Weekly planning: How it works and how to master it
The clock strikes midnight. You hit send on one final e-mail for the day. Bleary-eyed you set your alarm for 5:00 a.m., already anxious about tomorrow’s deadline.
There must be a better way to plan the work day. Most office working Americans describe the workday as relentless e-mail triage, bloated meetings, fielding frequent interruptions and a whole heaping pile of multi-tasking. We race to finish a to-do list by the end of the day – hopefully 5p.m. but sometimes midnight – only to deflate like a balloon at the sight of tomorrow’s mounting list of tasks.
Most people plan one day at a time.
Planning one day at a time is basically fine, but you can do better.
It takes tetris-level vision to fit multiple, complex projects into one day’s work. Thanks to the Planning Fallacy, we have a cognitive bias to underestimate the amount of time a project will take, particularly if it’s a new challenge or a task we haven’t done before.
One day could be taken over by meetings, tossing all other projects out the door like a garbage can on pick-up day. When you plan one day at a time, your mounting pile of to-dos keeps glaring over at you from the corner. This post is about more than productivity tips for work and for your personal life – it’s a high-performing planning strategy.
Most people over estimate what they can achieve in one day. Planning their to-do’s for the day is like packing enough luggage for a six-day trip to the Bahamas into a tote bag. Even if manage to stuff it full, you can’t carry it well.
20-minutes to plan the week ahead focuses hours on execution.
It’s common to see free time in your calendar, and then choose your next move. Over time, that builds up to a lot of decisions in the day. As the day goes on, it’s easier and easier to make poor choices. Before you know it, your excel sheet is minimized and you’ve spent 20-minutes browsing for a cute pair of flats on Zappos.
How can your streamline your time and plan your days more efficiently? Plan out your whole week in advance.
Planning one week at a time gives you the time horizon to schedule multiple projects and reserve time for surprises. That may be one reason that people who plan are characterized with lower levels of the stress.
Psychologist Robert Epstein conducted a survey of over 3,000 participants and found planning ahead to be the leading factor correlated with lower stress levels.
In short, planning the week ahead…
- Maximizes unscheduled hours
- Gives you flexibility to adapt to unplanned projects
- Reduces decision fatigue
- Lowers stress levels
Everyone has the same 168-hours in the week. How you spend them makes all the difference.
Thinking in weekly units is easy. Most of us already have weekly rhythms, like family time on the weekends, a day for worship, or a weekly workout.
Weekly units are flexible. This cadence makes a week a basic building block, especially for larger goals. If one day goes completely haywire, you have all week to make progress on your goals. That’s actually totally normal – remember when we talked about planning for the unexpected?
Scheduling the week in advance also gives you a clear line of sight into your time-management expectations. If you have commitments every night of the week, you
probably most definitely won’t have time for a long afternoon workout. If you’re over-run with back-to-back meetings, a weekly plan equips you with the foresight to ask your manager, “What meetings would you like me to cancel in order to accommodate this additional request?”
Stop the Sunday Scaries with one simplified weekly planning session.
Maybe this goes without saying, but the best way to start a weekly planning process is to schedule it ahead in advance. Schedule a 20-30 minute block on Friday morning, Sunday afternoon or any other time when you like to review your week’s progress.
Pour your favorite cup of tea, turn-up your happy tunes, and get planning. My personal 20-minute weekly planning session on Friday afternoons is the best investment I make for a productive week ahead.
What if I don’t use a planner? Simply download and print seven copies of my free day-mapping worksheet.
Leverage your weekly planning time to learn from what went well the previous week.
Reflect on learning’s from the past week. What went well? What would you like to have improved? Look back at your planner or journal to jog your memory and solidify the wonderful things that happened to you throughout the week.
Harnessing that information, brainstorm next week’s priority projects. What tasks have to get done for the sun to keep rising? What priority projects will make next week a success? (Not sure how to prioritize? Read these simple steps)
Determine your priorities and schedule them straight into your calendar.
Something magic happens when you schedule your intentions. It’s easier to get them done.
Scheduling your projects one week at a time gives you a clear line of sight into what you can achieve. Even if your schedule changes, you now have a clear map for the week ahead. (Struggling with consistent routines? Check-out this article)
Protect your priority project from other peoples’ agendas.
Ever picked-up the phone on Friday afternoon at 4:45pm with a last-minute request from your boss? Accommodating others’ requests is part of being on a team. That does not have to mean that your team commandeers your schedule.
The secret sauce to fitting-in last minute requests is to leave space in your calendar. For example, I know that most days I need at least one hour of email time and one hour to handle requests from my team. Proactively schedule time for interruptions, and you’ll be better prepared to greet them with grace and ease. (Working remotely? Tips for staying focused here).
If you want to do something, get it into your calendar.
Remember little miss goldilocks: schedule too much and you’ll face overwhelm, schedule too little and you’ll lack focus. The key to this exercise is to leave plenty of white space.
Life happens. You might seize the sunshine and go for a walk. You may be woken-up by a child vomiting at 3 a.m. You never know what life has in store.
Schedule just enough to move through your day with spaciousness and clarity.
Ready to take your time-management to the next level? Test your skills with my free 5-day time-tracking challenge on teachable or ask me about a free 30-minute accountability coaching session. Looking forward to reading about your time management strategies in the comments below. You deserve to make every day count.
- Jason Fried describes the typical employee workday in his book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.
- Daniel Kahneman discusses the planning fallacy in Thinking, Fast and Slow.
- Read more examples of decision fatigue in this New York Times article.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb illustrates the predictability of surprise events in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
- Read a summary of Robert Epstein’s stress reduction study in this Time article.
- Learn about how high stress impairs our planning functions in this Stanford article.