How I Prioritize, Plan, and Pivot my Day — Or Why My To-Do List Looks Like This

One of my primary productivity tools is David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner (ETP.) It allows me to prioritize, plan, and pivot my day.

(This method applies equally well to any to-do list — it can be written on something pre-made like ETP or to scrap paper towels — it doesn’t matter.)

This is how I use the ETP (which is only slightly different than the creator intended, so David Seah deserves much credit for my workflow):

1.) I date the top-right.

2.) Moving down, I list the three most important tasks for the day, usually related to my three current long term goals.

For me, the first task is usually “Journal” since it’s my foundational habit followed by “Write X” (because that’s what I am), followed by either running or yoga (because if I don’t make exercise one of my day’s Big 3, I won’t do it.)

Of course, your Big 3 will probably be different.

3.) On the left column, I write out my schedule for the day, using 30 minute increments if my “productive day” is shorter, 1 hour increments if its longer. Before filling in tasks, I write-in things I MUST do at specific times (e.g., drive to work or put daughter to bed.)

4.) Next, I schedule the Big 3 tasks in between those Must Dos. As the day wanes, the short term world rears itself, so if it’s feasible, I try to schedule those tasks for early in the day.

5.) Now I know what gaps remain in my day. With this knowledge in hand, I choose the other four tasks.

6.) And then I schedule those four tasks.

7.) I repeat this process for tasks 8 and upward if need be, but I try to keep things at 7. Longer lists summon the Resistance.

8.) Then I start getting things done.

9.) Then everything goes to hell.

Well, not really, but rare is the day in which I perform my 7+ tasks as scheduled.

Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
— Dwight Eisenhower

Because, as we all know, life rarely unfolds as we envision it. Stuff happens. Curveballs are thrown. You get tired or your focus is thwarted by loud roommates or a friend unexpectedly drops by. Possible interruptions are too numerous to list here.

To get ’em all done, we must be nimble.

Examples of nimbleness:

  • I planned on doing Task X but my car died so I did Task Y instead.
  • Task 1 took much longer than I thought it would, forcing me to lower my ambitions for Task 2.

And then sometimes I just plain don’t feel like doing something at its scheduled time. I feel Resistance or a task is frustrating me or I realize I don’t have enough information to get started. I swap things around, I switch things up. I do what I need to do.

Whatever the reasons, towards the end of the day, my once-pretty task list often looks something like this:

But that’s OK. The most important thing, after all, is to get stuff done, not to live our days exactly as planned.

It’s important to plan your day and it’s equally important to plan your pivot.

To see how the Emergent Task Planner sticky pad meshes with the other components of my workflow, visit and To see the works that influenced the above method, check out this list.