Why You Should Plan Your Days The Night Before

Plan Journal - Lauren Sauder

You know how optimistic you feel at night, and you tell yourself tomorrow’s going to be different?

Maybe you’ll wake up before sunrise for once. Maybe even go for a run. And that’s the least ambitious thing you can think of.

Then the next day rolls around and all your dreams fall victim to the snooze button, sometimes quite literally.

That tends to happen a lot when you start your day without a plan. In a previous post, I mentioned the benefits of planning your day ahead of time, and I still do believe in its powers.

My planned days unfold much smoother than my unplanned ones, for some reason. It’s almost as if the universe acknowledges my efforts to live better. There must be a magic to this. And it’s this magic that we’ll be exploring today.

Why waste time planning ahead?

Why, you ask? Because it doesn’t take much time in the first place. The crudest to-do list would probably take five minutes at most, and it has the potential to save you hours.

Secondly, prepared tasks have a higher chance of completion. And I’ve found that trying to prepare on the same day just doesn’t give the same oomph.

Third, there’s decision fatigue. I know, there’s been a lot of discourse on whether this symptom actually exists. But if a placebo works, then it’s not a placebo, am I right?

I find that the fewer decisions I have to make on the spot, the more mental resources I reserve. And all that energy can be used to deal with the more unexpected events.

Lastly, and most importantly, we’re much more clear-headed in the evenings compared to the mornings. We make better decisions for ourselves at night. Try mapping our day when we’re still groggy from sleep and it’s almost certain we’ll pick the easiest path.

So how do we get on with planning our day?

A hooded person sitting on a couch with their laptop, with a

Planning before you need it does make the execution much easier. Photo: Kevin Ku

a. Start with infrastructure

This is an easy place to start because we all have habits. You’ve laid out your clothes for work before, haven’t you? Or maybe you’ve packed your bags for the gym?

Prepping your infrastructure is doing exactly that, for your most common tasks.

So make your morning coffee easier to brew by setting aside your equipment every night. Have your lunch prepped and ready to go. Have your pentagram scrawled on the floor ready for your next devil worship. You know, the simple things.

For the weekly things like cleaning, leave the broom or mop within reach. Fill the pail the night before. Prepare the bleach to clean out all that goat blood. Again, the simple things.

My infrastructure revolves around my everyday tasks. Eating, writing, exercising. Those are my top priorities for a good life, so I prep my meals, plan a workout, and have my writing outline ready to go, all before I need them.

You’d be surprised how much more you follow through when everything’s laid out. Even for harder tasks.

In short: Target your everyday duties first, since you’ll be repeating them for most of your life.

An aerial shot of highways and buildings

Have your infrastructure in place so that you can encourage good practices. Photo: Abraham Barrera

b. Aim to get started

In muay thai, we’re taught to kick through our target instead of just stopping at the point of contact. The same can be said about preparing for your tasks.

When planning your next day out, you should aim to make tasks as easy as possible to start. So don’t just record your plan and think that your future self will pick up the slack.

My personal example would be tough work e-mails that I have to deal with. I could set a reminder and leave it at that. Or, I could list a few bullet points I wish to cover, thus removing the dread of starting from scratch.

I do this for cooking too. I’ll have the recipe book opened to the appropriate page, the equipment ready on the stove, and if I have the time, the ingredients set aside in the refrigerator.

Let me tell you that not having to hunt for that lone pepper makes all the difference in whether I start cooking or not. All these little things add up in the course of a day.

And this is also when you’ll learn that starting is the problem. Not the actual tasks themselves, which feel neutral once you get going.

In short: Don’t just populate your to-do list. Try to facilitate starting.

c. Use your imagination

Think about your upcoming day. Are there any potential snags in your plans? Do you need any special equipment for the day? Do you have enough gas for your commute?

Which parts of the day can you expect stress? And which parts make you happy? Are you scheduling too much stress into your life? Maybe you could stop trying to summon the devil?

You want to know what’s the best part of visualising? It’s that you get to be Tom Cruise in Edge Of Tomorrow. If you find yourself not liking a particular visualisation, you get to actually live it again and try to do better.

You also get to imagine how you want your ideal day to be. Maybe you want to wake up refreshed. That would lead you to earlier bedtimes. And proper sleep hygiene. And many other action plans that you wouldn’t have had, had you not tried visualisation.

In short: Visualise your day and get a chance to optimise it before it arrives.

A boy holding multi-coloured tetrahedrons, surrounded by more tetrahedrons

Your imagination can take you anywhere. Photo: J Balla Photography

d. Do a post-mortem

Just because you’re preparing for tomorrow doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look back. In fact, you should take the events of the day into account to help you make better decisions for the next.

Like Socrates said, an unexamined life is not worth living. I won’t go so far as to take that quote literally, but why not take the time to see if we’re making the most out of life?

So look back on your day and ask yourself if certain processes aren’t working out for you. Maybe exercising is taking too much time. And it’s a hassle to mop your sweat off the floor when you’re already crunched for time.

Perhaps you could try HIIT and shorten your training. And maybe you could do it outdoors to cut down on mopping.

Our habits make us, both good and bad, so let’s not fall into the grooves of life that don’t necessarily take us where we wish to go.

In short: Don’t just let your day pass. Think how you could’ve made it better.

You can start now (for tomorrow)

The good news is that you don’t need any fancy tools or specialised knowledge to start planning your day. You can very well do it now, even if it’s not nighttime.

Perhaps try both. Wing it for one day, and then prepare for the next. See if it makes a difference in your life. We all have very individual circumstances, after all.

But do give it a go because it’s worth a try. After all, wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln that said he’d spend four hours sharpening his axe for a six-hour job?


Another way you can plan for a better tomorrow is to sign up for the newsletter. You’ll also get a free guide on how to grow your WordPress audience, so do join in the fun!

66 thoughts on “Why You Should Plan Your Days The Night Before

  1. Okay, so I cracked up at the call back to the pentagram on the floor. Then I got to: “Prepare the bleach to clean out all that goat blood.” With the one-two punch of “Again, the simple things.” OMG, dying!

    Try to facilitate starting. That’s so true. Just getting started is often the hardest part. I’ve sneakily gotten my kid to finish her math homework by telling her to just get two problems done. Inevitably she keeps going after two.

    “Maybe you could stop trying to summon the devil?” Ah, the hits keep coming. :P

    You’re very wise, and I would do well to heed your wisdom. Right now, I’m just pleased I got one down! One down, two to go. And, yes, I know I read this one out of order.
    But it’s past time when I normally get ready for bed, so I shall plan my tomorrow whilst brushing my pearly off-whites. :)

    Thanks for all the laughs tonight, Stuart!

    Like

    • Whoa, didn’t expect you to stop by so soon, so I’m kinda unprepared for this awesome comment.

      “I’ve sneakily gotten my kid to finish her math homework by telling her to just get two problems done. Inevitably she keeps going after two.”

      Omg, that’s how I persuade myself to get things done too, lol. I tell myself that I’ll only paint a circle, then I end up painting the star inside it. Works every time!

      I hope I don’t turn this into a chore for you though. Now I feel bad for doing the ‘two fingers to eyes’ thing.

      But you know me. I’ll be watching…

      (and thanks for stopping by.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Then you end up painting the star inside—ah, ha ha. Never gets old. :P

        I mean, with stuff like that, I ought to be staying up late into the night and through the next day reading every post you’ve ever written!

        But I won’t. Because that would be insane.

        Then again…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to admit, there’s something to be said about planning.

    I find I’m much more productive when I give myself a list to work with. I have learned, however, to not make it a mile long. I aim for 3 big things in a day, because the little things sneak in and try to take over.

    And because it’s as if you knew my planner was on my desk…CLOSED…that you wrote this particular post. I will open it again and get back on track Stuart…I swear!

    Thanks for the kick in the butt I needed. ;)

    Like

    • I actually love the Big 3 method of planning. I’ve even experimented with The One Thing method.

      But because I’m such a worrywart and I’m afraid I’ll forget things, it’s much better for me to list down even the smallest things so that I can focus on the matter at hand.

      Always glad to be the butt kicker btw :P

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I plan my ‘work’ days at the office the night before or just before I bulldoze my way through my work day and I can say I’m efficient at work….in my personal life, I really don’t want to plan at all, which can work positively or negatively for me….some days in my personal space I just don’t want to plan what I want/need to do bcos it is ME time….so I eventually ‘waste’ the day doing nothing (favourite past time) or watching Netflix (favourite 2nd past time). I suppose that’s because me time is only on the week ends…..but I acknowledge that when I finally do have more time, planning is still a useful tool to manage what time we have….Good post and thanks for sharing 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, what a lovely comment! Thanks so much for sharing your process, and I always discuss this topic with my friends. If you enjoy watching Netflix, then is it really wasted time? Same applies to de-stressing by doing nothing. Or even playing video games. You even have good balance between relaxation and work too, so I’d say you have your routine down pretty nicely. Thanks again for taking the time to share, Jeanne!

      Like

  4. Thanks for sharing! I honestly need to get back into planning my day. I used to put out my workout clothes out in the morning and it became incredibly easy not thinking about it. It is so much easier having a routine where you don’t have to think about what you’re doing next. I get so anxious deciding over basic tasks sometimes, so this really helps. Going to bed earlier is something I want to get into as well. I’ll have to get back into it. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Like

    • I can totally relate to being frazzled deciding on basic tasks, which is why preparing the night before works great for me as well. It’s almost as if I’m making all the decisions the night before, so there’s no need to use my brain the next day. Even deciding to do the groceries ad-hoc can feel like an impossible task sometimes. Thank you for stopping by!

      Like

  5. The part about being more clear-headed in the mornings is, for me, debatable, but I agree 100% on everything else. I don’t actually LIKE getting ready for the next day the night before – you’re home from work and you gotta feed the pets and put work stuff away and think about dinner and clean-up and deal with the mail… and now I gotta start prepping for tomorrow?!? I just want to sit down and relax already! – but I do think it makes the next day much less frenetic and much more pleasant. Definitely a good habit to have.

    Like

    • Yeah, the moment after coming back from work isn’t fun at all, is it? I used to schedule my writing during that block, and it’s no wonder I couldn’t get anything done.

      But my prepping happens right before bed though, when that frazzled feeling has dissipated somewhat. I do it in my journal, so it doesn’t really feel like planning either. Gotta make things seem like ‘hacks’ wherever I can :P

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reading this, I felt like you were in mind. I always plan for the next day, the next week, the next month, everything set out! Some people call me a workaholic, but I find it uneasy not to have a plan for the next day or not planning ahead. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

    Like

    • Whoa, I have to say then that you’re way more organised than me. I rarely see beyond tomorrow, lol. But it’s still a privilege to plan for it instead of waiting for it to come. Somehow, going on the offence nets me better results for my day than just winging it. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

      Like

  7. I love how your self help posts have unique twists that makes them fun to read, but I have to say, the visualizing technique is hard. I tried it a couple of times before but never strong enough to break through some tough habits 😆

    Like

  8. Damn Stuart you definitely took your time writing this blog I admire it and also I love the “In short” phrases there they sum up everything you have said in each bullet paragraph.

    Yes it is key to visualize your day and plan for it before it arrives. Though I normally don’t wake up at night but when I do my facilitation will be: Clean the house, eat, watch TV, listen to music and then write (music boosts my fashion posts lately)

    Great blog and nice work here pinp

    Like

    • Lol yeah. I always get appreciation for any ‘TL;DR’ type of summary, so I thought I’d use more of it. Glad you like it!

      Cleaning the house is always a worthy task to add to the list. My surroundings heavily affect my mind, I’ve found. Anyway, thanks for dropping by!

      Like

  9. Now that you point it out, I’ve been productive on days when I’ve planned it all out even if I don’t always stick to it till the end.
    Also, reflecting on the day is something I’ve been missing out for so many days!
    This is a great reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There are certain types of minds that are more adept at this type of logical, methodical planning. You offer some great examples of the benefits of pre-planning one’s days, along with the how-to. Even if the more spontaneous, less organized reader were to implement one strategy, they might find satisfaction. I review my agenda for the next day, and To Do list. I also write down any worries since I’m prone to insomnia. Just this along can help one sleep better. Reviewing one’s day (not while falling asleep!) is also a wonderful practice that helps grows wisdom and intentionality.

    Like

  11. Yes, I agree with planning. But I actually over plan. I guess I am overly optimistic and not always realistic about the tasks I can do for the day. So, many times I don’t complete my list and have to move it to the next day or even the day after that. I was told to just plan 3 things each day. Depending on what they are, it does actually work.

    But I do agree with you about planning at night. My mind is clear and I think that is because I am no longer in work mode. I can mentally relax.

    Empish

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s just an extra magic to the night before, isn’t there? Maybe it’s because we don’t feel the pressure to ‘get started’ right away, and we have the luxury of time to think our day through.

      I actually feel like having tasks to carry over is a good thing. Because if I have free time, I could knock a few to-dos off the list, but if I don’t have an agenda anymore, I’m in danger of simply wasting all my free time.

      Anyway, thanks for your lovely share!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is a good point about carrying over tasks. I didn’t think of it that way. I was always looking at it from the view I didn’t complete my goals. Thanks for your perspective.

        Like

  12. What an amazing post! I know very well the benefits of planning my days the night before yet somehow always end up being a bit lazy about it, especially during workdays (the struggles of a 9-5 I guess…)! But you are completely right: when I know exactly what I’m gonna do because I have planned it that way, I don’t ask myself too many questions and don’t “check in with myself” if I really want to do that thing (answer is usually no), and I just do it, no questions asked! It takes off entirely all the struggle of starting – which is another tough one! Well, that motivated me to plan tomorrow – I’ll just go draw my pentagram on the floor :P

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, you really should draw your pentagram the night before, because it’s during nighttime that it’s most effective :P

      And I really do appreciate not having to make decisions. It really does take a load off my mind, especially when it comes to tasks that I should do. No hemming and hawing.

      But of course, I share your tendencies to skip planning some days, and I see a huge difference in how I approach said day.

      Thanks so much for sharing a slice of your life! I enjoyed your comment :)

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Yes, this all really does work! Having everything at hands make it that much easier to get started on a project, or having things laid out for when you need to get ready to go to work or wherever in the morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah. Especially for people like me who’ll always choose the path of least resistance, having everything laid out is key to getting started. Or else my tasks will forever go undone. As always, thanks for stopping by, Hetty!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah. I feel it with cooking alone! If I don’t plan out the meals for the day, I’ll just go round and round wondering what groceries to buy and how to cook them. We function better once we start automating the everyday decisions, amirite? Thanks for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Your post…this one, I was really looking forward to reading today.

    It actually triggered one thing…a scene from a movie where a quote popped up.
    I don’t remember the exact quote and all…but I remember,
    that it was telling me,
    that a person looks after tomorrow…is a positive person.

    Based on that, if I were to reflect, it would be those days…
    …where I had no idea what to do the next day and I felt bored. I did have some ideas…but it was the same thing repeating and nothing new.

    If there was something that I really want to do the next day, then I would be positive about it…or be positive.
    It isn’t easy much for me because I don’t have much exciting thing to do.

    “My infrastructure revolves around my everyday tasks. Eating, writing, exercising. Those are my top priorities for a good life, so I prep my meals, plan a workout, and have my writing outline ready to go, all before I need them.”
    That above…is a really good example for me.
    I mean…just a few things to focus on (priorities) rather than many things.

    I don’t know exactly, but I think it has been almost a month…that I was a bit of a blank.
    The feeling is like…lacking something inspiring, exciting, and stimulating.
    I could get it from the media…but I kinda want real life engagement rather than from music and videos and stuff like that.

    Like

    • What you’ve mentioned is pretty normal, I think. Us humans are hardwired to feel desire for purpose, even if that purpose is to get out of bed, groom ourselves, and keep the house in order.

      I feel the same as you when I don’t have plans (or when I have holidays and leave the days unplanned). Which is why I feel it’s worth having some type of ‘work’ in my day so that I don’t feel too listless.

      Despite popular belief, I think that if I were to get the typical dream life (eating grapes and sipping wine on a beach), I’d go crazy real quick, exactly because of what you mentioned—that I need something inspiring and stimulating.

      Lovely share from you. Thanks for taking the time!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. The fastest way to achieve more is ignoring the bulk of the to-do list.

    Unfortunately, most stay mired in the muck of the long list. Prepping the night before won’t solve that problem unless you’re willing to cut out all but the most essential.

    Basically, apply the 80/20 rule twice. Find the 20% that appears important. Then find the 20% of that list. Out of 100 action items, that nets a short list of 4 tasks. Next day, rinse and repeat.

    Like

    • Oh yeah. If we truly cull our to-dos, we’ll find that very little in our life is truly essential. Which is why I’m grateful for my journalling practice too, since I get to look in retrospect and determine if how I’d spent my day has left me satisfied.

      Still, there are people who thrive off deadlines and long lists, so if it works, it works, eh? Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. These are great tips, Stuart. I agree that pre-made decisions work best. I exercise every morning. I don’t ask myself if I feel like or want to, it’s just what I do in the mornings. Like going to sleep at night and eating lunch…

    Like

    • That’s so cool how you phrased it—that exercise is just something you do. I think that it’s become an identity for me too. I don’t question it. I just do. But before that happened, I had to constantly lay out everything for myself though. Now I see myself as an active person, and like you, it’s something that has to be done, like brushing my teeth, or eating. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment!

      Like

    • Yep! It’s like mental rehearsing, isn’t it? I’m not the most perfect person when it comes to consistency, but I do feel much more clearheaded when I do the planning the night before. Anyway, thank you for stopping by!

      Like

  17. I’m impressed with your level of self-discipline and efficiency of time. I’ve never heard of anyone having their cookbook open to the correct page in advance.

    I’m with you for always making time for the most crucial things in our lives. That’s not exactly rocket science, but I used to spend too much time on things that ultimately weren’t that important to me. That meant I might not devote enough time to those very things that were the most crucial to me.

    Like

    • I still do that a lot, the spending too much time on useless things bit. If you only knew the hours of my day spent on testing inks and cleaning my fountain pens, you’d probably balk at the screen. And for what? Just so that I can journal in my favourite colour? Lol.

      But yeah, that’s where planning comes in. It helps separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

      Actually, that cookbook thing isn’t super important. But I do love to prep everything before I cook. All ingredients chopped and ready to go, arranged in their cooking order, along with oil, water, and rag cloth at the ready.

      Wow I really rambled on this time. Thanks for igniting the fire, Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I love this idea. I’ve been making a to-do list in the evenings and prepping everything the night before this autumn simply because my teaching schedule and the kids’ morning drop-offs have been so hectic. It’s made things much smoother (though of course still moderately chaotic). I didn’t do that in the summer, and I definitely let many of my goals fall through the cracks as a result.

    Like

    • It’s almost like a letter to your future self when you read your list and get on with what you have to do. Coming up with a plan and executing it at the same time doesn’t quite have the same feel, and it wastes the day’s decision-making energy, I feel. Loved that you shared the real-world application in your life. Thanks for this!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. All this is good sound advice Stuart!!~! ❣️

    Well it was until setting the clocks back came along and now I’m up at 3 a.m. fall back to sleep at 4:30- 6 and I’m still scrambling along or I have and emergency that takes over the day.

    How many people does it take to find a fire? I had 3 plumbers, 2 electricians and one contractor here today and the smoke alarm went on and I smelled smoke so I went in to find out what was going on.. they couldn’t figure it out.. sure enough it was our dryer going up in smoke and it was mmmwuah who found it.. really?!!!!!!

    Now I’m scrambling to get a workout in before my 4:30 client.

    Yikes.. I’d much rather sit and b.s. with you.. 🤣

    Great post!

    💗

    Like

    • Having to scramble a workout in is a mood indeed. I’m always bad at doing that, especially in the morning, because I’ll always pick the comfort of chilling, lol. Which is what I’m doing now. So I guess I much prefer b.s.ing with you too :P

      Thankfully you found the fire, but 3 a.m. is quite early to have the dryer on, eh?

      Great to have you here as usual, Cindy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s always good when it’s done tho like now and I can come right back to you!!! LOL😂
        As long as we get it done right?!!!

        Nah.. i was writing at 3:00 a.m. and the near fire was in the afternoon.. good god.

        Always my pleasure to hear your pearls Stuart… Thanks🙏🏼❣️

        Like

    • I love what you said about ‘a problem shared is half solved’. I have been thinking about the exact thing myself, about how simply discussing something makes you more objective to your problems. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

      Like

  20. As someone who always plans ahead, I completely support this advice. Also, people who do argue decision fatigue is not a thing, maybe they should play chess for three hours, and then see how well they can take decisions? After all, decision making is part of chess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe some people have a higher capacity for decisions than others, and maybe I’m on the lower end of the spectrum, but I never could keep up with the life some people seem to lead, especially if they do everything at the last moment. Don’t the GMs burn thousands of calories just playing chess? Our brain is a resource hog for sure. Thanks as always for stopping by, Tanish!

      Like

  21. Thanks Stuart. I’ve been trying to work with a plan written in the morning but I like the depth of what you’re proposing. I’ll try creating my plan the night before, but I think I need to explore the foundational prepping too. As you said, getting started is key

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thing I should add is that I do have days when I don’t have plans. But since I’d planned so many times before, I roughly know what to do, even in a pinch.

      But when I do have the luxury of planning the night before, everything just gets done so much quicker. Maybe it’s the mental rehearsing that results from it?

      Anyway, I hope to hear your thoughts on planning the night before versus the morning on!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I agree. My husband clipped out an article from the newspaper about getting ahead of the curve, by starting with a plan for the next day. He taped it to the refrigerator as a reminder.

    Like

  23. Some excellent tips here, Stuart. I agree, having a plan helps to be more productive. On the days when I fly by the seat of my pants, I find myself trying to add to the 101 ways to procrastinate list. If I have a plan for the day, everything seems easier and there is great pleasure in ticking completed things off a list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah. I think the word I’d use here is ‘purpose’. For some reason, having a roadmap helps focus my mind. Not having one means that I’d fill my free time with activities that ‘feel best’, like browse social media.

      I mean, I still procrastinate with a roadmap, but at least I know what I should be doing instead of flicking through Instagram :P

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Haha! I had to laugh at the part where you wrote: “…leave the broom or mop within reach. Fill the pail the night before. Prepare the bleach to clean out all that goat blood…” I’m missing one of you here in my messy abode (but err hum, I can do without the goat’s blood). Again nuggets of wise and timely reminders all round. Thanks man! Keep ’em coming!!

    Liked by 2 people

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s