'I Used a Goal Planner to Up Productivity'

InVite Health

'I Used a Goal Planner to Train Myself to Be More Productive – And This Is What Happened'

Your 2021 needs one of these

i used a goal planner to train myself to be more productive – and this is what happened

Back in Precedented Times, I was a get sh*t done kinda gal. I'd power through my daily to-do list like there was always an EOP deadline, and get a thrill out of knocking off work emails and #lifeadmin like I was an extra in Succession. Invoices? Restaurant reservations? (yes, those old things) No problem.

Before you think I'm gloating, those productivity levels all went out the window – you guessed it – in 2020. It was a bizarre combination of a global pandemic and moving countries (a pre-lockdown decision to swap London for Lisbon) that threw my carefully-honed routine of many years completely off.

I was newly WFH without a regular diary of social commitments or HIIT classes - and certainly no need to stick to regular mealtimes (anyone else fall for cheese in a large way last year?) at the same time as psychologically getting to grips with the varying layers of havoc the virus and its impact were wreaking on people I cared about.

Unsurprisingly, with my brain simultaneously under-stimulated and on overdrive, my to-do list stagnated, and became a chaotic spider's web of notes. Mental fatigue caused procrastination to creep in, and my creativity became inconsistent.

I wasn't the only one getting less done. Research has found that, while we love the apparent flexibility of doing our jobs metres from our bed, a not-insignificant 30% of us believe our productivity has fallen while working remotely.

Soon, I felt like I was scrambling on an imaginary hamster wheel struggling to achieve anything like the same levels I had just months before. The pinging notifications of reminders on my phone were the only thing stopping my weeks falling into total disarray, tugging me to dentist appointments and Zoom catch-ups.

My lack of productivity wasn't just affecting my mind, but also my body too. Having been a devout 'morning person' my sleep became irregular: I'd slip out of bed and to my laptop a quarter-of-an hour before clocking on, and invariably be typing away late into the evening. My step count dwindled below 10k and UberEats wove itself into my bank statements, while stress spikes meant even my beloved Dermatica subscription couldn't halt breakouts.


The solution? A goal planner

As a semi-Type A, the feeling of not being in control of core aspects of my life was pretty terrifying. So, in anticipation of achieving more in 2021 (a tidy inbox, the Nobel Peace Prize, who knows?) I decided in autumn to perform an audit of my, largely MIA, schedule.

To help me reintroduce some healthy structure back into my life I turned to a goal planner. Namely, the UltimateYou Planner – priced at approximately £32, which is pretty much a bargain for its life-changing powers (as you'll see...).

Abul Shah
UltimateYou Planner
uyplanner.com
€36.00

It's been just under a decade since I last filled in a physical diary at school, after which I kept on top of brunches and hair appointments in my iPhone calendar. I also swerved the journaling trend with aplomb, feeling like writing down my deepest thoughts was just one affirmation too far into the world of wellness woo-woo.

But there was something very different about creating a personal action plan. If you're not familiar, goal planners guide you, step-by-step, through how to achieve a – you guessed it – goal.

It's an idea first presented by Confucius, in 551-479 B.C, who talked of 'action steps' to reach an aim. While it's unclear if the ancient Chinese philosopher had in mind getting fit, learning a language or shaking off perfectionism, it's clear the pursuit of goals is a wise one.

I decided mine was: to be more productive. I knew that a Marie Kondo-esque end-of-year spruce up of all the boring bits of my routine would help all those other things fall into place.


How a goal planner works...

Step 1

On the outside, my chosen planner's chic, monochrome design – that would look at home on an Architectural Digest coffee table – belies the fact that on the inside it's wonderfully functional. Combining a simplified system with tried-and-tested techniques, it claims to help me achieve my aim within just six months.

The planner is divided into three steps. The first was to drill down into exactly what my goal is. I answer questions like 'If failure were not an option, what career would you pursue?' and 'Do you have enough money to have the lifestyle you want?'.

Giving goals meaning is vital for their success. While I knew that boosted productivity was my aim, it encouraged me to get me thinking about why exactly that was. Which, I realised, was so I could eliminate stress and have a better quality of downtime to recharge, making me more resilient in the long-term to life's challenges, as well as have the bravery to pursue my hopes and dreams (sorry-not-sorry for the soppiness).

i used a goal planner to train myself to be more productive – and this is what happened

The best bit is that this crucial, goal-setting part of the process is all rooted in science. A 2015 study found that those who wrote down what they'd like to achieve were 33% more likely to succeed, while previous 2006 research linked outlining your aims with increased motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence and autonomy.

Interestingly, psychologists have found that more is more when it comes to which goals you choose. Including Edwin A. Locke (creator of the revered Goal Setting Theory of Motivation), who discovered that working professionals with ambitious goals had better performance.

But the planner also reminds you that your goal should meet five criteria in order to boost the likelihood you'll achieve it. Taking inspiration from a heavily-lauded psychological tool, the S-M-A-R-T rule, it explains that you should consider if your aim is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Got it?

Step 2

Onto the ‘action plan’ phase. Goals can easily feel overwhelming – and ultimately, off-putting. But the planner breaks down the process into small, bite-sized elements to help you reach the endpoint.

Most crucially of all this means making the time. Lauren Ashcroft, the planner’s creator, who built on years of coaching experience to come up with the concept, tells me that one of the main reasons people don’t achieve their goals is because they don’t realise the sacrifices they will need to make. For example, if you want to achieve peak fitness and a running PB, it’s likely you’ll need to shake off your trainers and venture into the winter coldness with some sort of regularity.

i used a goal planner to train myself to be more productive – and this is what happened

With this in mind, I jotted down in the planner the possible pitfalls to achieving my aim – low energy; wasted time on social media. Then the strategy to overcome these obstacles: consistent wake and bed-times; a long midday walk and deleting Instagram.

I answered more questions. 'Daily habit for success...' was to make a to-do list for the next day before bed each night. And I decided my 'First action for success...' was to finish work on time, allowing me the mental space to plan the next day.

Step 3

Having taken my time to carefully fill out steps one and two over a period of a few days, I was raring to get going. The third and final part of the planner sounds the simplest - the doing. But executing your goal and sticking to it is where most people fall down.

And it's something the planner anticipates. There's space for six months of daily, weekly and monthly notes. While the latter two allow you to look ahead and evaluate how you've done, it's the daily sections I found a game-changer.

They're divided up into an hour-by-hour schedule that allows you to input the day's time commitments. It leaves no room for procrastination. I'd write down in advance that I had a meeting with my line manager at 11am, must do my Portuguese language homework by 5pm and leave the house to walk to the gym by 7pm.

This might be obvious to most, but for someone used to keeping track via a fairly good memory and piles of post-it notes, it's the first time in my adult life I've been coerced – in a good way – into logical organisation.

i used a goal planner to train myself to be more productive – and this is what happened

There's also 'key to dos' and 'focus,' 'goal,' 'action' spaces to help me prioritise tasks.

Once more, science backs up the process I was being guided through. Studies clearly show that people perform better when they have written out what they need to do. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology also found that tasks we haven't done distract us, and just making a plan to get them done can free us from anxiety.

It's also a record of my ticked-off achievements that would otherwise slip from my mind. There's something called the 'Zeigarnik effect' where our brains often remember the things we need to do better than the things we've already done. It's why waiters can memorise diners' orders, but forget them as soon as the dishes have been served.

Similarly, there's boxes to list what 'I am grateful for...' and 'My mood booster...' which Lauren explains is to remind you that achieving your goal has to be part of a bigger holistic picture. This includes exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep. Indeed, during one of my weeks, prioritising going for a long mood-boosting lunchtime walk and acknowledging how grateful I felt for friends checking in on me via WhatsApp really did help me get into the right frame of mind to tick off some tricky afternoon tasks.

Each night, when I slipped into bed at 11pm – my new set bedtime – I was on a high of having achieved what I'd set out to do that morning, however mediocre the task. Doing this day after day made the habit stick. Within a month I was addicted to the feeling of fulfilment.


Goal planner: The verdict

Many jokes have been made in the past nine or so months about how diaries became redundant in 2020. But it's become clear to me that the upgraded version – a goal planner – is what pretty much everyone needs right now.

Putting actual pen-to-paper felt like far more of an achievement than typing odd-jobs into a productivity-boosting app on my heavily-distracting phone. There's an abundance of research to support that writing out tasks makes them far more engaging than inputting them in digital form. And seeing the planner on my bedside table each morning keeps me accountable. It's a physical reminder to not give up on my goal.

After a month, I already feel calmer and more in control of my life. At work, I'm feeling far more satisfied with myself – my ideas are better and I'm logging off on time. Outside of the 'office', I've filled out my next tax return months before it's due, finished reading my first novel in a year, and have started thinking hard about the personal projects I'd like to achieve in the remainder of 2021. Watch. This. Space.

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