Did you know that highly productive days don’t start when you wake up?
In some cases, you’ve already lost the productivity battle if you wait until you’re sat at your desk with your morning coffee before you plan your day.
The one day at a time approach doesn’t allow you to see the bigger picture.
It puts you at risk of creating a backlog and unintentionally falling behind. It risks piling on the stress later in the week leaving you hitting the weekend feeling like a failure - rather than someone on top of their game.
There’s an easy way to prevent weekends spent playing catch up.
It’s to plan your week.
And in this article, I’ll reveal the step-by-step process that will declutter your mind, sharpen your focus, and inspire you to get more done (on time) than you ever have before.
1. Start with a brain-dump
Your mind is brilliant at creating, problem-solving, thinking, and deciding. What it’s not so good at is remembering a heap of small stuff.
So don’t drain your valuable bandwidth trying to juggle your to-do list in your head.
It’s ineffective, time draining, and exhausting!
Instead, pull out your notepad and make a list of EVERYTHING you need to get done before the week is though. Capture it all - not just your work or goal related stuff, but all the little odds and ends you have to take care of such as errands or buying birthday cards.
With your entire list on paper, you give yourself a realistic view of what you’ve got to tackle.
At this point, one of two things is going to happen.
You’ll either be pleasantly surprised that your week doesn’t look as hairy as you thought OR you’ll be freaking out at the sheer volume of tasks that are on your plate!
But here’s the critical thing…
Much better to know this now - before the week has begun - rather than waking up on Thursday morning then hiding in bed because there really is no time to tick through it all.
2. Get ruthless
Let’s put it out there…
You can’t do it all!
Your time is finite and it is limited - so you have to make the most of what you’ve got.
So the next thing to do is look through your to-do list and decide what has to say and what’s going to go.
Remove anything that doesn’t have a deadline that involves the 7 days ahead.
Remove tasks that if you’re honest, you don’t really need to do
Highlight tasks that you can hand off to someone else - whether that’s delegating to your team, outsourcing, or ‘gifting’ to someone at home!
In short, reduce the size of your to-do list so you’re left with the tasks that are most valuable, most important, and most urgent.
3. Get things in order
When you look at your weekly to-do list you don’t want it to spark chaos, you want it to evoke certainty and calm.
There’s an easy way to do this…
Group tasks by projects. The way you do this will depend on the tasks on your list. For example, if you’re an entrepreneur working from home, you might group your tasks by client, or by business function (sales, marketing, operations etc.) You may have a separate project for your goal-related tasks and one for home.
Segmenting your list in this way will help you see at a glance what you have to deliver for different groups of people. It’s another way to declutter your mind and ensure you don’t miss a thing.
Steps 1-3 are all about identifying what you need to do, eliminating what you don’t, and organizing your list so it’s useful ‘at a glance’.
The next step is to figure out how you’re going to spread these tasks over the week - to maximize the chances of hitting Friday with it all done.
Despite your best intentions, you may not get everything on your list ticked off.
The secret to winning the week is to ensure your most important tasks are not the ones left untouched. To achieve this, look over your list and prioritize your tasks.
1 = urgent and important. These tasks MUST be completed
2 = important, but not as urgent as top priority tasks
3 = useful, but not urgent or as important as the other tasks on your list
Guess which tasks you can drop if you run out of time!
5. Add due dates
Time management is about doing the right tasks at the right time.
So now you’ve got your prioritized, whittled down list, your next step is to add due dates to everything.
If you’ve got a collection of 1s on your list, this step will help you figure out in what order to tackle those tasks. That’s because your due date pattern will make it really easy to see what tasks MUST be done by particular days.
It’s a game-changer…
Instead of doing tasks when you feel like it (or when you have zero choice), you can schedule your week strategically. You can spread out your workload and therefore avoid last-minute panic and unnecessary pressure. That in itself is going to boost your productivity significantly because you won’t feel so stressed.
What’s more, because you know that you’ve allocated time to tackle other priority tasks later in the week, you can park them until that day. You don’t have to worry about them in the moment which means you can more fully concentrate on the task at hand.
But there’s even more you can do to stretch your time...
6. Add time estimates
Ever heard of Parkinson’s Law?
It’s one of the biggest time stealers there is! Parkinson’s Law states that tasks will eat up the time you give them. Yup, that’s why that project which should have taken a couple of hours somehow consumed your entire day.
There is a way to defeat this law - that’s by allocating each task on your to-do list a realistic time span for completion.
And that’s your next job… go through your list and make a note of how many minutes each task needs.
When making this decision, give yourself a bit of leeway, but also apply some pressure. Deadlines spark productivity because they don’t leave room for slacking and force you to step up and deliver. On the other hand, you don’t want to make it too tight that you panic, cut corners, and fail to produce a quality result.
If you’ve never used time estimates before, this will be a learning process. You may find that you’re wildly out - i.e. you underestimate or overestimate how much time you need. That’s ok in the short-term. Over time, you’ll get to know your output better so you can estimate time more accurately.
As well as helping you overcome Parkinson’s Law, time estimates ensure you plan days that are realistic.
It’s pointless creating a daily task list that’s as long as your arm if there is no chance of you churning through it all.
So use time estimates to better manage your minutes. It’s an advanced productivity technique that will help you win the week.
7. Use the E/N/D formula
Next, look at all the tasks on your list and decide what tasks are energizing (E), draining (D), and neutral (N).
This formula helps you understand the impact of each task on your energy levels. With this information to hand, you can schedule tasks in a more intelligent way to make maximum use of your reserves.
If you don’t do this, you’ll risk scheduling a draining task when you’re already struggling to think straight. Just imagine how much longer that task will take to complete if you try to do it then!
Complete steps 4-7 and you’ll be clear on your priorities for the week, when they need to be delivered, and how long each task should take. Now, when you sit at your desk to plan your day, you’re not starting from scratch.
You’re simply delivering a bigger picture plan - it makes daily planning easier, more effective, and much more productive.
8. Schedule each day
You’ve got your Self Journal, you’ve got your mojo on, and you’re ready for a highly productive day.
Here’s how to turn your weekly plan into a daily schedule that delivers big and transforms the day into a win.
Pull out your weekly to-do list and pinpoint the tasks you must deliver TODAY. What are TODAY’S TARGETS? (i.e. the 3 things that will make today a win.)
Identify the ‘frog’ - you’re going to tackle this first. Note the time estimate and block out that amount of time for the job. For example, if today’s frog is to write a blog post, you need 120 mins, and you’re starting work at 8:30, block out 8:30-10:30 for that task.
Next, identify what other tasks you plan to tackle. Again note the time estimates and plan those into appropriate time slots. When ordering tasks, remember the E/N/D formula. Use energizing tasks to boost your motivation and make use of willpower (when it’s available) to check through those draining to-dos.
Factor in proper breaks. You can’t work flat out! You need space to unwind, recharge, and take a breather - so don’t skimp on this time.
The notes/ideas section of your Self Journal’s daily pages are a good place to list errands and extra tasks that you’ll tackle if you finish everything else.
Now get to work! Remember to check off tasks as you complete them. Review your day as you work through it too. Did a task take longer than you thought? Did an unexpected priority force you to reorder your day? If so, remember to rework your plans to ensure you still end with a win.
Win the Week with the Weekly Action Pad
Ready to implement this system and take your weekly planning to the next level?
If so, get your hands on the Weekly Action Pad.
This one-page success tool follows the process above and will help you organize your weekly task list so you get the maximum amount done in the shortest possible time.
It works perfectly with your Self Journal and makes daily planning a whole lot easier.
To add this tool to your productivity toolkit, CLICK HERE.