Master Your Plans: Using Visual Cues

17.06.2019 |

Episode #10 of the course Master your time: The secret to being insanely productive by John Robin


Welcome to the last day of Master Your Time!

I promise I’ve saved the best until last.

With each day so far, we’ve built a system that revolves around every week, spending 20% of your time on focused work and evaluating how best to spend that 20%. We’ve also explored how to handle the rest of our lives because getting lots done is only half the equation:

Leading a sustainable life driven by purpose is more important.

As we close, we’re going to talk about how visual cues can help you see more of that purpose and how that can drive you not just each week, but across several weeks at a time.


Using Visual Cues

Being able to visualize what you are working on helps you further clarify and assess how effectively you’re spending that highest-value 20% of your time.

I use small (2” x 2”) sticky notes to list my main batches. For example, on the keyboard I’m using now is a sticky note that lists the 25-minute periods of focus I’ve allotted to writing this course. When my timer goes off, I cross one out with a black marker. This visual cue helps me appreciate my pace and the perspective of what I’m working on.

It also lets me know when I’m done. At the start of every week, I actually plan out all 81 blocks of 25 minutes that define a 33.75-hour work week. This week, I have much more than just this course! But I can look at all the 2” x 2” sticky notes on my desk and assess each day how best to tackle them. Every week is its own challenge, but being able to visualize exactly what work I have to get done lets me be creative in how to batch my work for maximum momentum and how I’m going to break it up on given days (e.g., due to commitments or appointments on my calendar) to still hit my Pareto threshold.

You can take these visual cues a step further.

I have a whiteboard on my wall where I write out all the projects I want to work on in the next several months. Yes, “Highbrow Course 10” is on there. (And—SPOILER!—so is Highbrow Course 11: “Sleep Hacks.”) So are successive drafts of other fiction projects, texts I plan to study, and specific research I plan to do. Each item on this whiteboard represents a specific batch of work.

Every week when I plan out my batches, I can also look at this board and figure out what I need to work on and when. Just like the sticky note under my typing hands right now gives me perspective on how this 25-minute period fits into the week, that vision board gives me confidence that I am batching my time each week on the right things.


Master Your Plans

Forming visual cues is all part of masterful planning.

If you want to be a concert pianist, for example, you can sit at the piano for 25 minutes at a time and play your way through whatever comes to you.

But if you’re pursuing clarity, you can do better.

If instead, you have a whiteboard where you’ve written down your goals (perhaps your batches would be collections of repertoire to master for different performances), then in turn, you can plan what you’ll do with each 25-minute practice period. This visual cue gives you focus so you can see how each session at the keys is advancing your overall plans.

Visual cues also give you a perspective that makes you even better at planning.

For example, I know as a writer, I need to write a lot. Likewise, there is no end to what I can read.

But actually mapping this out on my whiteboard has helped me narrow down a more strategic reading and research regimen, as well as strategic choices for what to write, beyond the ruts I’d fall into if I just followed my nose.


Mastery Awaits …

Congratulations on finishing this course! I hope you’ve taken away many tips to help you master your time.

In closing, I want to stress that the routine and tips I’ve shared have come from years of honing and practice, as well as large life changes to help me grow into my best routine.

But I believe these tips can all serve as fodder for you to begin building your focus, pushing toward your Pareto threshold, gaining clarity in your plans, and laying the foundation of awesome productivity that makes you feel great in your life.

If you have questions or want to further discuss this course, I love hearing from my students. Send me an email at


Recommended book

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero


Other courses by John Robin

Mental models: How to make better decisions

Productivity hacks: Lessons from top leaders and billionaires

Most brilliant social psychology experiments

Brain-twisting paradoxes

The world’s most compelling logic puzzles

How to market your book online

How to begin (and maintain) your career as a writer

Great math problems for the 21st-century mind

Foundations of mathematics


Share with friends