8 steps to plan a successful day

I’ve started a series that I’m hoping will help you manage your stress and feel organized. The first part of the series was all about habits that could help you survive stressful days. This post is all about reducing all that noise in your head and planning your days. After boiling down what I do to plan my month/ week/ day I came up with a few simple steps.This is not a quick fix or bandaid solution. The first time you go through these steps it will take you at least an hour, but the headspace you gain and the relief you get out of it is worth it. I tried out these steps on my friend Steph and here is what she had to say:




First you’ll start with 3 steps to collect all the information needed before you start planning.

Recurring tasks :

Start with listing recurring tasks that you do every month, every week and everyday. For example:

  • Paying bills
  • Doing laundry
  • Grocery shopping
  • Answering emails

Think about everything that you do over and over again, whether in personal or professional life.This list will be a staple that you use every time you plan your month/ week/ day, so keep it somewhere where you could easily refer to it. Think of this as a way to unload your brain of every little “to do” that pops up and write it down.


Specific tasks and appointments:

Next, on a separate sheet of paper list all of the appointments and “to do”s for that specific month/week/day with deadline for each. You could use your phone, agenda, planner, your head –  wherever you keep this information – to get a complete list.

Action items for your goals:

In here you will write all these things you have been wanting to achieve, your “New Year’s resolutions” if you will. They can’t be a vague goal, they have to be specific actions that will lead you to reach your goal. For example, it can’t be “stay hydrated’, it should be “drink 5 glasses of water a day”. Beside each goal write the frequency at which you would like to perform the action. For example, “exercise 3 times/ week” or “drink 5 glasses of water / day”. This way you can easily see which of your actions require a monthly, weekly or daily tracking. Keep this list in a safe place since you will be using it every time you do your planning.

Notice in these set-up steps you will rarely change your recurring tasks and goals lists. Once you get them done the first time it will get easier from there.


Monthly planning :

In the monthly section of your planner write all of the recurring monthly tasks on the days that they need to completed. For example, paying the bills is something you do on a monthly basis on the last day of the month. Next you will add all the things you will be doing specifically for this month; for example you have a wedding, dentist appointment, or you are going on vacation. Then you will add in the goals that require monthly tracking, for example “ go on 2 adventures per month”. In this case, you will look at your schedule and based on all the already- existing duties and events and you will pick two dates that month for your adventures. You will complete the monthly planning for the entire month.


Weekly planning :

In this step you will open up your planner to the weekly section and start by copying all the things you wrote for that week in the monthly section. Next you will add all the weekly duties and appointments you have for that specific week. Then layer your recurring tasks on top of that, so, for example, you could list laundry or grocery shopping for Sunday. Finally you will add in your goals, for example, for your exercise you could write “go to pump class on Friday”.


Prepare, be proactive:

Next you put in all the steps you will need to do to meet your deadlines. For example, if you have a wedding on Saturday, you may need to find something to wear and get a wedding gift before that. Based on the number of items you have so far in each day you could decide that Tuesday is realistically the best day to get the gift and go shopping for an outfit. You would add these two items to the Tuesday list.


You are not super human If you look at your list right now it will be massive and you will realize that it is unachievable. So take a moment to accept that and decide that you will not be making crazy “to do” lists anymore. Instead, you will only have 5 work items and 5 personal items each day. I know, I know, you think 10 items per day is too few, but trust me, you will barely finish 10. You will be tempted to cheat and make your “to do”s all-encompassing, bigger items. For example, if you set out to write a book your “to do” item can’t be “write a book”. You will need to break down the task to its realistic elements. Your tasks could be research characters, figure out how to publish a book, and so on and so forth.

This process will help you prioritize what is important to you in advance instead of struggling with your massive “to do” list every time you look at it. Instead of looking at your list feeling overwhelmed and potentially walking off to a more fun activity, or just plain stressing out, you will find it doable. When you are prioritizing keep in mind deadlines coming up, whether for work or otherwise. If you find yourself reaching your limit maybe It is time to talk to your boss about your workload, or decline that invitation to an afternoon bbq because you need to get other things done.

It depends on what is more important to you; is it your family time, your relationships, your health, or your work ? This exercise allows me to keep a balance where I will make sure to do one stress-relief habit per day, even if it just meditating for 10 mins. It also allows me to control my workload – if I get to point where I start observing that I am consistently letting my 5 personal items slip I will do something about it to rebalance.

Daily planning 

My friend Steph found this part of the exercise the most helpful, and I also find it really helps to do this before bed. I consider the 10 items I have listed for the next day and all the appointments and realistic travel time if applicable. Based on that I come up with an hour by hour breakdown of my day. You’re probably thinking this sounds crazy….it is more like a secret weapon. Instead of time happening to you during the day, you will be acutely aware of every minute and where you need to be to meet your plan. This might give you anxiety at first but that’s because it’s a change.

For example, I know that the only way I could play with my cat, do my morning walk, do my yoga, and meditate in the day is if I get an early start and complete these items by 8am. From there I break down the rest of my day based on work meetings and tasks that need to be completed. I try to also batch my tasks to use the time as efficiently  as possible. For example, if I am going to the drug store to pick up a prescription and the pet shop is next door, I will get the prescription and the cat food in the same trip. To optimize your time imagine yourself doing the tasks and that will jog your brain to think of the best way to do it.

To further help you with your stress and to calm the voices in your head badgering you about your “to do” list  at the end of the day, highlight your top 3 items. These items would be the items that if done today you can survive the day and deal with everything else later. They are the items that if completed you will be satisfied and consider your day a productive one. This step allows you to forgive yourself but still work to the best of your abilities to reach your goals, ao at the end of the day you don’t beat yourself up.

It’s NOT set in stone

Don’t panic if things change and you could not implement your plan. If a meeting is cancelled move onto the next priority item in your day. If something more important comes up you can drop some of the items that are not in your top 3. You finished your 10 items because you are a superstar – no problem, start on tomorrow’s list or take some “me” time.

I really hope that this post helps you out. I am not a planning expert by any means, I am just sharing what I found works for me. If you try out these steps let me know how things turn out for you in the comments below.



  1. July 11, 2017 / 1:26 am

    What an interesting blogpost! I love seeing how others organize themselves and I definitely took some notes from you, thanks for sharing!

    I think the biggest thing I’ve had to learn is that I over-estimate my energy and time and end up putting too much on my to-do list so I’m trying to be mindful of my list so I don’t get discouraged.


    • DanaMacAulay
      July 11, 2017 / 1:27 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post, I’m glad you found it interesting. I totally agree in terms of overwhelming yourself with a big to do list. I find myself doing more when I have less planned for the day. Taking the pressure off makes me more productive somehow.

  2. July 17, 2017 / 3:33 pm

    Lots of great tips! I’d be so lost without my planner.

    • DanaMacAulay
      July 17, 2017 / 3:39 pm

      I am glad you found it helpful. I am the same without my planner I lose my focus