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The Productivity Hack I Can't Live Without: My Master Planner

Derek Flanzraich, CEO and founder of Greatist, is obsessed with his master planner. It’s basically the love child of a to-do list and a daily journal. Here, he explains how to make your own.

Around a year ago, the great Kenny Herman from Single Platform shared a template for his “Working Agenda” with me after a brief chat in which I basically begged him to send me a version. So he did. Since then, my version of his Working Agenda has evolved, hack-by-hack, piece-by-piece and need-by-need into the Master Planner — and though I’ve shared it internally at Greatist, my health and fitness media startup, I’ve now committed to sharing it with the world.

Here’s how to make your own:

1. Create a Google Doc right now and call it “The [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] Master Planner”. An epic document deserves an epic title.

2. Set it up with the following parts: (1) today’s date. Then (2) today’s schedule followed by all your (3) to-dos, (4) ideas/thoughts and then (5) an archive (under “Done”) of every day that’s passed below it. Its structure is simple, I know, but it’s built to capture everything. See screenshot below.

3. Tonight (I typically do this as the last thing before I close the computer), enter in your entire schedule for tomorrow. Here, for example, was my schedule for Monday of last week (most details redacted in blue).

4. After that, move up the top to-dos you plan to accomplish tomorrow and what time you’re planning to do them (I’ve put them next to asterisks in the example above). I usually keep this to 2-3 major ones. This also gives you a chance to confirm anything that needs to get confirmed, plan out directions of how you’re going to get to things. Don’t look now but hey, your day is set!

5. Tomorrow, take notes after every meeting and write down everything you’ve done. I take a pretty absurd amount of meticulous notes. I try to include everything anyone mentioned, their story, the people they talk about, the promises they make. I try to write down anything major I get done, especially any kind of admin-related task (reimbursement, purchase, duty completed) or big project.

It seems intense, but it’s a really powerful way to (a) remember what you’ve done, (b) review the people and things you discussed, (c) collect to-dos and follow-ups. I might take lots of notes, but you can obviously feel free to add as much or as little detail as you feel necessary. This is your master planner after all.

Once the day is done (and usually when I’m planning the next day), move the whole day under the “Done” section. Example below (again with most notes redacted).

An important thing to note is the brackets with highlighted action items. I put these in after everything and then, once a week, have a repeating time in my calendar to follow-up on all of them. This has been a crucial hack — if there are action steps to take after a meeting or task, they go in here, and I know where to find them and follow up on them. It’s important to actually go through these — but because they’re in brackets and highlighted yellow, they’re easy to see! Once I’ve competed them, I typically delete the bracketed info until I can scroll down through the “Done” section and see no yellow.

Aside: Marc Andreesen does a similar thing with what he calls his “Anti-Todo List,” but to disagree with the great Marc Andreesen (probably a terrible mistake), to me an “Anti-Todo List” sounds like the list of things I’ve decided not to do instead of the things I’ve actually completed. The purpose and effect of keeping a Master Planner is basically the same (sense of accomplishment, efficiency and confidence), just the framing seems off.

6. Finally, I keep my Master Planner open all day, sitting in a reduced-size window to the right of my main browser screen, sort of like a sidebar. I constantly refer to it and update it — it’s kind of like my best friend! (Kidding.) (It is my best friend.)

And that’s more or less it. Mine has evolved over time, and yours will, too. But promise it’s worth a try. I’ve had mine now over a year. And it’s sort of crazy, but I refer to it constantly. Have a meeting with someone? No problem: I can look up every single time we’ve met before and what we talked about. Trying to figure out what the heck that thing is on our bank statement? No problem: I can find the exact purchase. Need to take a nostalgic trip back to what you were thinking last year? No problem: I can make that happen.

My Master Planner has basically become the Google search for my life. Reviewing everything makes me less forgetful and sharper. Having everything easily accessible makes me less disorganised and more efficient. If only it cooked dinner for me, too.

Have a similar solution? Built one of your own? Tell us in the comments.

The Hacked-Together Productivity Tool I Can’t Live Without: My Master Planner [The Derek]

Derek Flanzraich is founder and CEO of Greatist, a health and wellness media startup on a mission to make better choices easier for everyone. He’s passionate about both building things that make a profound difference in communities and the importance of fitness, health, and happiness in just about everything. For more, follow him on Twitter or check out his Linkedin profile.