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I watched a brilliant Ted Talk yesterday called “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban. At the end, Tim shows what he calls a “life calendar” with a box for every week of a 90-year life. It looks like this:
What strikes me is that there aren’t that many boxes!
So, how do you make sure you don’t waste those precious weeks? How can you maximise productivity without feeling overwhelmed and missing the important stuff in life?
The obvious answer is – you make a list of everything you want to achieve, and do it.
But here’s the truth about to-do lists: you’ll never get on top of them. Why? Because we all have an element of procrastination in us, and some days we just don’t feel like clearing the decks.
In order to achieve more in each of your (limited) weeks, you need a better system. Something that doesn’t rely on motivation alone, but on planning and discipline.
Essentially, to avoid the trap of instant gratification and only doing what you feel like doing at the time, the key is to separate making decisions and taking action.
You need to separate the roles of the planner and the doer.
The planner will think logically, rationally, and look at what needs to be done in the short term to achieve the long term goals.
The doer will take the instructions from the planner and just get on with it.
To make this happen, one simple but extremely effective tool: the weekly work plan.
What Is A Weekly Work Plan
A weekly work plan is simply a calendar representation of your to do-list.
Honestly, that’s all there is to it.
The difference is that, in a weekly work plan, you have prioritised and scheduled what you want to achieve that week.
This is where the secret lies. Your tasks are no longer floating around on a to-do list, postponed to whenever you feel like it.
They’re on your calendar because they matter to you.
And because they matter to you, you will get them done.
The Benefits Of A Weekly Work Plan
A weekly work plan is a no-BS system to get things done. I absolutely love the process of planning the week ahead and feeling in control of my priorities.
Here are the main benefits of a weekly work plan:
- Deciding v.s. Doing: A weekly work plan takes away having to decide what to do each hour of every day. You decide what you will focus on once a week, and when you get there, just get going.
- Small tasks: Your tasks can be broken into smaller parts, making them more achievable.
- Work flows efficiently: As you have planned your week ahead, your tasks are scheduled in a logical way and align to your higher purpose.
- Your goals are within reach: By using a weekly work plan in combination with your quarterly or yearly objectives, you will be able to implement tactically the realisation of your longer term plan.
- Keep track of what you achieve: Committing your tasks to a weekly work plan means you keep track of what you achieve each week.
- You will become a focus Ninja: Did you know that it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus on a task after being interrupted? By using a weekly work plan, you will be able to focus your work on what really matters.
How to Create A Weekly Work Plan
A weekly work plan is a simple tool but the process to create it is key to its success.
These 5 practical steps are easy to follow and ready to repeat every week for maximum productivity.
Make sure you set a regular time each week to do it to make it a habit (I usually do mine on Sunday evening).
Step 1. Brainstorm
First, you need to download everything that’s in your head. Think about what needs to be done this week, no matter how large or small. Include work things and personal things. Don’t hold back, just write things down.
Keep in mind your bigger goals, strategies, projects and how they feed into the following week(s).
If you think of tasks that might not be for next week, write it down anyway to keep track of it.
Step 2. Prioritise
Next, review every item you’ve just written down.
Which ones are important? Which can you delegate? Which can you eliminate?
What you have to keep in mind is that, although you can do anything, you can’t do everything.
Look at your activities and think about what will move the needle for you, as opposed to “nice to do”.
Once you get a list of “must-dos” for the week, start prioritising.
I use the ABCDE method from Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog. Rank your tasks in order of importance (A = very important, B = important or C = nice to do) or decide if you can delegate – D – or eliminate – E). Simple. Powerful. Effective.
Step 3. Allocate Time
Bill Gates said “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
This is easily applicable to week v.s. month.
We have a tendency to overestimate what we can achieve in the near future. All those items on my to-dos for next week? Easy!
Well, not really.
If you start allocating time to each task, you will soon realise that the time you have in the next 7 days is finite. And like all good things, you need balance to maximise output with a limited resource.
You don’t need to be precise, just a “gut feel” of how long things might take you is enough. But be realistic and even prudent. Best to have some time left at the end of the day than to constantly chase your tail…
Remember to break things down into small, actionable, chunks of work. No-one likes to start working on big scary projects. Aim for 30-60 minutes per item.
Step 4. Schedule
Now for the fun part.
To finalise your weekly work plan, open your calendar and start filling it with the important tasks you’ve listed.
Don’t hesitate to make it look like a “proper” meeting. After all, it is an appointment with yourself and important as such. When people try to book meetings in your calendar, they will see that you’re busy.
Plan buffer time as well, 15-20 minutes here and there, to give you time for a breather or deal with unexpected interruptions (which will inevitably come up).
It’s best to use online tools (Outlook, Google Calendar, Asana etc…) since meetings might need to move around as priorities change, for instance if you have an important last-minute work meeting.
But in order to make the system work, don’t be too flexible. After all, you’ve made the decision. Don’t let yourself down now!
Step 5. Review and Repeat
Come the end of the week, it’s time to start the process all-over again! But what’s even more important is taking time to reflect…
What have you achieved last week? What fell through the cracks? What took longer than anticipated?
Don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s a learning journey.
Each week, you’re credited with another week to get things right and move you closer to your goals.
With practice, the process of creating a weekly work plan will become seamless and help you achieve a lot more while being true to yourself.
The best way to have a productive week is to create a weekly work plan. It will help you clarify your priorities and keep you accountable.
It has changed my life and helped me achieve more but also be more intentional with how I spend my time. The thing with planning is that there is no room for guesswork. You can’t lie to yourself.
The process itself is simple but each step needs to be followed thoroughly to avoid wasting time and find the discipline to achieve your tasks.
Because when you don’t wake up with motivation (it happens…), you can always count on discipline to get things done.
How are you currently planning your week? Do you manage to get things done? Share your tips in the comments!