Have you had a week fly by in a blur and end with being busy all week, but feeling like you didn’t really accomplish much or achieve what you intended to? I have. And, it’s not the best feeling.
If I consistently let the motions take me, time just seems to slip through my fingers. And before I know it, I look up wondering where it all went. To prevent this from happening, I try to be intentional with how I use my time and it starts with being planful.
Here’s how I set myself up for a productive week.
The Power of Planning
I don’t have to tell you of all the things that pop up unexpectedly that distract and derail us from the important things we need to do. And no matter what we do, we can’t really stop these. But, having a plan in place helps me easily get back on track. It’s my blueprint for knowing what my priorities are and having a successful and productive week.
Let’s get to it!
1. Start the Week Before
Having a productive week starts the week before.
Just as we would prepare for a trip, presentation, or big project, we need to plan and prepare for the week if we want it to be successful.
I like to set aside time at the end of my work week (typically Friday afternoons) to wrap things up by reviewing my week and planning the next one. Doing so enables me to disconnect from work, fully welcome the weekend and hit the ground running the following Monday, while staying more calm and focused at the same time.
On weeks that I don’t do this, I can tell. Because I haven’t taken the time to clarify what my most important tasks are, I jump around different tasks and simply tackle what seems most urgent at a particular time, rather than moving the needle on what I truly should.
The first thing I do in my weekly wrap-up is to do a brain dump. (I brain dump a lot – especially when my mind is overloaded. It helps me “relieve the pressure” and sort through my thoughts.) I unburden my mind of all the thoughts, ideas and tasks swirling around by jotting them down on paper. It can be anything from new action items, discussions with colleagues, meeting next steps, ideas and so on.
Getting it all out of my mind and onto paper (or sometimes a digital app) helps me focus and easily categorize them later. Keeping track of all this in my head doesn’t work – it becomes a jumbled mess or I inevitably forget something.
3. Update and Review
Then, I review my week and update my notes and lists so I’m caught up and current. First, I go over my projects and tasks list – crossing off completed items and scanning for leftover ones I still need to do. Then, I review my goals list – tracking my progress against it. Ideally, I also review notes I’d written during the week and extract any tasks I scribbled within them. Then, I look at my calendar to see what my coming week looks like and send follow up emails on anything I’m waiting on to keep the ball rolling.
4. Sort and Clarify
Now, it’s time to get my stuff organized.
Not all tasks are created equal. And leaving them all in one jumbo list without any rhyme or reason, makes it hard to easily identify what we need to do first. It just adds another layer of friction when we’re trying to be productive.
Each time we’re ready to tackle something, we’d have to scan our massive task list and identify what we should do next. And, chances are, we’ll end up picking the first item on our list or one that we “feel” like doing at that point in time, rather than what we really ought to be working on.
Without taking the time to organize and prioritize my work, there’s a greater likelihood my week will be spent on stuff that may or may not need to get done that week, may not necessarily always bring as much value, or simply end up fielding and tending to other people’s priorities, rather than my own.
Prioritizing our tasks in advance gives us clarity on what our priorities are for the coming week. By identifying and deciding this now, we get to start strong in our next work week and save ourselves time and stress trying to deliberate what we should be working on.
How I Prioritize My Work
As much as possible, I try to start with my larger goals. Starting here is important. If I’m to make any progress on them, I need to prioritize them. So I review my quarterly goals and identify the next steps I need to take for them. Then, I review my other tasks from my notes and lists, and identify which ones make the cut for the coming week.
Once I have a clearer picture of what I need and want to accomplish, I set my goals and priorities for the next week. I write it out either in my notebook or enter them in Asana (a project management tool I like to use). I also organize and rank them in order of importance. My weekly priorities are generally broken down by these categories:
- Top Goals: Tasks that bring me closer to achieving my overall goals
- Must Do’s: Tasks that I need to get done next week
- Other / If I Have Time: Tasks that I need to work on, but aren’t as time sensitive or urgent
Writing out a simple plan/list like this will help you avoid wasting mental energy and time trying to remember and identify what you should be doing. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just as long as it clearly identifies what your priorities for the following week are.
5. Structure My Week
Once I’ve got my list sorted and prioritized, I add them to my digital calendar. This helps me ensure that I make time for my work and gives me a better idea of whether or not I really have enough time for everything I tasked myself to complete the following week.
If you’re like me, you probably have a tendency to be optimistic in that you think you’ll get more done than you really have time for. Mapping out when I’ll work on them and fitting them into my schedule gives me a more accurate picture of how much work I can really do with the time I have.
Planning my days reduces stress and this feeling of running around in circles because I know I have a game plan that aligns to my priorities.
Remember to Flex and Adjust
While I blocked my calendar, I know this isn’t set in stone. It’s a guide, but it’s not a contract. I do my best to stick to it, but I also know things won’t always go as planned. We’ll get invited to a last minute meeting, a new deadline on short notice will surface or our kids may get sick (a common one this time of year for me).
I allow myself to tweak my schedule as my day evolves, giving me the flexibility I need, instead of this added stress of having to stick to my schedule strictly or feeling like I’m always behind on it. Remember, this is meant to help us, not make things harder.
In addition, it helps serve as a checkpoint for me. If I know I have a bunch of time sensitive work I need to get done in a given week, it helps me be more mindful of the meetings or requests I accept (or at the least, I ask to reschedule the invite or for more time to deliver on the new request).
Tip: Have Buffer Blocks
I picked up this term from the 12 Week Year by Brian Moran (Great book! I recommend reading it.)
While we want to constantly move the needle on our goals, the fact is, we still need to take care of our other everyday, operational and more mundane stuff. This is where scheduling buffer blocks comes in.
Just like making time for our goals, we also have to make time for checking email, taking care of administrative tasks and catching up. Otherwise, they’ll pile up and we’ll end up having to spend our evenings or weekends managing these. Yikes!
For me, buffer blocks help me keep pace with these administrative items and feel like I have some margin to catch up on things that took longer than I expected or didn’t have time to do.
To be honest, this is still a work in progress for me. But hey – acknowledging the problem is the first step to overcoming it, right? 😉
Each day, I try to set aside time (in about 30-60 minute blocks) to check my inbox and handle my administrative tasks. I also like to use this time for catching up on smaller tasks I’m behind on.
Batching this type of work together creates efficiency in our days by getting to focus on one type of task at a time and not bouncing back and forth between different tasks, reducing our productivity.
Give it a Try: See If This Helps You Have a Productive Week
Now, it’s your turn! Try implementing a weekly planning routine and set yourself up for a productive week.