You Plan Your Week Wrong: A Step-By-Step Guide

May 2, 2016

It’s your first day back in the office after the business of the weekend, and you’re staring at your computer thinking about what you should start on first. You’re procrastinating making that decision by reading this article. You didn’t know it, but you’ve made the right decision. Planning your week is too important for you just to be willy-nilly, shooting from the hip with your schedule. Don’t fret, however. You’ve stumbled into a step-by-step guide. It’s all going to be okay.

Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem. Start a Day Earlier.

If you’re sitting down to plan your week on whatever’s your first office day, you’re already a day behind. It doesn’t matter who you talk to, everyone has the same starting step: the day before you’re supposed to start getting stuff done, plan out your week. Why is this important? Because once you’re in the office, others can influence your calendar, and that can mean anything from altering what ends up on your calendar to keeping you from planning anything at all. Work can be an awfully difficult place to get work done. I’ve even heard of people taking vacation or calling in sick so that they can get caught up. Don’t be that person. I like the suggestion a Lifehack.com article makes: “Sit down in a quiet place in your home while reflecting on what is most important to you.” I have two small kids at home, so the quietest place in my house is the bathroom (and even then, only for a short time). So, wherever that is for you, find a quiet place to plan, go there, and proceed to step two.

Step 2: Bring Tea. Also, Bring Nonnegotiables.

planning your week teaMy tea of choice is lemon zinger with honey. Sipping it calms my nerves while I think about all the items in my week that simply must happen no matter what. All those nonnegotiables, I put those on the calendar first, blocking out however much time is going to be needed to accomplish each task (erring on the side of extra time). For some of you, this might fill up a lot of your calendar (and for others all of your calendar). This is your schedule reality check. If you’re going to get more stuff done, you’re going to have to be productive one way or another.

There are two things I have on my calendar that I often see others recommend: color codes and my mundane life tasks. I color code my calendar to make it more helpful at a glance. Productive Ministry related items are in light blue. Appointments for my other business are in dark blue. Personal life stuff is in green. All the minutiae of my life (sleep, shower, dinner, time with my family, et al.) is in brown. That’s right, I put sleep on the calendar.

Filling out my calendar with both work appointments and life appointments lets me see what my day actually looks like. And on days like these, where I’m up past midnight working on an article, it lets me see how much of my sleep I’ve already given up. Our days are jam packed full of events, and placing them all on a calendar illustrates just how much time is actually available (or not available) for whatever you want to add. For people like myself, who say yes to things before actually assessing whether they can do it or not, my calendar is pretty good reminder that my time is more valuable than I sometimes treat it. (And yours is too!)

Step 3: Fill in the Rest of Your Calendar. Or Don’t.

If you’ve gotten this far, hopefully you’re looking at a color-coded calendar full of important work meetings and tasks as well as social events and mundane life activities. At this point, you’re free to fill in the rest of your work time with other tasks or meetings you need to take care of, or you don’t have to. There’s two ways of thinking about this, and you’ll need to find what works for you.

If you find that you spend a lot of time putting out metaphorical fires every day, it might be a good idea to leave pockets in your day. Assuming these fires are usually small and don’t need immediate attention, you’ve now got space to schedule those firefights into your day. And, when you find yourself neither putting out a fire nor inside a nonnegotiable block, look at your to-do list and use the Two Minute Rule to knock some stuff out. Oh, my! Look how productive you are. Go on with your bad self.

If you exist in the Shangri-La of work places wherein you are the sole influencer of your daily schedule, pack your day tight and watch how much you get done. Filling in every available slot with your remaining tasks will paint a pretty clear picture of what you’re going to get done this week. And, if you somehow get ahead (you know, because you apparently work in a place without distractions), either adjust your calendar or use the Two Minute Rule to knock some bonus tasks out. You never knew you could be so productive, did you?

Step 4: Say No to Anything That Conflicts With Your Calendar

Everything at this point has been a pep-talk to the real challenge of planning your week: telling people no. Turning down and turning away while you have work to do is really the most important skill to being productive. Why do we all have such a problem doing it? Because it’s often difficult in the moment to make a case for why you aren’t available (and when you’re tired, you have to make that case to yourself).

No matter what path you took on this journey, you hopefully, at the very least, have a calendar full of nonnegotiable tasks plotted out with when and how long you need to accomplish them. If nothing else, you have to protect those times in your calendar. The more comfortable you get with guarding your most important work blocks, the more often you’ll feel like you’ve had a productive day or week.

Saying no is the most important skill to being productive. Click To Tweet

The process of planning out your week serves as a reminder for how important it is for you to remain productive throughout the day, even if it means an uncomfortable moment of turning someone away. Every minute we allocate to something is a designation of its importance and a choice not to spend a minute on something else in your day. Make sure as much time as possible is spent on the things that are most important to you.

What’s on your calendar? Join the discussion on Facebook!

Credits: Photo by Marissa Anderson / CC BY

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