Why plan weekly?
It’s difficult to prescribe any particular time frame for planning because so many of us have different working lives, from those whose work is set for them to those who have to seek it out and sell it, and whose planning is therefore dictated to a larger degree by what arises rather than what was set in advance. The reason I chose the weekly approach was because I was a shift worker, with varying start and finish times, and things that had to be done being constantly interrupted by emergencies, the curse of the emergency services, which in turn gave rise to more new things that had to be done. I also chose it because I read First Things First by Stephen Covey, who proposed that it wasn’t ‘the week’ that was inherently magic, it was the perspective of a week that changed one’s approach from one of managing crises on a daily basis to looking at a week in the whole and planning not only for an appointment but also for the preparation for that appointment. Planning a week turned life from a collection of last minute, almost panicked activity conducted during breakfast, to the creation and recognition of a blueprint for the week that allowed for a gentler introduction to any day.
Other rationales for choosing a weekly approach is because the world works in weeks – schools, offices, factories – the vast majority of the working world works in week cycles and so there is a logical basis for us to do the same. Next, daily focus tends to result in constant readjustment around what is right in front of us rather than our ultimate objectives – interruptions rule, and we let them. Having a wider perspective allows for focus ON that longer term plan. And that includes planning renewal time, time for reading, study, exercise and social-emotional activity where we focus on relationships with ourselves, and with others.
Once you accept that planning a week is better than coping with a day, it makes sense that you should establish a calm routine for doing just that. So the first appointment to make is one with yourself, before the week begins or, if you prefer and I occasionally did, at the end of the week where the work you recognise needs to be done remains fresh in your mind because you are still slightly engaged in it. But try and establish a routine time and day when your planning will be done.
You may have a preference for a particular planning tool. Many people have several, but the wisdom suggests that having one tool into which all tasks, appointments, notes and contacts should be placed. This system – for it is intended to be a system – is intended to be a one-stop shop for listing the things you have to do, the details of those with or for whom you do them, the appointments you have to attend, and the primary notations that arise, which can be properly filed later. I prefer a paper system but many prefer electronic. The only emphasis to be made here is that whichever you use, the objective is to keep all four of the TANC in one place as much as possible. Many CEOs who followed the popularity of the electronic route reverted to paper and claimed an improved sense of awareness of what was going on, as if the electronic planner had taken over whereas the paper version put them back in charge. For me, the main rationale for using paper is that it’s portable, whereas some ITC systems just aren’t. They can sync, so if you insist on electronic then try and make all tools compatible so that an entry in one automatically gets created in another. Multiple diaries or repositories allows for greater potential for clashes and omissions. (Cloud? As secure as any open bag on a bus.)
And so to the Planning Process, illustrated on the screen.
First, connect to Mission. Regardless of whether or not you like that term, those of us involved in coaching and personal development training will be aware that clients who have a long term, even life plan tend to be grounded and have an idea of where they are going in life. Kerry spoke of vision statements a couple of weeks ago and I encourage anyone who doesn’t have a mission statement, or vision statement, or at the very least a clearly set out and defined personal values, should set out and discover that code of conduct and identify a life objective – because everything you do should in some way be a reflection of that statement as far as humanly possible, if you are to feel any sense of inner peace and achievement.
Therefore the first task in weekly planning is to review and re-engage with that mission and remind yourself what you are about.
Next, consider your roles. We all have roles, and if you were to ask the average client for a role the first one they identified would almost invariably be their job title. But we all have other roles related to family (son, daughter, spouse, parent); our community (volunteer, contributor); our professions (union, professional associations) and so on. The reason we consider roles is because they provide a context to the planning – we have things to do in each role that need to be part of the plan.
Another reason for considering your roles is because roles invariably involve other people, and this is important – we manage our time only in the context of the relationships we have with the people we live with. When you make a plan you take into account the needs, wishes and even the availability of those people. Doing this on a daily basis means you inadvertently make your crisis their crisis. How rude is that? Planning on a weekly basis allows them to be as prepared as you are for whatever it is you need to work on together.
Third – ask yourself, ‘what goals do I have to achieve in each role in the next 7 days?’ Write them down because the objective is to make sure that those things get progressed. This is an opportunity to make sure, for example, that a family goal is catered for even when work is pressing. By knowing in advance what needs to be done, you increase the likelihood that it will get done.
Fourth – set out the plan. Most time management texts instruct the reader to make a list of the things they have to do that day, and then prioritise those tasks using an ABC, 123 method. They call this ‘Prioritising Your Schedule’, listing tasks in the order that they need to be done. The weekly process has a different focus – it’s called Scheduling Your Priorities. You have your goals, and by virtue of the fact that they ARE goals and they (should) be representative of your priorities – or they wouldn’t BE goals – then they are ALL priorities. So the weekly process states – plan a point in the week where you will do the thing that you consider to be important. Subject to ‘life’ getting in the way, decide when, in the week, you will do that thing. Appointments are obvious; their place in the plan is already set. But here’s another mind blower – when you have a prioritised task to do, why not plan an appointment with yourself? You may have a goal to write a letter to Fred, and you put it on a to-do list. At the end of the week, Fred’s letter remains undone. But if you take that task and turn it into an appointment – say for 3pm on Thursday – what are the increased chances that by 3pm on Thursday you will be sat at your desk with the letter’s content firmly in mind?
The fifth part of the system is the hard part. Exercise integrity in the moment of choice. As the cliché says, this is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the point where your willingness to do the thing is challenged, be it by fear, doubt, laziness, ennui, boredom, diverted attention or other distraction – and you have to decide whether, or not, you are going to do it. Integrity requires only that you decide whether doing it as intended is the right thing to do, or whether the thing that is challenging your willingness to do it is a genuine, mission-related and justified alternative to what you had planned. For example – your plan involves making 10 cold calls about keynotes. If an opportunity to go shopping with a friend arises, your integrity dictates which you do. If it’s a neighbour who suggests food shopping, what do you do? If it’s a friend you haven’t seen for 15 years and who is in the area only that day, what do you do? Integrity allows for genuine plan changes, but does not permit procrastination!
Finally, at the end of the week and just before planning the next one, you conduct a quick Evaluation. How did the past week go? Did you achieve what you intended? If not, did you act with integrity? If not, was what you didn’t do really mission-orientated anyway? Or can it be rescheduled for the next week? What didn’t you do that still needs to be done? What can reasonably be dumped? What challenges did you overcome? Did you break any promises, under perform, or excel in any way? In the final analysis – what did you learn? And next week – how will you apply what you learned?
In conclusion: What is the underlying benefit of weekly planning? It is the possession of a clear line of sight from what you believe is important to you – your mission – to a personally created, focused plan of action, to the exercise of integrity that develops the character that results in that mission being achieved. It overcomes the challenges created by trying to plan day by day, when doing so is fraught with the ever-present reality that something will get in your way, something unplanned. When you have a longer term plan you plant the intent to see it through, and when challenged, its very existence – and your emotional commitment to seeing it through – will make sure that you find a way to get things done.
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