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Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Productivity Planner Page

It's Monday again, although not the morning anymore here in Texas. It has been a very busy two weeks with symphony and ballet rehearsals, and any spare moments I had were spent in rehearsals with the Artisan Quartet. We are embarking on a Beethoven cycle beginning this weekend and spanning the next year. Our series is "Genius At Play," and our first program will include:

  • String Quartet in F major, op. 14, no. 1
  • String Quartet in F major, op. 18, no 1
  • String Quartet in Eb major, op. 74 "Harp"

I'm writing this as an explanation for my posting less in the past two weeks and for why this post is not being submitted on the Monday morning.

I have a new productivity idea to share with you. I have tried it out for the past few days, and I find it very useful for gathering my thoughts together and planning out my necessary activities and priorities for the day. I learned about this tip from Brendon Burchard, an marketing and entrepreneur expert. I put together a form that included the elements of Brendon's planning formula, and here is what I came up with:

Let me walk through the form. The top section has three columns. These are usually the current major projects that you might be working on. Everyone probably has three of these. In each column, you would list five things that would move that particular project forward. It doesn't mean that you would actually do those things today, but the act of filling in these columns helps you to think in a forward motion toward activity. I find it very useful in that the act of coming up with five things encouraged me to be more thoughtful (and creative) about what I could do that would make progress toward my goal of completing the major project.

The middle section concerns the people that you may need to contact throughout the day. Perhaps there are some folks that you need to call or email about something. The left column is the place where you would list their names and perhaps include any information about why you need to contact them. The right column is the place where you would list the names of those people that you are waiting to hear from. Perhaps it is an email or phone call. You have put out the request, and now you are waiting to hear back.

The purpose of this middle section is to prevent or thwart email-ism, which is that black hole that sucks up and destroys any free time you have when you sit down to check your email. This middle section also puts email on your terms, because now you only open up your email when you need to send an email to someone, and you only open those emails that are from people you are looking to hear back from.

But when do I check my email otherwise? you ask. Later, after you have completed the third section, or plan to look at email at certain prescribed times during the day. I try to check it at stop lights (I do a lot of driving in a day), during rehearsal intermissions, while waiting in a line, or while waiting for a student. I also check email around dinner time. Other than checking email during the times I have mentioned, I check it maybe two times a day, usually noon and 6 p.m. In fact, my email signature says that I am only checking email at those times, and if someone wants to reach me otherwise, they must send me a text message. I generally cannot do much business on the phone because I am usually teaching throughout the entire day and do not have a lot of time for lengthy phone calls.

The last section of the productivity planner is reserved for those items that need to be tackled today, hopefully ranked in importance. If you have more than 10 things to put on that list, then you are doing WAY too much work or have too much on your plate. Six things would be ideal, but most of us need to remember to schedule laundry and household items (grocery shopping, clean out cat litter, check propane tank levels) on the list too.

Here is how to use the list. First thing in the morning, possibly while you are enjoying your first coffee of the morning, start filling in the form. I copy seven forms and staple them together so I can keep a week's worth together. I like looking back at the week I have completed, although you may prefer just doing one page to carry around with you. Anything not done from the previous day gets re-evaluated about whether to be put on the next day's list.

Once you have completed the form, go about your day. Tackle items on your list in reverse order. Do section three first, then the middle section, and then if there is any time left over, you can tackle items on the first part of the form.

I have enjoyed filling out the form and using it to complete many daily tasks. I have found the tool useful in helping me to gain clarity about my priorities and need-to-do items. And I have found the tool helpful in keeping me focused on making forward progress on my major projects.

I hope you find this tool useful. If you would like a copy of the form in a PDF format, send me an email, and I'll put it on


  1. Hello, thank for your time and explanation of the sheet. I had a different idea of how to fill up this form.

    Its been 8+ years ago that you wrote this down. I am assuming you have like an studio or hall were all kids come to you and no more driving.

    please explain me your progress.

    looking forward to hear from you soon,

    1. Hi, Paulo! I drive a lot because I drive to my private teaching studio, the university where I teach, and symphony rehearsals. I still use this form on occasion, but I have actually developed several other forms depending on the "season" I am in and the day of the week. Basically, my form asks for the same type of information. I also use a bullet journal and a calendar/planner in order to stay on top of scheduling and planning.