrap time” for one aspect of my work is at 3 p.m. so that I can be with my kids when they come home from school. I then resume working from 9 to 11 on another aspect of my work (usually a scheduled activity so that I focus on that alone during those hours). You may not have one time of day where you “wrap.” The key is to set a time where all work ends so that it triggers the planning routine for the next day.

2. Capture action items from today.

Open your task management system — whether it is an application or a paper-based planner — and look at what you didn’t do during the current day and what you have listed for the next day. Do what Getting Things Done author David Allen calls a “brain dump” and get anything not already captured in your system into it at this time.

3. Review your calendar.

Take a look at your calendar and see what’s on tap for the next day. That should give you a snapshot of what you’re dealing with in terms of scheduled appointments, allowing you to better allocate the other tasks you’re going to focus on around those times.

4. Pick your top 3 tasks for tomorrow.

Finally, note the top three tasks that you want to complete tomorrow, either using the flagging feature within the application or by writing an asterisk in your paper planner. Be ruthless and realistic about what you can accomplish over the next day and assign new dates where needed.

That’s pretty much it. You can also begin journaling at night in order to clear your head of any lingering thoughts, such as the day’s successes and failures, and what you plan to do the next day (both personally and professionally). You can also write down your top three tasks on a single sheet of paper and place it in plain view on your desk, which will keep you on track first thing the next morning.

Shifting from one day to the next as smoothly as possible is one of the best things you can do for your workflow. By planning the day to come the night beforehand, you’re making decisions with a clear and calm mind. That version of you is the best for guiding yourself forward — which is ultimately where we all want to go.

Photo Credit: CC Chapman via Compfight cc

Mike Vardy is a writer, speaker, productivity specialist and the founder of Productivityist. He has served as the Managing Editor at Lifehack and contributed articles on productivity to 99U, Lifehacker, The Next Web, SUCCESS Magazine and The Huffington Post. Mike is also the author of several books, including “The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want,” and has delivered talks on the topic of task and time management at events like New Media Expo, TEDxVictoria, SXSW Interactive and creativeLIVE. He lives in Victoria, BC, Canada, with his incredible wife, daughter and son.
  • http://www.mehblogcomic.com/ Tze

    Thanks for sharing this post! I agree with every point, though still have to work on #1 myself.

    Regretfully, I had to learn all of it through the course of a year, wasting time and ending up being diagnosed with stress…if only I had this article to read before all that. :’) I hope a lot of your readers will be able to use this info and save themselves some precious time!

    • http://mikevardy.com/ Mike Vardy

      Often the short term pain is worth it for the long term gain, @xxTze:disqus. I know that first hand as well!

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your insights.

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  • http://www.degconsulting.net/ Daniel Gold

    Awesome post as always, Mike. Very insightful!

    • http://mikevardy.com/ Mike Vardy

      Thanks, @degconsulting:disqus!

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  • Vera

    Another great way plan is to know where you are going. Tools like Cubefreeapp.com (powered by Citrix Labs) is a big help for me so I know if the place is mobile worker friendly or not. Plus I hate when I have to drive somewhere else to find good wi-fi.

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