Productivity

A Complete System for Planning Your Life and Scheduling Your Work

I created this life planner using Notion—here’s the (free) template for you to use and customize, and details on how I use it to achieve my goals.

Danny Forest
Nov 19 · 9 min read
Man doing a tree pose in front of an orange background
Man doing a tree pose in front of an orange background
Image by the author.

I still remember the time when I was waking up 30 minutes before going to work and rushing my morning so that I’d start work at 9 o’clock sharp. My biggest dream was to find the energy to wake up earlier, take the time to cook breakfast and enjoy it, and then go to work.

Most professionals I know are like I was. Even entrepreneurs have a hard time starting their day in a non-stressful way. It’s a common problem that affects most adults who are in charge of their own schedule.

The reason is, we’ve never been taught good systems to plan our lives and schedules. After many years of experimentation with tools like Google Calendar, Trello, Airtable, and Notion, I’ve come up with a system that works. I’ve been using it for two years now and I’ve shared it with others who also had success with it.

In this guide, I’ll share the tools I use to plan my life and schedule and walk you through the ways I’ve found to most effectively use them. I’m warning you right away: It’s an appealing system for those who view maximizing their time and energy as a fun game. If that’s not you, you’ll likely find this system to be overbearing.

The tool we’re going to use is a template I built for you using Notion. I call it the Life Monthly Planner. You can get the free template here. I strongly encourage you to get it to follow along. (Please note that you need a free Notion account to use it.)

Introducing the Life Monthly Planner

The Life Monthly Planner helps you organize a few areas of your life. It provides tools for defining your routine, tracking your habits, figuring out what areas of your life to focus on, organizing reflection days, prioritizing tasks, planning and reflecting on your weeks, planning and reflecting on your months, and more.

In this guide, we’ll explore each component one-by-one. You may also follow along with the videos I’ve included in-line in the template directly.

Main section

Screenshot of the planner.
Screenshot of the planner.
Screenshot of the main section. All screenshots by the author.

This is your starting point to get to the sub-tools. You’ll also find explanatory videos of the different tools. Below the tools is a monthly journal. It looks like this:

Screenshot.
Screenshot.
Second part of the main section

The way you use it is by filling it out near the end of the month or at the beginning of the month. You can go in any order you want. I like to start with My Routine and the Table of Life. I then move on to identify my top priorities for the month and fill out my goals. Here’s what this month looks like for me:

Screenshot: example of how I’m using the monthly planner.
Screenshot: example of how I’m using the monthly planner.
My priorities and goals for November 2020

There are months where I have over 20 goals, other times only a select few. There’s no right or wrong number to have.

On the last day of the month, or around that time, you start to fill out the Monthly Review section at the bottom of this page.

Screenshot: the monthly review section.
Screenshot: the monthly review section.
Monthly review section of the main page

The questions are pretty self-explanatory. Feel free to add more questions as needed.

My Routine tool

I broke it down into two parts. Weekdays:

Screenshot: weekday routine.
Screenshot: weekday routine.
My routine from September 2020

And weekends:

Screenshot: weekend routine.
Screenshot: weekend routine.

There’s something powerful about writing down at what time you’re going to do each activity. It frees up your mind to think about other, more important things. I don’t memorize my routine — I refer to it daily until it becomes a habit.

There’s also a lot of value in experimenting every so often to see what works best for you. I tend to change it up monthly to try to figure that out. Plus, your life isn’t static, so you need to adapt accordingly.

Table of Life tool

The Table of Life tool is based on the popular Wheel of Life. It’s just a more convenient way to do it on the computer while adding notes to each area. Here’s mine for this month as an example:

Screenshot: table of life.
Screenshot: table of life.
My table of life from November 2020

The maximum number of points is 10. Realistically, in one month, you probably can’t go up by more than two to four points. You can, however, choose to sacrifice one area of your life for another.

For example, if your finances are in order and you find yourself not spending enough time with your friends and family, you could reduce your finances by one point and invest it in friends and family instead.

Think Day tool

This is one of the most important tools and an exercise not many people are doing. Think Day is a day where you do nothing else but reflecting on your life. You can do one when you feel like you need more clarity on your life, or you can do one routinely. I do at least one Think Day per month.

Here’s what the first part looks like:

Screenshot of Think Day tool.
Screenshot of Think Day tool.
First part of the Think Day tool

And here’s the second part:

Screen shot of second part of the Think Day tool.
Screen shot of second part of the Think Day tool.
Second part of the Think Day tool

It may sound simple at first, and you’ll likely think you won’t need a full day to do it, but you’re wrong if that’s what you think. I often find myself not having enough time to reflect on everything in a single day. When I do a Think Day in my physical journal, I often end up writing 30 pages of notes.

I strongly recommend you do it at least once a month.

Eisenhower Matrix tool

I’ve included an Eisenhower Matrix in the Think Day tool, but there’s also a standalone one in the main section. It looks like this:

Screenshot of the Eisenhower Matrix tool.
Screenshot of the Eisenhower Matrix tool.
The Eisenhower Matrix

If you’ve never used an Eisenhower Matrix before, you’re missing out. It’s one of the best tools I know to figure out your real priorities. I’ve colour-coded the quadrants in order of what matters most.

For example, “Important but not urgent” is the one that matters most. This is where you do things for the long-term, like working out and eating healthy. It could also be about working on a side-business.

You want to avoid as many “Not urgent and not important” tasks. This includes scrolling through social media, escaping more to entertainment than you should, etc.

Win Journal tool

My Win Journal is my confidence booster. It makes me realize how much I’m accomplishing and that what I do matters to others. I have it in my habit tracker to always record at least one win per day. On tougher days, that’s even more important.

Here’s what my Win Journal looked like in October 2020:

Screenshot of Win Journal tool.
Screenshot of Win Journal tool.
Some wins from October 2020

I try to tag my wins so I can find them more easily. The number indicates how big of a win it is, using a scale of one to five. One means it’s fine and five means it’s exceptional. Both are quite rare.

Fail Journal tool

The Fail Journal is where you record your experiments that didn’t work. It’s a place where you objectively note how something didn’t work and how you can make it work the next time around.

I wrote more about it in these two articles:

It works very similarly to the Win Journal, but with fewer entries, unless you’re a scientist running many experiments. For each entry, you answer the following questions:

Screenshot of Fail Journal tool.
Screenshot of Fail Journal tool.
Fail Journal entry questions

The goal is to learn lessons from things you did that didn’t work, so you don’t repeat the mistake again in the future.

Start/Stop Calendar tool

The premise is simple: Track the doing and non-doing of your good and bad habits. It looks like this:

Screenshot of start/stop calendar tool.
Screenshot of start/stop calendar tool.
One habit I want to start doing and one habit I wanted to stop doing in May 2020

At the end of the day, go back to this calendar and check the boxes you’ve succeeded in.

Weekly Planner tool

The bulk of your planning will likely happen in this tool. You can find it at the bottom of the links to the tools where it says “Weekly Plans.”

Screenshot of Weekly Plans.
Screenshot of Weekly Plans.
Example from October 2020. In the template, you’ll only see the last row.

This section fully utilizes Notion’s powers. By clicking on “+ Add a New Weekly Planner,” it creates a duplicate of the Weekly Planner template. It looks like this:

Screenshot of the weekly agenda.
Screenshot of the weekly agenda.
Template of the Weekly Planner

Here’s what it looks like at the bottom of this section:

Screenshot of bottom section of the weekly planner tool.
Screenshot of bottom section of the weekly planner tool.
Weekly reflection section

I do my weekly planning either on Friday or on Sunday. It usually takes me between one to two hours depending on how many commitments I have for the week.

Every week, I adjust my habit tracker based on how well I did the last week. Here are two examples from October:

Screenshot of example.
Screenshot of example.
First week of October 2020
Screenshot of another example.
Screenshot of another example.
Last week of October 2020.

For the specific days, here’s what it looks like at the start of the day:

Screenshot of daily routine.
Screenshot of daily routine.
Tasks before starting the day
Screenshot of completed day.
Screenshot of completed day.
Tasks at the end of the day

As you can see, I drag tasks from the list into a “Done” section. I revise my daily schedule for the next day at the end of my workday. I adjust based on new priorities and things that inevitably come up during the day.

At the end of the week, while doing my weekly planning for the next week, I do my weekly reflection. Here’s an example:

Screenshot of reflection tool.
Screenshot of reflection tool.
Example from my third week in October 2020

How to Take This Forward

This guide focused a lot on the tools and approach I’m using, but I hope that even if you don’t plan to follow exactly what I do, it gave you ideas of how to plan your life and schedule.

You can certainly use tools you’re familiar with to mold some of those ideas to work well with what you know. In fact, I’d even encourage you to not use my template and build your own as just by doing that exercise, you’ll get more clarity on what matters most to you.

My approach and tools are also quite overwhelming at first glance. You might want to start by focusing on only a few aspects. If I had to choose the most important one for you, I’d say start with the Weekly Planner.

If you choose to use my tools, take a moment to watch the inline videos where I go deeper into how to use each tool. I spent a good amount of time recording them so you can easily follow along.

Note that I used to charge $75 for these tools but decided to give them away for free to help everyone organize their life better. I don’t make money from it anymore but it’s still as valuable as it ever was.

Conclusion

Organizing your life and schedule can be daunting, but with the right tools, it can be easy and fun. I used Notion to create this free template, which I think can greatly help you in your planning.

You don’t need to use it, but you can get inspired by it nonetheless. If you do choose to use it, let me know how it goes. I do believe that you thrive more through better planning, and I hope this tool can help you with that.

You can do this!

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Danny Forest

Written by

Dad, husband, writer, data engineer, human. dannyforest.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Danny Forest

Written by

Dad, husband, writer, data engineer, human. dannyforest.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store