Updated on 09.03.10

Some Thoughts on a “Daily Action Pack”

Trent Hamm

Last weekend, I wrote a review of 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More. In that book, the author, Stever Robbins, suggested something he called a “daily action pack.” Here’s my mention of it from the review:

For every short-term and medium-term project you have going on (everything less than a few months down the road), perform an action related to that project every single day without fail. He calls it an “action pack” – I call it a pretty good idea. Just keep a list of your projects with you and each day, come up with an action you can take that moves you along for that project. Write a page of that paper. Clean out that closet. File those papers. Whatever little step it is, take one of them every day.

I tried incorporating this idea into my work and personal routine this week and I have to say – it’s pretty awesome.

How does it work? Basically, you just take every project you have and break it down into bits that can be done each day. Take the daily bit from each project, lump them together, and make that lump of project bits a required part of your daily routine. Robbins calls it the “daily action pack.”

My example I’ll show you a simplified version of how I’ve been using it so perhaps you can see the power of it. (If I wrote down everything, this post would go on and on until you were bored to tears.)

Project #1 is my upcoming third book, which I’m considering self-publishing. The book has fifty short chapters to it (at least in the draft I have right now). My plan for that project is to spend a day gathering notes for each chapter, a day writing each chapter, a gap, a day revising each chapter, and a day collecting images for each chapter. That’s a 200 day plan. The chapters are somewhat weaved together, so I just wrote out a full schedule for 200 days of work on the book.

Each day, I’m tackling one of thoes 200 days on the plan as part of the “action pack.” Some days, I’ll tackle a second one if I’m really in the flow.

Project #2 involves housecleaning. We have a lot of stored stuff in several closets in our home, as well as a pile of other things that need to be done. I’m shooting to finish all of this by the second weekend of October, because we’re expecting a bunch of guests for a very long weekend.

What I did is sit down and write out a schedule for what needs to be done in terms of cleaning each day between now and then. Each day, I take that day’s bit and do it as part of the “action pack.”

Project #3 is all about piano playing. My focus is simply on spending 30 minutes practicing each day, preferably in two 15 minute batches.

So, each day, I have two more things in my “action pack” – two 15 minute piano practices.

So, my action pack for today looks like this:
1. Draft chapter 2 in my next book.
2. Pull everything out of the office closet and figure out what things to get rid of.
3. Practice “Fur Elise” for fifteen minutes.
4. Practice “Canon in D” for fifteen minutes.

I obviously have more elements than this in my real action plan. It currently includes 16 elements and will take me about two and a half hours to get through all of it.

Why? To put it simply, it’s helping me to make consistent progress on a lot of projects. My life – like yours probably is – is so chock-full of stuff that needs to get done and that I want to get done that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially by big challenges.

Adopting this “break it down into daily bits” philosophy is really empowering because it enables me to constantly feel the success of moving forward on the big projects in my life. When I kick back at night, I can look back on my day and note all of the big things in my life that I moved forward on – and that feels really good. Then, later, when I actually see success and completion of these things, I get another big rush.

Give it a shot. Start small, with a few projects, and commit to your own daily action pack.

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  1. Dianne says:

    This is good. Thanks for sharing. I feel like I’m going in several directions right now and need a way to feel like I’m making progress. This is doable. Thanks!

    P.S. I like your comment guidelines!

  2. Cathleen says:

    This will work for some people and not for others, like me :)
    I enjoy getting into a zone and working for a longer period of time in a more focused way but I can see how this would work for certain tasky items of larger projects. Still, it goes against my natural enjoyable way of working.

    I will say that for mundane, routine tasks, like housecleaning, I do break it into 15 minutes tasks so it doesn’t feel like drudgery.

    For things I turkey enjoy in like ton devote whole afternoons to immerse myself in the work. YMMV

  3. Cathleen says:

    Sorry about last post, should say ” for things I truly enjoy”
    Word substitution without proofing :)

  4. All that organizing is daunting to some. But like all advice we have to adapt it to our own life. Everybodys situation is different. Organizing your to do list and writing it down is so important. I cant get anything done without a list. I never thought of the long term list as you describe. Very interesting.

  5. Kelli says:

    Do you feel this technique works well with your own use of GTD, or can you say more about that?

  6. Sandy L says:

    In my line of work (sales), there is a lot of incoming work that is reactive in nature and must be responded to immediately. I struggle in 2 areas. First, is how to be pro-active when you’re day is being interrupted constantly. For example, sometimes I just have to shut my phone off for an hour.

    The second is how to switch into proactive mode when you’re just used to dealing with the incoming tasks and not having to think about how to fill the day.

    I would love articles on these topics.

  7. I think this is a superb idea. While reading your post itself I am remembering all the projects that I haven’t looked at for quite some time. I am going to d this for all my projects.

  8. Kate says:

    Sandy L: I also have your type of situation in my job–part of the problem is not having the luxury of being able to plan because of having to switch gears so frequently.
    I have started using sticky notes so that I can quickly remind myself about things that need to be done when I have some time. Small tasks get one sticky (phone calls/emails, etc.) and larger projects are broken down into tasks on separate stickies. I link those together so that I can pull them off as I accomplish them. Whenever I finish something I move it to the accomplished pile, which also gives me a record of things that I have done. I don’t know about you but I used to get to the end of the day and feel like I really hadn’t done much of anything.
    It is working for me so far. Whenever I get the thought of “I need to do this” it goes on a sticky and goes up on the cabinet in my office. I often spend a few minutes at the end of the day emptying my mind onto stickies which works better for me than doing it at the beginning of the day.
    Part of this idea came from reading Getting Things Done (although I am not done reading it yet :o). The time I spend writing on stickies is minor compared to the time I used to spend thinking about all I needed to do (and the energy it took to keep it all in my head).

  9. deRuiter says:

    ‘……. figure out what to get rid of.’ is bad grammar because it ends sentence with preposition. ‘……somewhat weaved together’ should be ‘woven’. Is someone going to edit the new book for grammatical errors, etc? With all the practice, it’s time to get better at writing. You were clever and lucky to find a topic of interest for a blog when the economy co operated by collapsing, but quality writing is better than sloppy work.

  10. marta says:

    @deRuiter: ending a sentence with a preposition isn’t wrong or the grammar no-no some people say it is. The example you quoted actually sounds fine.

    I take issue with sentences that sound awkward, such as “…where you are at.”, which I have known Trent to use. “At” is completely unnecessary here.

  11. The operative word in this piece, to me, is action. Whenever I find myself complaining about how much I have to do in “life”, I try to stop the complaining and start the “doing”.

  12. Holly says:

    I like this idea, since seeing the words written and the progress made each day is similar to killing the debt monster…a little (or a lot) at a time.

  13. Christina Crowe ( @CashCampfire ) says:

    This is a wonderful idea! I’ve been meaning to get a fiction novel published, but haven’t worked on it at all recently because I just have so much work on my plate right now.

    If I’m able to do a page a day, I’ll at least be making progress and I might be able to finish the book in 6 months or less! Definitely better than just letting the unfinished novel sit.

    Thanks for the awesome idea! I’ll start my daily novel writing tomorrow.

  14. Gianna says:

    I love this idea. My husband and I are trying to start a blogging “business” to help with finances around the house and I told him that 3 days a week, I need an hour to read blogs and comment, 2 hours dedicated to just writing, and 30 to 45 minutes for blog maintenane and email correspondance. I love this idea. Oh, have I already said this?

  15. Cathleen: The goal of the daily action pack isn’t to split things into tiny chunks or limit the time you spend on them; it’s to identify some amount of progress you can make daily on your most important tasks. You quantify each element either by the amount of time you’ll spend or the milestone you’ll strive for. If you executive the DAP every day, you’ll eventually make sufficient progress on your tasks.

    Your DAP might include “spend at least 2 focused hours writing my book” or “complete a chapter of my book” or “write 800 words of my book.”

    If you make consistent progress on everything that’s important to you, then a DAP would be redundant for you. The technique is intended as a structure to keep you moving forward on your top priorities so nothing gets left behind.

  16. KimC says:

    I knew this. Why did I need to hear it from a stranger before I decided to implement it? Ah, the wonders of the internet.
    Doing it now…thanks…

  17. Terri says:

    I am studying for my A+Certification computer exam in December while still in School. I will start this as a project: Study and Review A+ Test starting from beginning of my studies. I think I can do one hour per day most days and at the least 1/2 hour.

  18. cj9639 says:

    I read this yesterday and used it last night when I got home. Then at dinner I told family and friends about creating an “Action Pack”. I am not overly organized and I am a procrastinator.I created a “pack” of 5 things to do daily and it took me less than an hour to do them. An example is a load of unilock bricks that need to be moved from the side of the house to the back. All I could see was 4 hours of moving them at one time. I have been putting it off for ages. Part of my “pack” is to move 4 mini lots a day. First night I moved 8. I can’t believe how accomplished I felt. Thanks.

  19. cj9639 says:

    Another “pack” item is to post comments on the sites that I read. I just finished reading the other comments and I am curious as to why people commented on the grammer etc.. Is it to prove that you are smart or that you are petty? O.k. you are.

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