Habit 3: Plan

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So you have a list of things to do, and a whole brand new day staring at you. What do you do today?

The decisions you make about what to do each week, each day,each moment, add up to a process called workflow. In ZTD, I suggest that you take the unstructured, moment-to-moment workflow of GTD and shape it into an optimal structure.

Why should you add structure and plan out your day and your week? Because otherwise you are too much at the mercy of the winds of change, reacting to what comes your way instead of deciding what’s important and what you really want to accomplish. Take control of your day, instead of letting the needs and wants and priorities of others control it for you.

Now, each person has a different working style, and if structure isn’t for you, I suggest you try the moment-to-moment style of GTD. It’s not a bad way to go at all.

However, here’s the recommended workflow of ZTD:

Each week, list the Big Rocks that you want to accomplish, and schedule them first. Each day, create a list of 1-3 MITs (basically your Big Rocks for the day) and be sure to accomplish them. Do your MITs early in the day to get them out of the way and to ensure that they get done.

This is one of the simplest of the ZTD habits, but also one of the most important. Why? Because it gives purpose to your day and week. Instead of just trying to crank out a bunch of tasks on your to-do list, you are trying to do the most important ones.

Sure, you’ll also do other tasks on your list, but you’re identifying the ones that you really want to accomplish — the ones where you can look back on your day and feel proud of accomplishing something. Often we work hard and do a lot, but when we look back on our day, we haven’t really accomplished anything.

So how do you do this habit? Here are some tips:

  1. Big Rocks. At the beginning of each week (either Sunday or Monday, you choose), sit down and look at your to-do list. What do you want to accomplish this week? Try to keep it to just 4-6 things at first — later, as you get a feel for what you can accomplish, you might be able to add more. Try to be sure to include at least a couple of tasks to further along your yearly goals.
  2. Schedule. Now take these “Big Rocks” and place them in your weekly schedule. Place only one or two per day, so you aren’t overwhelmed. Place them in 1-2 hour blocks, early in the day if possible. Now that these important tasks are blocked out, you can schedule other stuff around them whenever necessary — but these are already there.
  3. MITs. Each morning, decide what your Most Important Tasks are for that day. These will probably be the same as your Big Rocks for the day, although as things change you might have different MITs. Choose 1-3 MITs for the day — this could include a Big Rock and a couple other important tasks. Block out time for them early in the day if possible — if you put them later in the day, other things pop up that will get in the way.
  4. Complete them. Now here’s the most important part: get them done. First thing in the morning, before you even check email, get that first MIT done. Clear away all distractions, and be sure to focus on only that task until it’s done. When you’re done, reward yourself … but be sure to move on to your next MIT shortly!
  5. Look back and say ahh. If you complete your MITs, you will feel great. Be sure to look back on what you’ve accomplished and pat yourself on the back — or even reward yourself.

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