„Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.“ ~ Steve Jobs
This is a very practical posting in which I will show you my personal weekly planning process. I hope you can use and adapt it for your own productivity and success. It is basically my own mixture of systems from Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey and David Allen with a little bit of today’s technology powered by Steve Jobs ;)
„Wait a minute,“ you may think, „what does this quote from Steve Jobs have to do with weekly planning?“
Your weekly plan is your ticket to a self-directed and self-created life. That means a life that is mainly leaded by you and not by anyone else. It will focus your actions towards what you want. A weekly plan is right between your own goals and the actual things you do every day. This is exactly the reason to do weekly planning. One could say it is where the rubber hits the road.
Self-Leadership: Know your life-areas and goals
So, some things are necessary to be really effective with your weekly plan. My weekly planning is build around my life-areas. In the post „How to Create Balance in All Areas of Your Life “ I already wrote about life-areas. Life-areas are areas of constant and never-ending improvement, we want to keep them at a high level and even improve them constantly here. This naming of life-areas of importance enables us to set a clear focus and to use the mind as a tool to create life-balance.
For instance my life-areas are:
Private: body, mind, spirit, social, finance, juice
Professional: b2b, sales, e-commerce, marketing, technical, product, finance
Please check my post about balance and life-areas for more on this.
Another really important thing is to have set personal goals. In „The Fastest Way to Set Motivating Goals“ I wrote about a simple and fast procedure to get your goals out.
The two steps are important, because we can be as good as possible executing our goals, but if the goals are fuzzy or not really what we want it can’t bring a good result for us. If you don’t have goals or know your life-areas, your areas where you want to improve and focus on, then you still can use the weekly planning process. But it might not be as effective in the results. Your life-areas and goals make sure that you really tap into your deepest resources and create the motivation you can have.
I call this Self-Leadership , because with it you are able to lead yourself to what you want. It makes a difference between action and reaction. The more you work towards your goals in your life-areas the more proactive you are. This is a source of freedom and happiness. It is not all, but a huge part of it :)
1. Brainstorm your weekly tasks
I would suggest to do the weekly planning on Sunday. The first thing you do is brainstorm all tasks into a list you want to do in the next week and put them into the right area. The template would be
This could look like the following list:
- [sales] post a new job-description on my website
- [e-commerce] start a banner campaign for my online-shop
- [marketing] write a press-release for the new website-launch
- [marketing] improve the powerpoint presentation and send a PDF of it to the pr-manager
- [product] review and finish the project-plan of the Newsletter-project
- [technical] produce actionable tasks from the project-plan and put them into the project-tool
- [technical] meet with Peter to discuss the timeline of new shop-project
- [sales] We 10 a.m. meet the new sales-candidate
- [body] go swimming Mo, We, Fr at 6-7 p.m.
- [mind] finish the last 20 pages of „Personal Development for Smart People“ and …
- [mind] … write a short review of the book into my journal
- [social] make a date and meet with Andreas this week
- [social] make a date with Susan on Saturday for dinner
- [spirit] start next meditation session
- [juice] book flight for the travel to California for March
Usually this whole process takes about 10-15 minutes, depending on how much you are already used to it. It is nothing to create something completely new, this would go to the goal-setting process. Here we have action-items that make progress during the week.
2. Set priorities
The next step is to decide what is most important this week. This means to set priorities to your tasks. I use the following system and found it to be very effective:
Priority A : Must get done
Priority B : Should get done
Priority C : Nice to have
All priority A tasks must get done within the week, there is no exception. This means that you start with priority A tasks and finish them, before you do priority B or even C tasks. If the task is scheduled for a certain time, then this time is blocked out and cannot be removed for any other lower priority tasks. This ensures that you always get done the most important things for you, which ensures real progress towards your goals.
Usually you have more A, B and C-priorities, so you sub-prioritize with A1, A2 … and so on. Then you order your tasks accordingly to their priorities.
So my whole professional weekly plan may look like this after prioritizing:
- A1 [e-commerce] start a banner campaign for my online-shop
- A2 [sales] We 10 a.m. meet the new sales-candidate
- A3 [sales] post a new job-description on my website
- A4 [marketing] write a press-release for the new website-launch
- B1 [marketing] improve the powerpoint presentation and send a PDF of it to the pr-manager
- B2 [technical] meet with Peter to discuss the timeline of new shop-project
- C1 [product] review and finish the project-plan of the Newsletter-project
- C2 [technical] produce actionable tasks from the project-plan and put them into the project-tool
3. Put your tasks into your calendar
The next thing is to put the tasks into your calendar and lock them in to be done. Your calendar can be your number 1 tool to organize around. I personally love to use iCal on Apple as well as an iPhone to synchronize the tasks onto a mobile device. A mobile device makes sure that you have your schedule ready whenever you need it (you can always turn it off, if you want to ;)). You can use any calendar as Microsoft Outlook, Firefox Sunbird or Google Calendar.
On Sunday or Monday morning you insert your tasks into your calendar and if necessary set reminders, so the tool will inform you about the task. This way you have a system you can trust and you can get all the tasks out of your head. This is very important since you want to have all of your resources available to concentrate them on the one task you are doing.
Of course it is very important to leave space (time) in your calendar, since there are usually not only the tasks you select to do but all kind of tasks that can get to you. Maybe there are new tasks from your boss, from colleagues or an emergency. The important thing is though, to get your A-priorities done. So leave time open in your calendar. I keep 50% free every day, so I can react to what is happening. This also touches time-management with the important and urgent tasks, refer to my post on the 7 habits: 3. First Things First for more infos.
So the calendar would look like this (Google Calendar in this case):
You should use different colors for your different life-areas in iCal. So for instance in my weekly plan all professional tasks are blue, body is red and mind is green etc.
Start executing your A1 priority task on Monday and work along your calendar schedule. I simply have my calendar open and start with the first task now. Until it is complete I try to focus only on this task. If you get interrupted and can’t prevent it (you don’t have to take every phone-call or allow colleagues to interrupt with trivial questions), focus on that new task and then return to your current task asap.
If you have to reschedule then do it and make sure that you keep your A-priorities to the front. As I said the most important thing is to get all A’s done within the week. Then advance to the B’s and then to the C’s.
The result of this weekly planning and executing around your personal life-priorities is simply that you will make significant progress in YOUR chosen direction. You will make good progress in the week and huge progress over one year that way.
I wish you good luck! :)
Do you have feedback or questions? What are your systems and ideas that work for you? Please write and discuss them in the comments.
I’ve built a free iOS app to help me plan my week closer to how it’s described in the 7 Habits. I find the „Franklin Covey“ way of planning things has too many details (ie: Sorting priorities by A, B, C is overkill for me personally) and prefer how it was initially described in 7 habits.
This app is very simplistic (allows you to record Mission statement, set Roles, assign goals to each role, and create a list of weekly priorities broken down by Role) but leaves the scheduling to external tools (I prefer to use my iOS calendar).
Link to the app:
And a link to how I use it to plan my week:
thank you for the tips , it is very important and will help me a lot at home and at work.
Thank you for posting this.
You’re welcome Kevin.
Very helpful & practical system! Thank you for posting this.
I’ve been struggling with this for many years! I often come back to Coveys quadrants when I feel overwhelmed (Currently I have over 150 tasks on my list). One major issue I have relates to when is a task a task? Many things I have are more akin to projects (i.e. Implement strategic alliance with xyz) which if I break down into component tasks would totally overload my list! Also as I use outlook I end up with a task list comprising of flagged emails (which might take 15 mins to deal with) and major projects which span months….
Then categorising and prioritising takes too long…I find myself drowning in managing rather than doing work!
Thankyou very much, that was really helpful.
No that’s not bad practice, since its really the only thing you can do, isn’t it? What else do you want to do with the work that is not finished yet.
One idea would be to break down tasks into smaller chunks so you can estimate the time they need to get completed better.
Thanks for this article. It helped me to see some things more clearly. I work with a weekly plan for three weeks now. But some areas are still a bit blurry to me. For example: I’m not good in estimating the time needed for a task.
That is why i write something like „7:00 – 8:30 work on project X“ in my calender. On my to-do list are the exactly defined tasks that i want to do for project X and i work on them until the time is over. The tasks that didn’t get done go on the to-do list for the next day. Is this is bad practice?
Will read some of your other articles. Maybe i can find some answers or some practices i can use there.
To answer the last two questions: The priority you give these events (in Juice) is totally up to you. Are these important to you? If so, you can make them your top priority.
Just know that saying yes to something also means saying no to something else. Do you really want to do this? Or is there something more important to you than going to the social event? If so, then this is a higher priority in your life.
Where does [social] events place into the A, B, C importance levels? I’d love to go to them all but i have difficulty prioritizing them.
I really like the advice you give in this article. I really want to try implemment something close to this.
I have a question. Do you recommend making some ‚A‘ priority ‚juice‘ tasks?
Hehe, yes. Would be nice to have that iCal app in Windows too. :)
Now I am jealous of mac users, I wish I had a mac so I could use that iCal feature! The one I am stuck with windows is really boring :(
I’m way to technical. I add about every 1-3 days. I value each of my tasks in three areas. Difficulty (time/stress), Importance, timeliness (how slanted is the benefit & work distribution towards the now, shape not magnitude). Then I load balance difficulty and then importance at a minor level and place high timeliness items forward.
I bet shape not magnitude is confusing. If reading something before a meeting is useful but not needed, the meeting is tomorrow afternoon, it doesn’t do much good to read it in four days just because it’s not that important.
So every day has its tasks and I start the day with the important tasks for that day. If I don’t get to reading that unimportant report but focused on something way more important, great. At least it was scheduled for the right day.
By doing it her way you are asking yourself to preform poorly on both sides of the week. Not getting the extra stuff done on Monday that shows your ready for extra responsibility, and putting off the important stuff for Monday when your received it on Thursday. You look like a slacker at the end of the week and responsible yet not doing more then required in the beginning.
Allocating time as budget. Hmm, yes makes sense – good way to go with it.
I read your post about it. The results are for instance:
# I breath with full chest. No more fire alarms.
# I know what I do and why I do it.
which is in harmony with this post.
I had a bit difficulties to see the difference between using your time-budget and just the allocation on a daily basis for projects. I guess it is more long term time allocation!?
I personally treat the Time as Budget. Allocating it daily, weekly, monthly, annually.
It really helps me achieve what i really want to
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Thanks for the post, I really need to get more organised with what I am doing. I usually have too many tasks on my plate and then don’t get anything done because I loose focus.
I started with creating a excel spreadsheet with tasks and it is getting better, but I like your idea with the calender.
Click A Life Coach´s last blog post: Productivity
Wim, if you are that flexible it’s sweet to insert a social or body-„event“, yes. I think most people work 9-5 in Offices or at least in their working environment, and so am I. I could do my body-workout in the morning or in the evening on weekdays. Social meetings could work for lunch.
Of course if you are willing and able to create a more flexible work-time (i.e. „The 4 Hour Work Week“ by Timothy Ferriss) it’s even more flexible :)
Interesting post, thanks. I think it’s really important to really take those „private life-areas“ into account, and yes, why not schedule them in! Also agree on keeping enough free space in your schedule, tasks usually take longer and new stuff comes up all the time. The execution always remains the difficult part of course; but maybe it helps planning in more of those ‚life area tasks‘ in between. Planning in something not work-related like swimming or running can greatly benefit your productivity, at least it works for me. Sometimes, you should regard „Swimming“ as ‚A1‘ ;).
Wim´s last blog post: Prioritizing and Planning: The Urgency Trap.
Brian, you mean you know your task well and have then problems while executing it?
To me this mostly happens if I’m not enough committed to the task. You could also say motivated or inspired. If the A task is really an A, it means that you get a huge benefit out of it. It comes from your goals and desires. It really takes you forward.
If that’s the case, then it is merely a question of mechanics: how do you execute it and do you have a strong enough focus to stay on what is important to you? If yes, then executing and even something called self-discipline becomes a no-brainer. Because it is driven by enthusiasm.
I know, that’s not the case with every task though. Then the learned mechanics are handy because every C-task should somehow be part of the whole picture … ;)
I’m usually good up to the execution. Then I have a tough time staying on task. Maybe it would help me to plan using these tips. I’ll give it a whirl…
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Going with the flow sounds very nice and by the way, usually if I work my schedule it feels like flow :) For me it is the right feeling that what I am doing right now is that what I chose to be the most important thing for me. It definately helped me making more progress into the directions I chose.
I think there is the typical battle between productivity and creativity. Mary just wrote about that on http://goodlifezen.com/2008/10/27/less-stress-more-productivity-how-you-can-do-it/ where she said the best thing is, that you keep your head free of all the things, because you can just put them into your trusted system. And you know that it will come up if appropriate. I agree on that, this is a huge helper to be focused on the task at hand. And it also can reduce the stress-level.
There is another point I observed with friends and colleagues: the fear of losing creativity and flexibility because THE TOOL DICTATES WHAT I HAVE TO DO!! ;) The thing is, that we dictated the tool what it dictates us to do, so we have to think about it only once. If you have the right A’s, the most important things for you right now, then this is empowering you instead of blocking your creativity. That’s at least my experience :)
I admire folks who can be this organized. In spite of the many strategies, gadgets and software applications, I still favor the old-fashioned list that is somewhat prioritized but not nearly as well as yours.
I’m with Evelyn. I tend to go more with the flow.
I’ve tried making a plan for topics I will cover on my blog. But when I sit to write a post, another idea may take hold that takes me in a totally different direction. This morning, for example, I was scheduled to post about the impressions people leave behind based on an article I read. But when I sat to write it, a memory of how much fun we had playing a game at my son’s birthday party popped in my head. So, I wrote about that instead.
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I really wish that I can get more organized!! I tend to go with the flow! Thanks for posting some help in bringing order into my life!
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Parth, that might happen. I usually start with my A’s, so I still might get all A’s done. If something more important happens, you have to focus on that of course. Maybe you have to reschedule most of the tasks after that event. For me the most important thing is, that I get my high priorities done. If that happens, the week was a success for me.
The best that time-management can do is that you always focus on the most important thing at the moment and the most important thing is determined by your goals and by demands. If you check the Time-Management Matrix here http://www.awakeblogger.com/2008/07/the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people-1-private-victory/ if you manage the work more from the zone, you can be more proactive than reactive.
Thanks for posting this! Question: what do you do when something comes up in the middle of the week?
Nice way to use calendars to plan your week with some philosophical aspects to guide it. :)
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