Once you have figured out your long term goals and priorities and have a list of the most important tasks and activities to focus on, how do you go about planning your day, your week, your month, based on this new knowledge? Here are some practical steps from my own and other people’s experience about when and how to plan your time to get the most important things done.
Why weekly and not monthly or daily? From my experience, a month is too big a period for our minds to grasp and as a result things tend to slip away and it’s easier to procrastinate – “Oh, I have 3 more weeks to go.” A day is better, but is too narrow and we might not see the big picture as we get consumed by daily tasks and to-do’s.
A week is short enough to control, but long enough to be flexible if any changes need to be made. It also allows us to see the bigger picture – how this week fits into our monthly, quarterly and yearly goals – and still stay focused at the same time. In weekly planning you can focus on accomplishing specific things by the end of the week and still have a certain amount of flexibility on some days.
Even when you focus on a week in your planning, you will still have specific tasks for specific days and you will still have a to-do list for each day. That’s ok, since you are doing these thing in light of the week’s goals and the overall big picture.
Set aside half an hour to an hour one day a week which you will use to plan your upcoming week. Schedule this planning time into your calendar and find a place without distractions. This is part of your “thinking time”. For me, Sunday evening works best.
Think in terms of Results, not the Process
When planning your week and days, think about what results need be accomplished by the end of the period, not the process. It might be:
- to complete a specific stage of a project
- to hold some important meetings and reach specific agreements so you can move on to the next stage
- to get some specific task done
Break down each result into detailed steps, activities. Think backwards. Basically, when you are finished, you should have a list of accomplishments that need to take place this week, with the activities planned in that will make them happen. Doing this will clarify your focus and get you closer to achieving your bigger and most important goals on a monthly and yearly basis. Let’s look at how to actually do it.
Put the most important things into your calendar first
Once you have listed your planned accomplishments for the upcoming week and figured out what needs to be done to achieve them, you end up with a list of activities and the amount of time you need to devote to each one and even specific deadlines for some of the steps.
Today is Monday and next Monday I need to present at the monthly board meeting and I have already done some preparation work last week.
My planned accomplishment:
to have my presentation ready and practiced by Friday of this week
My activities this week:
- need to practice (2 hrs, Fri)
- need to finish the presentation (10 hrs, Wed and Thu)
- need to find pictures for the presentation (2 hrs, Tue)
- need to ask colleague A for data on Product X growth (Mon)
Now you have tasks and to-do’s for each day.
Then start to put into your calendar the blocks of time for the most important things FIRST. So, your most important goals and the activities associated with them are going into calendar first, with ALL the steps and the necessary time for each one:
- pre-scheduled important meetings
- “thinking time”
- urgent and important things (“putting out the fires”)
- your goals, activities for the week (see previous steps)
If you need to have more time in your calendar
If you need to have more time in your calendar, review what is already in there one more time and ask 2 critical questions:
- “How will this specific activity get me/us closer to my/our bigger goals?”
- “Is this the MOST important activity this week compared to other ones?”
Replace the ones you cannot answer in the affirmative. DON’T EVER sacrifice “thinking time”, as this time allows you to think about the bigger picture and preventive actions, so you don’t have “fires” all the time, but come up with an effective “fire prevention system”.
Other things go into calendar only AFTER the most important activities are there and IF there is time left for them. Surprised? 🙂 yes, IF there is time left for them. What is the point in allowing less important things to consume your most precious resource – time – and postpone or prevent your achieving the most important things?
Each day, schedule in 15-30 minutes of review time. It might be at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day, but the principle is – to adjust your plans in light of your overall, bigger goals and this week’s goals, so review the results of the previous day BEFORE you start your new day. Make any necessary adjustments in your upcoming day before it starts and do it every day. Otherwise you will very likely be off track by the end of the week.
For me, the evening of the previous day works best, as my mind also gets additional reassurance that “everything is under control” so I can get a good night’s sleep, knowing I am prepared for tomorrow. Some people do it first thing in the morning.
If you are planning toward family or personal goals, be sure to involve your spouse to coordinate your schedules beforehand so both of your activities are in line with your family goals and priorities.
Have a great week! 🙂
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