Is climbing Mount Everest on your bucket list? If so, is your plan to book your flight, make the 22-hour trip to Nepal, show up and simply hike up the 31,000-ft. ascent to the top of the 60-million-year-old mountain? Of course not — you will first invest your time and effort in carefully constructing a detailed plan. A few facts to consider as you plan this expedition: it will cost you ~$75,000, you’re going to need an experienced ‘Sherpa’ to assist you in putting the logistics together for the 60-day hike and help guide you; be prepared, maximum wind speeds of 200 MPH and temperatures – 76°.
A bit of an extreme example, but I wanted to illustrate a point — challenges require extreme thought and planning to produce successful results. As life continues to increase in speed each year of my professional life, and the challenges and responsibilities increase, I understand that change is inevitable and constant. Never get too comfortable with any routine in your life or career because the competition for market share pushes companies and their staffs to the brink to be an innovator vs. a follower. However, there is one constant over the past 25+ years in my routine that has not changed, and that is spending an hour or so each Sunday evening on my weekly planning.
The power of weekly planning lies in the perspective and control it provides for your life; it allows you a clear path that puts you in a position to be proactive, rather than reactive as the distractions of work and life come at you from all directions. It also eliminates stress, makes you better-prepared for unexpected obstacles and allows you to evaluate your progress. For even the most talented people, time management is demanding, and planning is the most important part of the formula. By spending a small chunk of time without distraction, you can created a powerful weekly action plan to be your compass in efficiency and effectiveness as you navigate the week.
So how do you start? I’ll walk you through the routine I follow. Remember, this is an activity that is based on your personality. Some require specific action plans to accompany their weekly plan, while others work efficiently and simply create a brief road map to ensure they have their priorities in order. Here is how I structure my personal plan:
- Data dump. The first thing I do is grab a pen and paper and do what I call a “data dump”. I review the previous week — did I accomplished the items I set as priority? Then, I’ll write down everything I can think of that needs attention, both business and personal, for the upcoming week.
- Prioritize. I use a numerical system to prioritize the tasks. It’s simple: 1 for high priority, 2 for moderate and 3 for a task that is low in priority. It’s important to note: always put the big tasks first, those that will require the most time need to be the highest priority. The smaller tasks will fall into place after that.
- Time. I review each task and assign the amount of time I estimate it will take to execute. Times can range from 5-10 minutes, or as high as 6-8 hours; either way it is critical that you overestimate rather than underestimate.
- Deadline. Assign a deadline for each task. Some may fall within that given week, others may be long-term — but I know that there are specific tasks that need to be completed in phases to meet the end goal.
- Resources. Evaluate each assignment and determine if the task is mine, or if it will require the attention of others. If it demands input, resources or feedback from others, I highlight it and note which individuals (by name and/or departments) will contribute.
- Personal obligations. I make a separate list which includes personal or family obligations. Bottom line: you must make time for you and your family to live a balanced, successful life.
- Build it. Create your weekly planner. First fill in all your personal obligations, then follow by filling the time slots with the tasks based on rank. Finally, structure it using the estimated time you have predetermined in the slots listed.
There is a caveat to all this…even the best-laid plans need adjusting. That’s why daily planning is also critical in the process. At the end of each day, I review that respective day and my week ahead and may have to adjust as needed. While I try to avoid making changes to my high-priority items, I may move around other tasks or push them if the deadline is not necessarily near because of an unexpected task that hits. Don’t be disappointed or feel as if the plan is not an effective tool. Your planner serves as a best-case scenario. However, if you make the planning sessions a habit, after time, you will be a much better judge of your time and find yourself with more motivation, direction and peace in your life.
Bottom line: if you fail to plan, then plan to fail . . .