The days of diving into Monday morning totally unprepared are over. Reserve a minimum of an hour (maybe 1.5 or 2) each week for the below process. At first this is as counter-intuitive as working out – but no matter how crazy your schedule is, you will be more effective, confident and calm, if you take time before you jump into the storm. Look at your schedule and decide when is your best time at the start of each week. Ideally, this is the same time every week so we can establish a ritual. For me, it’s usually from 8-9:30 on Monday morning. Sometimes it’s Sunday.
Just be sure you do it before you start any of your weekly tasks, and especially before you check email! If this means spending an hour Sunday night then so be it.
Make it something you look forward to. Put on your favorite relaxing music (mine is usually classical or something meditative). Pour a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Shut off the Internet. Get away from the world.
Do This: Write down your planning time and schedule it.
2. Clean Out Email
3. Connect and Visualize the Big Picture –Time recommended: 2-5 minutes
Take a few deep breaths. Then take some time to look at your big lifetime goals and dreams. What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your life to be about for the next 3-10 years? Look back over your lifetime goals and Areas of Attention. Starting with the big picture allows us to keep our focus on what really matters (i.e. building a loving family vs. worrying about paying your cable bill).
Do This: We’ll get to the little tasks later but for now, just visualize, feel and connect with the biggest things you want to be a part of your life. No need to write anything down.
3. Celebrate Last Week — Time recommended: 5-10 minutes
This is the most important step of all – I absolutely love it. Write down everything from the past week that you’re proud of. Anything and everything positive goes – having a record sales week, getting a rewarding thank you, having a hot date or sticking to your workout. A marathon or walking around the block – it’s all sacred.
We rarely take the time to appreciate the things we’ve accomplished, big and small, before diving into what’s next. This leaves us with a constant feeling of dissatisfaction. I guarantee there are things you did last week that you can be proud of. Recognize them. Bask in them. Celebrate it all. That pride turns into confidence and that confidence snowballs into the week to come.
A couple of mine from last week include: Being a guest expert for Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project, making fun plans for my wife’s birthday, having time to spend Friday and Saturday in the sun with close friends, being a part of Simon Sinek’s latest project (more on that soon), sorting out a new healthcare plan and doing an awesome webinar with Corbett Barr. Seriously, anything goes.
Do This: List at least 10 things – but feel free to write down as many more as come to mind. You’ll often find that once you start, it’s hard to stop. Perfect. This will put you in an unbelievably powerful state for tackling what’s to come. Have fun with it.
4. Write Down Major Lessons — Time recommended: 2-5 minutes
We learn new things every day. But an education is worthless if you don’t make the lessons a part of your life. Write down any key learnings from the past week: major lessons, meaningful quotes and things that inspire you. I also keep a list of “dream connections”, which I’ll get to more in the Connect with Anyone course, but this is basically a list of people I’d love to connect with and my progress in making it happen.
A big lesson for me last week was: Digital communication is great for trading information but terrible for emotional discussions – leave those for phone or in person. Simon Sinek made this point on our call and it really stuck, so I took note.
Do This: Look back through your notes and ideas from last week and list all the lessons that come to mind. Give them a chance to become a part of your life.
5. Analyze What Didn’t Happen — Time recommended: 2-5 minutes
Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. Look back on the important things you wanted to accomplish last week. What didn’t happen? Be totally honest with yourself. List them out. Only list the things that actually mattered. For each one, write down why it didn’t happen. Was it for a good reason (i.e. other more important things happened), or was it for a bad reason (i.e. you got sucked into checking emails for 9 hours straight)? What could you have done to avoid this? How will you improve it going forward?
For me, one of my misses last week was: I didn’t complete the outline for my Connect with Anyone course, but it was because creating content related to last week’s webinar was more important at the time.
Do This: Be honest with yourself and list the big things that didn’t happen and what you can improve for next time.
6. Clarify and Commit to Your Biggest Outcomes — Time recommended: 5-10 minutes
Now that we’ve properly reflected on last week, it’s time to dive into what’s to come. I like to start by quickly reviewing my mission/purpose, values, and strengths, to get in the right place (I keep a list of all these on a couple sheets of paper). Now, look at each major area in your life and the related goals (in the Goal Setting and Action workbook, we call these Areas of Attention).
Decide on on a maximum of 6-7 outcomes you want to accomplish related to the various areas of your life. This could be creating a personal budget, cooking a healthy meal or having a great meeting with a mentor. You get to decide. Just be sure they get you closer to your yearly goals. That’s the key. So “checking Facebook” would not count.
Do This: Pick a total of 6-7 outcomes max and spread them throughout the week.
7. Schedule Everything — Time recommended: 5-15 minutes
This is the missing link for many. Everything you do takes up time in your day. Yet most of us create lists of tasks with no concept of how long they’ll take. In fact I bet if you took your current task list and wrote down how long each item would actually take, you’d find you need about 20 hours for today’s tasks. Ever feel like you never get everything done in a day? This is why. We drastically underestimate how long things take. Since everything takes time to do, we need to assign actual time to the things that matter most to us.
Look at your 6-7 weekly outcomes and decide what core tasks will need to happen to accomplish these. Now spread these out throughout the week. Most people can’t accomplish more than 1-3 meaningful things in a day, so that’s your limit. Pick 1-3 “most important tasks” (MIT’s) as my buddy Leo likes to call them and schedule them throughout the week. Keep in mind any meetings you have or calls you need to make.
Now actually reserve the time on your calendar. I mean actually, book a meeting with yourself on an actual calendar. You should see my Apple iCal – it looks like someone spilled a pack of skittles on it with all the self-appointments for each big task related to my Areas of Attention. If I need to do something important, it gets a place on my calendar. Period.
Do This: If you want it to get done, you have to schedule it. Schedule 1-3 important tasks for each weekday. If you don’t have a calendar yet, then get one. I love iCal because it syncs with my iPhone and is visually really fun.
Here’s a taste of what my calendar looks like most weeks…
8. Fill in the Gaps and Housekeeping — Time recommended: 5-10 minutes
Most of us fill our days with the little tasks – the ones that are easy to do, but also that don’t end up getting us any closer to our goals. These need to get done, but not at the expense of the things that help us accomplish what actually matters. Once you’ve scheduled your outcomes and MIT’s, now is where you get to fill in anything else.
Do This: Look at what’s left on your to-do list. Now look at your calendar and see when you could fit the little things in. Schedule these as well. By the end of this process, you shouldn’t have any stray to-do lists or tasks.
And also, since nothing happens without help, I like to take a minute or two and think about two questions in the context of my week:
Who can I help this week?
Who could help me accomplish what I have planned for the week?
Write down 1-3 people for each.
And as final housekeeping I like to review my expenses from the last seven days – I use Mint.com so this usually takes about 3 minutes to categorize and see if everything looks right. If I put it off until the end of the month, this stuff turns into more of a mental monster than it needs to be. A few minutes goes a long way.
*A small note on how I track To-Do’s: I use the to-do list program called Things, which has seriously been a lifesaver. I have a version on my MacBook Air, my iPhone and my iPad (yes, I’m part of the cult). They all sync together. I’m able to categorize to-do’s into various projects, easily search them, drag to my calendar, assign dates and keep everything sorted. As soon as I think of an idea throughout the week, I immediately write it down – so I don’t forget it, and so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting it. Don’t estimate how mentally freeing it is to get ideas onto paper. I must have 100 project or lists tracked in Things. Only 5 or 10 are active at once, but everything is recorded in there.
If you don’t have a way to easily keep track of ideas and to-do’s, get one. This is an excellent option.
How to not fail at weekly planning – a few tips:
So there you have it – the most powerful hour I spend each week.
Once you get a handle on the process, it’s a lot simpler than it looks. But there are a few things that seem to trip people up. Keep these in mind…
Everything takes longer than we think. If you think it’s going to take an hour to write an article, then schedule an hour and a half. Worst case you’ll end up having free time.
Leave windows of “buffer time”. Do not fill in every second of every day. Unexpected things will always come up. Don’t let them snowplow your week. Give yourself time to take care of last-minute stuff that matters, and to be spontaneous with things.
Know you won’t get it all done. Even with great planning, it seems like we tend to be over ambitions (at least I am ). Be ok with leaving a little for next week. It gives you something to look forward to anyway.
Schedule the most important things early in the week. Given the above, front-weight your most important tasks so that no matter what comes up, at least a few of them will get done.
Everyone has enough time.
There is a reason why the people who get the most done, tend to continue to be able to do more and more of what matters.
Many of them also tend to love the work they do.
None of this is a coincidence.
They traded excuses for a process that get’s results.
Whether you use this process or any other – please just use something.
There is no excuse for showing up underprepared.
If it’s in your control, then it’s time to start controlling it.
Trust me, you have enough time to do the things that matter.
We all do.
The only question left is how are you going to spend it?