Testing Productivity Planners, Part II #HPXLIFE vs #phdlive

As you have already learned in Astrid’s recent post, we have been testing Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Planner. I had initiated this experiment in a particularly nasty stretch of Corona lockdown demotivation back in May. I have now been using my first planner ever since (it’s for two months but undated, so I started at the end of May and it lasted me until last Thursday because I had missed a few days in between here and there).

 

Prepare to invest at least 30 minutes/7 days a week if you want to do it properly

Like Astrid said in her review, the journaling prompts and questions are rather extensive and you get a planner page for every day of the week – but I don’t want (or need) to spend 20-30min planning my day on my off-days on weekends. Quite on the contrary, I need to force myself to actually give myself a break on weekends and a planner which seems to expect you to be super productive every single day doesn’t really help with that anxiety of not doing enough.

Somewhat repetitive, time-consuming daily practice

The questions and writing prompts are really good. I feel they actually make me more motivated on some days because they make you write down your fears. They are backed by Burchard’s system for high performance which was created in a 20 year effort. However, I still found they got a bit old. Many of them would have been enough every 3 days for me because you keep answering the same questions over and over again. If you’re a manager, maybe your worries and stressors change every day. But for me, it’s always my dissertation. Writing it down every day, I suspected at some point that this might actually make me dread it more than I already do by pathologizing it somehow.

 

No goal planning, no weeky master to do list and other cons

Another negative point is the fact that you get the monthly overview as a preview after completing the first month. Weekly reviews are also always afterwards, so not really usable for goal planning (which you should do before you start the week, right?). You only evaluate what you did well.

There also is no room to have a weekly master todo list. Which I have found really works better for me or otherwise I feel like I have to write down a way-too-long list of todos every single day. This is not only frustrating because you won’t get all those todos done in a day anyway but also end up having to copy them to the next and next and next day’s to do lists anyway. It’s also a waste of time and makes me feel bad about myself.

So these are the big cons of the planner. I would like a goal-setting session at the start of the week and then a review on how well I did at the end. The monthly preview should be at the start of the first month rather than at the end. The overall process is too time-consuming.

Scoring yourself on the “high performance habits”

You’re prompted to rate yourself on Burchard’s “high performance habits” every day and then in more detail at the end of each week and month. While I find this very reasonable overall, I have noticed that there is a little too much scoring myself just for my personal tastes and also, I have noticed that my ratings depend more on my mood at the time of filling it out rather than the actual realistic situation.

Either way, I don’t feel that tracking the “high performance habits” has done all that much to me. Overall, I like Burchard’s book about them. But in the planner I just felt it lead to me beating myself up when I didn’t do well. On days where I did well, I didn’t need to fill out the habits because things were already going well, so I don’t see the added benefit of rating myself according to those habtis. However,  since I really think the planner was made more with a CEO in mind, maybe that’s why it’s too charged for me.

Best takeaway: Journaling about my worries for two months made me realize just how much my stress is self-created

One really good things about having journaled on my moods and worries for 2 months (almost) every day was the overview perspective it gave me. Turns out that none of my big worries from two months ago matter now. Not even in the slightest. I can’t even understand anymore why those things would have ever worried me. They were all fear of failure with regard to not managing to complete some tasks.

All those tasks now ended up in my list of achievements because I finished them all. It wasn’t even a problem or particularly difficult. Of course, things worth having require effort. But that was about it – no scary things involved, really. The only thing making those tasks particularly painful was my own stressing about them… Like Burchard says, “stress is self-created”. This is my big takeaway from the journaling. So I can really recommend you use a planner for two months to journal about your worries every single day and then note if any of them happened – just as a self-experiment.

 

The planner isn’t exactly essentialist

The planner really helped me out of corona demotivation but on a day to day basis, I think it’s too time-consuming. There are two whole columns for your daily schedule which, first of all, I don’t need (I am not a manager with that many appointments) and also, having this much space gives you the illusion that you have many more productive hours than I personally actually have.

 

Bullet journals, customizability and my own LaTeX template

As a weekend treat, I took some time to create my own planner template in LaTeX. Having spent a few hours researching bullet journals (Astrid’s go-to planning style), I concluded that what most people like about them is the customizability (which I also have with a custom LaTeX template) and the fact that creating the pages yourself is very meditative.

However, I have already found the High Performance Planner with all the prompts quite overwhelming. While I found the practice calming, I also felt it was taking away energy that I currently need in other places (i.e. dissertation writing), so I figured a bullet journal – which would be even more work – would not be for me. Knowing that I have to create all these nice looking pages would freak me out rather than calm me down because it’s just another duty.

If bullet jounals work for you and you like the process, go for it. But if you’re like me, dare to admit that it’s just not for you. Only because it works for other people (or they claim it works for them) doesn’t mean you’re a failure if it just doesn’t work for you.

 

My custom solution

If people are interested, I might clean up my LaTeX template and put it on Overleaf so you guys can make it your own.

I’ve included habit tracking devices and some pre-set timeboxes for routines I want to do daily (such as a warmup & winddown routines for work; where warmup is for deliberate practice & learning; and winddown is where admin tasks & email go).

In between those routines, I have inserted only two 2h timeblocks for my tasks of the day. This is to remind me that I can do maximum two distinct bigger timeboxes in a day and those are where my main energy should go. All distractions are now meant to be banned to the winddown routine (which I hope very much will work).

I have also included little graphics to help my track my mood and energy (in the morning and in the evening). So I can check if mood swings and being tired correlate with anything in particular, such as particular tasks or not having exercised that day, etc.

I’ll keep you up to speed about this little planner project 😉

Until then,

best,

S


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