How good are you at planning your week?
Have you ever wished that days had more hours so that you could finish all the things on your to-do list? Do you constantly wish you had time to do it all? Does your life often feel out of balance because the things that are important to you never seem to get their share of time or attention?
WHAT THE REAL ISSUE IS
The issue is not that we don’t have enough time to do all the things we feel we need to do. The real issue is that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have. We double or triple the effort in the hope of getting everything done and we end up feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We are often very busy, but we don’t actually move any closer to long-term success. Activity and busyness are often unrelated to productivity. I don't mean to rain on your parade - I love a good to-do list and checking off the tasks. But the truth is, checking off hundred tasks for whatever reason is a poor substitute for doing even one thing that’s meaningful. Success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most. I had days when at the end of the day I ticked all the tasks off and still didn't feel successful or like I have achieved that much. I was busy but not productive.
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: ‘’Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.’’
HOW TO PRIORITISE
With our wants and needs and other people’s demands on our time flying at us right, left and centre, we impulsively scribble everything down on scraps of paper or build them methodically into lists. Although lists are useful, they have a dark side to them as you probably know from your own experience. While to-dos serve as a useful collection of our best intentions, they also tyrannize us with trivial and unimportant tasks that we feel obliged to get done – because they are on our list.
A to-do list is simply a list of all the things you think you need to do and the first thing on the list is the first thing you thought of. To-do lists lack the intent of success. According to Gary Keller, author of The One Thing book, most to-do lists are in fact survival lists that are getting you through the day or week, but not making each day a stepping-stone for the next so that you can gradually build a successful life. Long hours spent checking off a to-do list are not virtuous and have nothing to do with success.
TO-DO LIST VS. SUCCESS LIST
Instead of a to-do list, create a success list – a list that is purposefully built around meaningful results.
To-do lists tend to be long, success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions, the other steers you in a specific direction. If a list isn’t built around success, then that’s not where it takes you. If your to-do list contains everything, then it’s probably taking you everywhere but where you really want to go.
So how do you build a success list? Start by gathering all the loose bits of paper with reminders and your various to-do lists and pull them all into one big list. Wow! Overwhelmed yet? If you are anything like me, your list is probably two pages long by now, with tasks around your house, your family and kids, your work or business and various requests from other people. No wonder we feel like there isn't enough time in the day to get it all done. Because there isn't. So let's talk about the Pareto Principle. Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 principle, asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs and rewards. In other words, to get most of the results, you need to focus on taking the most effective actions and disregard the fluff.
Extreme Pareto Principle.
Go back to your 'mother of all lists' to-do list and reduce the number of tasks by 20%. If you had 25 tasks on your list (only 25, really?), narrow them down to 5. These should all be tasks that are urgent & important or not urgent & important. Delegate the remaining tasks, ditch them or leave them for when the important tasks have been completed.
At this point, your to-do list has been greatly reduced and should seem less overwhelming. But let's take this one step further with the Extreme Pareto Principle. Because let's face it, we can only effectively focus on one thing at a time so now that you reduced your list by 20%, I want to you reduce it by further 20% or until you end up with one task. This is your top priority. This is the one thing that when completed, it will have a great impact on your life. Very often, these are the things that get pushed back because they are either not urgent or slightly out of our comfort zone.
BEWARE OF YOUR EMOTIONS AND INNER VOICE
At this point your inner critic might appear tempt you to put this top task off. If this is the case, ask yourself what's making it difficult to complete. Is it too complex? If so, break it down into smaller actions. Maybe it's too vague and you need to get more specific.
Or your voice might try to reason with you and convince you that your should be doing more. Surely, one thing isn't enough. That's not good enough! You should do all the things on your list, period. Or else you are lazy or unproductive at best. The thing is, you can do more tasks on your to-do list. The point here is to laser focus on the top priority and get it done first. Everything else can be done when you have the time. Don't let Goethe frown at you by putting the most important things at the mercy of the unimportant. Crossing things off the list feels good but it's a quick fix that has no comparison to doing even one task that is meaningful.
HOW TO PLAN YOUR WEEK EFFECTIVELY
I am going to share with you a process I use to plan my week. The steps are as follows:
The bigger picture – mission and vision
Recurring appointments and other commitments
Your success list
Review daily – one thing
The bigger picture
Do some prep work on the bigger picture. This is a very important step. If you don’t know what you want your life to be like or where you are going, your planning is only going to get you from one week to another, rather than closer to where you want to go.
Don't be like Alice...
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don't much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn't matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
-Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Think about your mission and vision. What do you want to achieve? How do you want your life to look like and feel? How do you want to contribute to your community or society? What’s going to give your life meaning? These are all big questions but if you don’t take the time to answer them, your life will unfold at random rather that with the intention and a clear sense of direction.
You can use the Mission statement builder
Once you have an idea of your bigger picture, you can start painting your future week by week.
Clear your mind or in other words, do a mind dump exercise. Have you ever tried to vacuum your carpet and it wasn’t going very well? The vacuum cleaner wasn’t sucking the dirt in and you got really frustrated only to realise that the bin needed emptying? Some inboxes won’t accept any new emails if their capacity has been reached. The best thing you can do for yourself before you start your weekly planning is to empty your mind. Set 15-minute timer and write down any tasks, ideas or commitments that are cluttering your mind right now.
Review the previous week. What went well? What didn't? What can you do differently? Which tasks or actions didn’t get done and why? This is an opportunity for you to acknowledge all the things that went well and learn from the things that didn’t. No one wants to live the same week twice or keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.
Identify your roles and set one action to do next week for each of your roles that will make a positive difference. Your roles are important building blocks of your life and neglecting one or more over a long period of time will have a negative impact on others. Make a list of five or six most important roles you fulfil and have a think about how you can do a simple action that will have a positive impact on each of them. You can also find ways how to combine the roles, such as the role of mum and an individual can be fulfilled by taking your child swimming. If it helps, schedule the actions / activities around your roles in a specific time slot and treat them as important appointments.
Focus on your wellbeing and set one action or strategy to do next week for each of the areas of wellbeing (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual). Same as with roles, your wellbeing is a vital part of your life and it should always take precedence over other commitments. Make a commitment to schedule weekly actions for each area of your wellbeing and treat these time slots as GP appointments.
Add appointments and recurring events. Schedule any recurring events such as your lunch break, date night, personal, work or business commitments, activities for kids etc. that happen every week. And then fill in the gaps with other tasks and commitments.
Your success list
Create a success list. Simply start by taking some of the actions and to-dos from your mind dump list and any other lists you have created. Pull them all together in one long list and grab four coloured markers or highlighters. Highlight each task in different colour based on the following categories:
urgent & important (time sensitive and important things)
not urgent & important (usually connected to wellbeing, long term goals, learning and development etc.)
urgent & not important (these are usually requests from other people, some of these can be delegated)
not urgent & not important (trivia, time wasting activities, distractions)
If you would like to give this planning system a go, you can download my FREE Weekly Planner Template below.