It’s necessary for business owners or people employed in leadership and key roles to plan effectively. A simple way to achieve this is to complement the work you schedule each day with a weekly planning regime. To take the time to reflect and strategize and set the course for next week to ensure you’re working towards achieving your key targeted outcomes. If you’re not doing this then maybe you feel you’re too busy or don’t need to do it, but with all due respect, I think that’s just excuses for not having a weekly planning process.
The first question to consider is when should you do your weekly plan. Some people go through the process on a Sunday night. While that’s an approach and better than not having a weekly plan at all, I prefer the idea of doing it just after lunch on a Friday afternoon so that it allows time to review and maybe action anything that hasn’t been done. The other benefit is you can leave work knowing next week is already locked and loaded, which enables you the opportunity to switch off from work and basically keep the weekend free to enjoy. I don’t advocate leaving it until 5pm on a Friday because it’s too easy to trick yourself into feeling burdened by it or just running out of time to do it. If after lunch on a Friday isn’t suitable then play with it a bit and consider a Friday morning or Thursday afternoon.
A weekly plan doesn’t need to be a complicated exercise. Some people take hours to do it but I think it should only take 10 – 20 minutes, particularly if you plan and review your schedule each day. And the more you do it the easier it will become.
An effective weekly plan needs to consider the following 7 aspects:
- Hours intended to work: We tend to have periods at work when there’s either so much to do or the project we’re involved in is interesting that we work or need to work quite long hours to achieve our targeted results. However, it’s likely this pace might not be sustainable over the longer term. Alternatively, there can be other times when work isn’t as hectic. So, the first place to start is to determine how many hours you intend to work next week.
- Existing commitments: If you schedule your work proactively then how many hours have you already committed to next week. If you use an email calendar to schedule, then this number is easy to determine.
- Reactive work: Rule of thumb, how much time do you need to set aside for interruptions or the stuff you know you get dragged into but don’t know what it is specifically when you plan the week (you just know that there’s an amount of time week in week out). Typically, I allow for 20% of my time and if yours is higher than this then I suggest you understand what it is and make a conscious effort to reduce it.
- Available Hours: Your available hours to take on new work for next week is simply the calculation: Hours intended to work - Hours of existing commitments - Hours estimated for reactive work. If the number of available hours is a positive number then that’s the number of hours you have available to allocate to new pieces of work. If it’s a negative number then you will have to either reschedule or delegate work. If this isn’t possible then you might consider working longer hours than what you originally anticipated.
- New work: Assuming the number in available hours is positive, then now’s the time to think about the new work you need to add. To ensure you remain focused on key pieces of work, I like to designate work here to specific Covey Quadrants of urgent versus important:
- Q1 - Urgent and Important
- Q2 - Less Urgent and Important
- Q3 - Urgent and Less Important
- Q4 - Less Urgent and Less Important
For each entry describe the task, label it to a quadrant (ie. Q2) and estimate the number of hours required to perform the task (estimating accurately can be where the biggest challenge is).
- Total hours of new work: By adding up the hours of all the new work will determine if your plan is achievable ie.
- If it’s equal to available hours, then the plan is achievable
- If it’s less than available hours, then there’s room to either add more work or work less hours
- If it’s greater than available hours then you either need to reconsider what’s in the plan, reschedule work, delegate or plan to work longer hours to get everything done
- Add the new work to your email calendar: Once you’ve arrived at a plan you’re comfortable with, the final step is to schedule the new pieces of work into your email calendar. Remember to leave space in your calendar for reactive work.
Our time is limited and if we’re not careful we can waste too much of it on low value tasks and not focus enough on the key activities which impact targeted outcomes. Think of the weekly plan as the tool to ensure activity is aligned between bigger picture goals and your schedule. It might not be an exact science when you start doing it but the more you do it you will get more accurate at estimating timeframes and there’ll be greater alignment of activity on important work. The key is to build a cadence of doing it every week.