Focus On This Podcast

52. Expert Tips for Maximizing the Full Focus Planner



The beauty of the Full Focus Planner is that it gathers all of your planning essentials into one package. Like a fine wine or an intriguing novel, the planner has many aspects that some may not appreciate at first glance. You may even wonder what some of the elements are for.

Here’s help. We’ve assembled the best tips, hacks, and customizations used by our team here at Michael Hyatt & Co. Our staff members are past masters in the Full Focus System, and they can show you how to get full value from your planner.

Try these tips, and you’ll go from scratching the surface to plumbing the depths of planner use. You’ll gain insight, efficiency, and a high level of personalization, making the Full Focus Planner an even more valuable tool in your work and personal life.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How to track daily wins in your Full Focus Planner.
  • Practical tips on using timers and short sprints to get important work done.
  • The value of accountability and how you can use it to increase productivity.
  • Which portion of the planner you should use if you don’t use anything else.
  • How annual goals and weekly objectives flow into your daily tasks.

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays, with your hosts Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton.

Blake: Except there is no Courtney Baker, is there? She is gone. Hello, everyone. My name is Blake. Thank you, Verbs from the future, for introducing me so eloquently. Ladies and gentlemen, back by popular demand. I’ve missed you. It’s good to be in your ears once again. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Were you gone?” Yes, I was. I’ve missed the last couple of episodes.

I’m not totally alone today, which is good. I don’t know what it means, actually. I don’t know if I should read into this, but I wasn’t here previously, and now Courtney and Verbs are both gone. So, I’m connecting the dots a little bit, but I’m not totally alone. I’m here with our producer Nick, thank goodness. You don’t have to just listen to me all episode long. Nick, how are you?

Nick: I am good. That was very astute that you figured out that they were here, and now they are gone. I want to be clear. They’re coming back. I want everyone to know that they’re not gone forever. Just a lot of things happening at Michael Hyatt & Company. I thought that where you were headed is that you were going to accuse me of something.

Blake: Oh. Right. Like it was something underhanded.

Nick: Yeah. I was like, “Okay. You guys come here first, and then…” You probably haven’t even heard from them in days. You don’t know what’s going on.

Blake: Nick, before we get into this episode, I want to ask you a really important question. This is right in line, I think, with the heart of this podcast. What is your favorite kind of pizza?

Nick: If I had to choose a topping, it’s usually some sort of, like, bacon, pepperoni situation.

Blake: Okay. So, bacon, pepperoni, all good. You know what kind of topping I like? I also like bacon and pepperoni. As we round out summertime, I like a little ham, and I like a little pineapple.

Nick: So, basically, what you’re telling me is that you’re looking to start fights with our listeners. You’re looking for viral… It’s going to be like. “Cancel Blake. No to pineapple on pizza.” I get it.

Blake: No, Nick, that was a callback to when Courtney and Verbs…

Nick: Oh, that’s right. I already forgot.

Blake: …were on this episode, and they thought I wouldn’t listen to them. They thought out of sight, out of mind. Well, no. There is no bigger fan of Focus on This than me. So, yes.

Nick: I’m cramping up. I actually was thinking about it when we started the episode, and then you so eloquently, so efficiently lulled me into it that I didn’t even notice it.

Blake: You had no idea it was coming.

Nick: Now you have to do the same thing. You should explain it.

Blake: Okay. For those of you who weren’t listening… This is, believe it or not, a podcast about focus, and we will get there, I promise, but this is too important to pass up. Last episode, I was not here. My cohosts, Verbs and Courtney, threw down the gauntlet, thinking I wouldn’t listen, and said, “You know what? We should play a game. Let’s just see if Blake is listening. If he says, ‘Pineapple,’ then we know that he listened.” Guess what. I caught it. So, now it’s time for me to up the ante.

Verbs and Courtney, if you’re listening to this right now, get ready, because this episode is going to rock. We’re going to share tips from our staff from the brains of Michael Hyatt & Company on the Full Focus Planner. If you use the planner and you want to hear the insider secrets, keep listening, Courtney and Verbs. Courtney and Verbs, this is what you should say: Jud Buechler. We would bring him in, the Chicago Bulls, to hit a three right before the close of the half. If they make reference to Jud Buechler, the reliable three-point artist of the late 90s Chicago Bulls, they get 10 extra points.

Nick: Wow. That’s a lot of points in this.

Blake: I know. That’s a lot of points.

Nick: Hey, I’m just editing the show and looking at the production calendar, and it’s going to be a couple of episodes before Verbs or Courtney will have had a chance to have heard the recording, so everyone give it a couple of weeks, but don’t say anything. Just let it happen. Okay, thanks.

Blake: Nick, I’m told that you have stockpiled tips from our team. I haven’t heard these yet, so I’m as excited as anyone to hear their best practices, hacks, tips for making use of this tool we call the Full Focus Planner.

Nick: That’s correct. We surveyed the Michael Hyatt & Company people. We figured, “Hey, who best to offer tips than people who love the product and spend time with the product and talk about the product all the time?” So, we have some nice tips for you. Blake, you’re giving tips all the time, but hopefully it gives you some ideas for things you do or good suggestions or maybe some of these are new to you.

Blake: Yeah. I think a lot of people maybe pick up the Full Focus Planner and feel intimidated or maybe there are parts of it that they go, “This doesn’t totally fit in my world,” or whatever the case may be. It’s so encouraging, I think, to hear that there’s freedom. There are a lot of hacks, tips, just nuances that people can add to make it their own, and when you make it your own, you make it effective. I’m a big believer in that.

So, jot these down if you can. Otherwise, hopefully, like Nick said, it sparks your inspiration. If this is your first time listening to this podcast, Focus on This, first of all, I’m sorry. I mean, gosh. The better hosts are not even here, but also, I think this could be a great intro episode at the same time, because you’re going to get a variety of perspectives on focus and productivity using this tool that we love called the Full Focus Planner.

Nick: Let’s start with a man named Jim, and let’s see what Jim has to say.

Jim: Hey, guys. This is Jim Kelly, Michael Hyatt’s executive assistant at Michael Hyatt & Company. I’m here today to bring you one tip on how I use my planner. To start out with, I’m using the Oatmeal Pocket. This is the first quarter I am using the Pocket and have been really enjoying it thus far. I’m a minimalist and love that it doesn’t take up much room in my messenger bag.

My tip for you today is…use your planner to log your daily wins. I log my daily wins during my workday shutdown ritual. During my shutdown ritual, I will write one win for the day at the bottom of the page. This helps me end my day on a high note. It also makes my life easier when I am doing my weekly and quarterly reviews. By doing this, I don’t have to think as hard on what my wins were from the past week or past quarter. I hope this tip helps you in using your planner more effectively.

Blake: Jim is the consummate professional. Are you serious with that? He just… “I am Michael Hyatt’s executive assistant at Michael Hyatt & Company.” He is the best. I love Jim.

Nick: We all need a Jim.

Blake: We do. He is an executive assistant. If you don’t know, we use executive assistants, and they are the heroes of our company. They make the world go around. We wrote a book about them called Your World-Class Assistant, which teaches you how to leverage the skills, talents, and abilities of someone like Jim.

I love this tip, because I’m guilty of this, where I will go through a day… If it was a busy day, you’re sort of left with whatever taste of the end of the day. You feel like, “Man, I’ve gone through this day,” and maybe the last thing that happened was you were in a rush. You’re trying to get out the door. You can feel the stress, and it’s almost like you take that stress with you to the rest of your day.

Jim interrupts that in his brain, and he writes it down. He says, “You know what? There was a win today, or maybe there was more than one win today. Let me take a moment and write it down, so that way I feel like, ‘Oh yeah. It was a good day.’” I love that.

Nick: Of course, for people who are doing the Weekly Previews, one of the questions is “What are your big wins for the week?” and I have struggled with remembering what those are. If you knock off your Weekly Big 3, that’s easy, but sometimes the coolest things that happen in a week weren’t even on those Big 3, so it’s really helpful to go page by page and say, “What did I do this week?”

Blake: My win for today will be I remembered to say “pineapple” on this episode, for instance.

Nick: That is a win. Let’s go to somebody else who really got down to some details here. This is Adam, and he has more than one tip for you.

Adam: Hello. My name is Adam Hill. My favorite planner is the Navy Classic, and my tips are the following. The first tip is…shoot the closest snake. Sometimes you have so many things going on you can’t decide what to do. Look at your schedule and your Big 3. What will fall off the rails and bite you if you do not act today?

Second, money talks, like the song says. What project for the month do you have that will make the most money for the company? Give this project priority. Let the other lower cash projects wait their turn in the schedule, but make sure you make time for the things that bring in the most revenue. Third, explain your problem to someone else. When you’re stuck, trying to teach the concept often helps you break the ice on your thinking.

Blake: That was a gem…three gems, in fact. Adam is someone who has to deal with so many logistics. He is someone who manages quite a bit on the product side for Michael Hyatt & Company, so hearing those tips, I’m like, “Man, I really see him play those out all the time.” Let’s clarify. Did he say we are supposed to shoot snakes?

Nick: Yes, he did.

Blake: Okay, cool. Got it.

Nick: Shoot the closest snake.

Blake: The closest snake. In this scenario, Adam is assuming we are mixing it up with a lot of snakes at any given moment.

Nick: It’s a great metaphor.

Blake: It is so stinkin’ good. I love it. It’s those things that… How did he phrase it? It’s something that’s going to come back and bite you?

Nick: Yeah. It’s like a fully fledged literary device. It’s so well put.

Blake: It really is. So, shoot the closest snake. I love that. You won’t be able to get that out of your brain today, I’m positive. I remember his third one was to explain your problem to someone else. I need to hear that, because so many times you spend so much time going around and around and around. As soon as you open your mouth and explain the problem, so often the light bulb goes off. That’s great. That’s just a great life tool as much as it is a planner tool.

Nick: Yeah. The second one was to focus on the thing that’s going to make the most money.

Blake: This is great. For those of you who are struggling to create a Daily Big 3, perhaps… I think that’s where it would integrate most with the planner, just going, “What’s on my Big 3?” or maybe “What’s the project that needs my attention, that deserves a weekly Big 3 ranking from me today or this week?”

If that’s an issue, it’s always great to go, “Okay. Well, which of these is really going to move the needle?” either toward a goal or, if you’re employed, guess what? Your employer is employing you because the business is trying to make some money. So, “What’s going to move the needle the most?” is a great way to clarify where the priorities really lie.

Nick: All right. Are you ready for Annette?

Blake: Yes.

Annette: Hi, I’m Annette Chesney, the student success specialist with Platform University. My favorite planner is the Bold, especially the French Blue, and I like to do several customizations in the daily pages section of my planner. One of my favorites is to use the top four or five lines of the notes page to track focus sprints. I write the name of the task and how many minutes the sprint is going to be, and then I just set my timer and go. When I’m done, I score myself on a scale of 1 to 5 according to how focused and on task I was.

Another thing I’ve found really helpful in the task area of each day’s pages is to estimate how much time it will take to complete each of the tasks I’ve listed. Then I pencil it in the schedule area like an appointment, blocking out the estimated completion time. For me, this functions like a reality check, because I have a tendency to try to defy the laws of physics. It helps keep my planning realistic.

Then, as I go through the day, I just track my estimated against my actual completion time. That has been really helpful in making me aware of the need to build in some breather points in my day to just stop and regroup and make a little space for the unexpected. So, these are a couple of the ways I’ve found that help set up my day for the win with my planner. Maybe it’ll work for you too.

Blake: Genius. Do you do those things? I’ve heard it called the Pomodoro method, where you have those sprints of focus time.

Nick: Well, I do, but… And I’ve referenced this on Lead to Win before. My version of that is using a platform called Focusmate, which is basically a 50-minute sprint where you get partnered up with somebody random. You get 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off. That feels like a chunk of time I can do. Do you do it?

Blake: I do. Yeah. I’ll just set a timer. It’s just a matter of setting timers. I definitely am not as diligent as Annette in terms of rating myself. That’s some next-level self-accountability there. Her tip on estimating the time of those tasks is so valuable. I’ve done half of that, where I will write down first the firm appointments I have to be at on my calendar, on my agenda, and then I’ll fill in, “Oh, I want to work on X, Y, and Z during the noon to 1:00 slot which is open.”

But she takes it to another level, which I think is genius, which is to go, “How long do I think that’s going to take?” I love that for two reasons. First, because she can see up front “Are my eyes bigger than my calendar?” The other thing is I think sometimes tasks expand to the amount of time we give them. Or in my case, I will say, “Oh, I’ll ease into this task and then kind of ramp up my speed as I go a little bit.” I think to quantify, “Hey, this should only take me 30 minutes…” Maybe it takes me more, but I think it kind of holds you to a little bit of… She has some built-in self-accountability there.

Nick: Well, it’s interesting. You find yourself with unstructured time, which I had… You know, schedules change throughout the day. I literally just kind of stood here, kind of half working, because I had not accounted for what that time was going to mean. I’m not suggesting that sometimes that’s not good for you, but I would have preferred to have been more proactive in saying, “Oh, I have a task of 30 minutes. I suddenly have 30 minutes. I’m going to do X, Y, Z.” So I think it’s great.

No one asked me, Blake, but I’m going to say it anyway. When I hear Annette say stuff like she does these things, my inclination is to say, “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not that self-aware. I feel like that would create a lot of shame if I had a 1 to 5 scale and it was a 1 focus,” and all this. But what I have learned by watching the people at Michael Hyatt & Company and spending time with Megan and Michael and Larry and you guys is this idea of you just kind of give it a shot and see what happens, and the things that stick, stick and the things that don’t, don’t. I really like that idea a lot. It does scare me, but that’s probably a good thing.

Blake: Right. Experiment thinking is helpful when it comes to things that might be scary. Maybe you’re struggling with overscheduling your days. Experiment with Annette’s tip. Write down how long you think these tasks might take, put them into the agenda section, and then evaluate in your Weekly Preview what was working about that, what wasn’t working about either that method or just what you had your eyes on from an accomplishing tasks and scheduling perspective.

Nick: Okay. Our next tip comes from John.

John: Hey, my name is John Meese, and I currently use the Pocket version of the planner. For a brand-new user of the Full Focus Planner, I always recommend that you focus on just doing the Daily Big 3 and using your day pages every day just to build the habit. I made the mistake early on of, when sharing how excited I was about the planner with other people, showing them, “There’s the Ideal Week, and there are the goals, and there are streak trackers, and there are calendars, and there are rituals,” and all of these different things.

I could see really quickly that people got overwhelmed and decided not to use the planner just because of that. So now I only recommend people start with the day pages, and that tends to work really well, because then I say, “Hey, introduce the other habits as you go.” I have a lot of people who have started using the planner on my advice because of that. I use a little book… I don’t know what you call it exactly, but it’s a pen holder. It attaches to the back of the planner, and then I use a Baronfig pen that is super nice, super swanky, and attaches there. That’s what I take with me every day.

Blake: Another person on our team… I don’t know if he has a tip, but Chad… He confessed to me once. He said, “I had the planner for like a year, and all I did was the daily pages.” The truth is John’s tip is so great, because the perfectionists among us want to do it all right, perfectly, everything together all at once on the first try, and then when it doesn’t work out, it’s “Ugh! This is way too much.” This tool is designed… I explained it this way to someone today on a phone call. We were just talking about team training. We’ve started doing some team training, and whenever I teach a team, this is always an issue. “Well, how do I get started?”

I compared it to taking vitamins. There are probably a lot of vitamins you should be taking that are going to help all aspects of your health…supplements and different things. Right? If all you take is vitamin B or if all you take is vitamin C, it’s not going to hurt you; it’s going to help you. It’s going to help you out a lot, probably. Think of it in that way. The highest value vitamin to start taking is using the daily pages and identifying a Big 3 every day. So, that’s my advice whenever I train teams, and John has obviously found that to be the case as well. Do you agree, Nick?

Nick: Well, I don’t know if I’ve told this on this podcast or if it was some other place, but my relationship with the planner started with… We didn’t have Focus on This, so my job here was sitting next to Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller with planners. I didn’t use the planner for like a year and a half because I was so afraid of it, because here were all of these successful people. It took me physically inching the planner closer to me over three months, and I’m not kidding.

They gave me a planner. It was on my shelf, and then it was on my desk, and then I would look at it, and then I’d put it away because I wasn’t ready. Then one night, I took it to bed and leafed through it and was like, “Okay. I’m not afraid of this.” There was something on the front page, I believe, that said, “Start with your daily page.” Once I read that, I was like, “I can do that.” So, for me, that was the key.

We actually just started my 11-year-old on the kid planner. We had the same experience, where it was like, “We’re not doing the rest of the stuff right now.” We actually started with the Weekly Big 3, and we’re doing Daily Big 3, and it really just simplifies it. I don’t know about you, Blake. How did you start with the planner? I don’t even know if I’ve ever heard this story.

Blake: I started with the planner having been very familiar with and practicing a system called Getting Things Done by David Allen (GTD is what the insiders call it), so I was already in the practice of doing a weekly preview. I think they call it a weekly review, or whatever. I was in the practice of doing that, and I was in the practice of cataloguing my tasks and stuff like that every day. So, when I started using the planner, I had the weekly review time already in place, and the daily pages was the natural bridge to get started doing it for me.

To be honest, the thing I didn’t do for the longest time was the goal setting, which seems maybe backward. We teach it. Set goals, and then let the weekly outcomes drive your goals. I guess when I say I didn’t do goal setting, it wasn’t that I didn’t have targets. It was just that I didn’t take the time to define those in the way we prescribe, you know, making a SMARTER goal. That took a while, but to be honest, some of my biggest wins…sleeping through the night, making progress on what was important to me in life areas…

Even though it was a little bit hazy, I still made a lot of progress, even though I hadn’t identified those, and then once I started actually writing down the goals… It’s a cliché people say it so much, but the act of writing that down and highlighting that really did make a difference for me when I was making decisions with how to use my time week to week.

Nick: He mentions at the end that he uses a Baronfig pen. I don’t know if people who listen to the show are in the Facebook group, the Full Focus Planner community on Facebook, but writing utensils and various accessories are a large part of what gets talked about there. I say that with love. I love pencils. There’s no judgment here. People love the bookmarks they use and whatever. Do you have things like that that you’re using, Blake?

Blake: No. Maybe I should. My handwriting is embarrassing. I was so resistant to using the planner, not because I was intimidated by the tool but because I just…doggone it…do not like writing anything down. If I can avoid writing and avoid paper at all, I do so. That was my biggest hurdle with using the planner. I do have a favorite pen I use, but I’m no… John is in another class in most things, but in his pen game especially, perhaps.

Nick: We’re talking about writing utensils. Our last call-in is from somebody who is famous in these online spaces for his writing utensils.

Blake: Oh my.

Nick: I mean, come on. Internet, Facebook group famous, not actually famous. This is not Barack Obama.

Blake: He’s not Jud Buechler famous. Got it.

Nick: And now with this huge buildup, I’m sorry to this person.

Larry: Hi, everybody. Larry Wilson here. I am one of the content creators here at Michael Hyatt & Company. My favorite version of the planner is the Classic. I love the good old original planner. I love the size and the feel. I do a lot of writing in it, so I like the larger pages. I use the Navy Blue. I just love that color. It just feels right to me. One of the things that I do that’s a little bit different is that I write in the planner with a pencil. I like being able to erase. I like to draw sometimes in it, and I think a pencil is just easier for that.

I use colored pencils too. I use them especially on the monthly calendar pages where I color-code the days. I use blue for weekends, so that stands right out to me. Any normal day when I’m in the office all day, that’s green, and a travel day or some other day that’s tied up and I’m not really able to do my primary work, I color-code that with orange. So, I can see at a glance over the next two or three weeks how many days I’m in the office and how much time I have to get my work done.

Blake: He is a celeb. It’s true. People are talking about him. He gets stopped in the streets, and they go, “Are you the color-coding guy?”

Nick: Yes, they do.

Blake: He has a strict “I don’t do autographs” policy, and some people don’t take that that well, but I think it’s important that he has that boundary, Nick.

Nick: Yeah, for sure. Plus, he’d have to keep a pencil sharpened all the time.

Blake: Exactly. And then, all of a sudden, it’s like, “Okay. I’ll give an autograph. Well, what color is the autograph going to be in?” You know, so on and so forth. It never ends. So, Larry has drawn a line in the sand, so to speak. Yeah, it sounds like a great idea. It’s another one of those things where I’ve never tried it. With any of these tips… This goes for you especially, Nick, but all of you lovely listeners, those of you hangers-on who tuned in even though it’s just me and not… I shouldn’t say it’s just me. It’s not just me, Nick. Oh gosh.

Nick: No, no, no. We’re not making this a thing.

Blake: Nick, it’s us. It was never just me. That’s the lesson I learned today.

Nick: It was us all along.

Blake: It was us all along. For you listening, with any of these tips, don’t knock it till you try it. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned using the planner. Even using the planner at all was a “Don’t knock it till you try it” story, where I was like, “Oh, I don’t want someone else to give me all this structure. I want to do my own thing.” Don’t knock it till you try it. So I have to try it. Larry, I know you’re listening to this. Maybe you could point me in a direction of some colored pencils.

Nick: Oh, well, he has favorite colored pencils. I know that for a fact.

Blake: Let me rephrase that. When I say, “Point me in the direction,” I mean mail them to my house.

Nick: Okay. He probably will. Larry and I are really into pencils. When you’re into pencils, you end up with too many pencils. You can’t use that many pencils, so you end up sending out a lot of pencils. This is 100 percent true. Literally, I have so many pencils in front of me.

Now, I’m going to add one bonus tip, just to throw this out there. I find that it is helpful to print out my Weekly Big 3 and put them up near me, because when I’m doing Daily Big 3, I find that I’m not really able to… I’m like, “What am I doing? What am I headed toward?” So that’s my thing. Do your Weekly Preview, get those Big 3 up, and then print them out so you can see them all day at your desk. You’re just going, “That’s what’s happening.”

Blake: I love that. That was a freebie tip.

Nick: You’re welcome, Blake.

Blake: I think all of these are great tips. I know I feel challenged to step up my game. If you’re listening and you have already been using the planner for a while, test one of these out. Step up your game a little bit. See how the experiment changes your day to day work and life.

If you’ve never tried the planner, I would say, you don’t have to use the planner to start getting focus in your life, but these tips probably get your head thinking about, “Well, what could I do to optimize my productivity and my focus every day?” If you’ve been in need of some structure, the Full Focus Planner is great, but by all means, I think some of these things, like what you said, your Big 3 for the week, just pasting that on your computer screen or on the wall… That’s a great one that anyone can use.

Nick: I just have to say, if you’re this deep into a podcast episode right now, I mean, God love you. You’re doing something. You’re wanting to do something. I actually would recommend… There is the Full Focus Planner community on Facebook. Go there. Share your tips. The number of posts there every day is very inspiring, because it shows you that people are also succeeding and they’re questioning and they’re asking for feedback, and it’s a really supportive place. So, if you’re this far into this episode, just go there.

Blake: From the bottom of my heart, listeners, thank you for staying with us, Nick and me. We know Verbs and Courtney are your favorites, but you’ve showed us some love today, and I appreciate that. Next week, we will be back. I think we’ll all be back next week, or at least some of us will. I don’t know. Stay tuned and find out. Maybe that’s the hook. I hope you’ve been able to get some great tips today for your own productivity and your life.

Thank you for spending time with us. Thank you for spending time with Nick and me. We feel a little bit lonely without our beloved cohosts, Verbs and Courtney, but it means a lot that you would take time out of your day and learn. So, let’s stay focused together this week, and next Monday, we’ll be coming at you again with more tips and tricks and hacks and all the awesome that goes into helping you find the focus you need. So, until then, stay focused.