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Being diligent today will make you more productive tomorrow.

Last week I talked about dividing your to-do list into three sections, non-negotiables, procratinatables and optionables, and how doing so will help you organize your day. I also discussed listening to your body's clock to determine the best time of day to tackle certain projects and tasks.

Today's post is all about setting up for a more productive tomorrow. And to do that, you need to start today.

For as long as I can remember, my nightly routine before bed has included looking and preparing for the next morning. Call it my shutdown ritual if you will. I like to know before my head hits the pillow what’s on my schedule for the following day.

Getting things ready the night before allows me to hit the ground running and start my next day with a purpose. There's no wasted time in the morning figuring out what projects or tasks I need to do. It eliminates me from looking through emails, creating a to-do list, and getting myself organized because it’s already all done for me. When I sit down at my computer at 9 am, I can immediately get to work on whatever task or project takes priority on my to-do list.

If you don’t have a proper plan of attack, you could find yourself wasting the better part of an hour accomplishing nothing as you try to figure out what you need to do. Do that every morning, and it can add up to several days worth of time by the end of the year.

But what's the difference between organizing yourself in the morning, compared to doing it the night before? The difference is, the night before, or at the end of your workday, you’re pretty well spent already. The time you take preparing for the following day is time you probably wouldn’t have gotten much accomplished in anyways. However, in the morning, you’re much more energized. Even if you’re still groggy from sleep, you still have more “gung-ho” than you do at the end of a long workday. So why waste that energy on prep work?

If you know ahead of time how you're going to spend your day, you’ll be much more productive and much more efficient in doing so.

I usually do my prep work before going to bed. It’s one of the last things I think of at night and allows me to mentally work out my next day’s plan of attack as I nod off to sleep. But maybe you don’t want to do this right before going to bed. Maybe you fear it will get your mind racing on work-related issues, and you won't be able to fall asleep. If that’s you, then I suggest you set aside a few minutes at the end of your workday. 5 to 10 minutes is all you need as you wrap things up to plan for the following workday.

3 steps to a more productive tomorrow.

Step 1

If you combine last week’s topic with this one, you should be working on your non-negotiable tasks every day. If you have the time, you also tackled some procrastinatables and maybe even some optionable tasks. Take the time at the end of your workday to review and reflect on what you managed to accomplish that day. Take satisfaction in the projects and tasks you completed, no matter how small. They’ll help motivate you for the following day.

Research has proven that keeping track and acknowledging your progress actually helps boost your working morale and creates a better outlook in your overall life.

Step 2

Start a new to-do list. Do not use the same list as the day before. You may think that seeing previously scratched tasks off will motivate you, but they won’t. In fact, studies have shown that our brain has a hard time differentiating checked or scratched off items on a list from the unchecked ones. All that registers is a long list of items that could be discouraging. That’s why most digital to-do lists automatically hide completed tasks. It’s not to subconsciously discourage you.

So start with a fresh list. Take note of those projects and tasks you didn’t complete that day and add them to your new list for tomorrow. Organize them using last week's method. Remember that what might have been a procrastinatable task today might need to be a non-negotiable task tomorrow.

Once you have tomorrow's list, determine the two or three most important tasks and mark them as the top priorities. These will be the ones you’ll tackle first thing in the morning. Then look at the other items on the list and mentally rank them in order of importance.

Try to imagine how your day will unfold. What will you do first thing? What will you get done before lunch? What will you do after lunch? How do you plan on finishing off your day? Having a good mental picture of what you need to do will go a long way towards allowing you to accomplish it.

Step 3

Prep your space. Declutter your workspace and get it ready for the morning. Put away papers and files. Organizing your tools and take out anything you may need for tomorrow’s tasks.

This also means getting your computer ready for the next morning. Quit any open applications that won’t be needed the next day.

I like to quit my Mail app and Slack every night, so I'm not tempted to check them as I sit down at my computer. I also close any browser tab with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social media that could be a distraction to me in the morning.

There will be plenty of time to check email to see what’s happening on social media later in the day once I’ve accomplished something from my to-do list. The last thing I want is to waste time at the start of my day by sifting through junk mail or scrolling through meaningless social media posts. All of that can wait until later. If there’s a real emergency, my clients know my phone number, and they can always call me.

That’s the 3 step process.

That’s pretty much my process. It’s how I end every day and how I’m ready to hit the ground running every morning. It’s also how I can juggle so many things every day. I set priorities, figure out which ones to do, and get to them. It’s that simple.

If you want to give it a try and see if you can be more productive, why don’t you take 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the day today and follow my three steps?

  • Step 1: Reflect and feel satisfied with what you’ve accomplished today.
  • Step 2: Start a brand new to-do list, including new tasks and projects, as well as anything you didn’t finish today. And prioritize them.
  • Step 3: Prepare your working environment, both your physical space and computer, so you’re ready to hit the ground running tomorrow.

I bet, if you do this, you’ll soon discover how much more productive and efficient your time will be.

Are you going to give it a try?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com