If you’re looking for a quick fix to your productivity woes, the answer may lie in something as simple as a pen and pad. Writing down a plan for the week ahead is an effective way to help you to turn down the “noise” and the stress that tends to accompany a full life.
Unfortunately, many people confuse writing down a plan for the week ahead with something that is far, far less effective: writing down a monster to-do list. If you frequently feel as though you are on a treadmill going slightly too fast…to nowhere in particular, it is highly likely you have fallen into that trap.
Whenever I encounter people in this situation, I always prescribe a weekly, thirty-minute personal strategy session. It may sound exotic at first blush, but in reality it is a very straightforward, three-part planning session designed to reduce your feelings of overwhelm and put you firmly back in control of your time in the coming week.
How to conduct a weekly strategy session of your own
A weekly strategy session comprises three, very straightforward steps. You will need to schedule about thirty minutes with yourself. We recommend Sunday evenings as it is a time when most people are in a relaxed and creative state, children (if you have them) are tucked in bed, dreaming of sugarplums, and you have adequate time to set aside and think about the week ahead.
This should be a work session that you look forward to doing. Therefore, before you begin, turn on your favorite tunes so they are playing softly in the background. If you want, pour yourself a small glass of wine, sparkling water with a slice of lemon, or a mug of herbal tea – whatever you enjoy most. Grab a notebook and a pen and turn off your computer and cell phones. You will want to be focused while you do this work.
Part One: Stop the Buzzing.
The first step in turning down the noise in your head is to evict the tasks buzzing around your brain and capture them in one long, laundry list. This list is absolutely, positively NOT to be used as your “to-do” list. Instead, consider it a holding pen for all of the tasks that have popped up on your radar in the past week or so. They are merely possibilities, not marching orders. The purpose of this step is to get those to-do’s out of your head and on to a piece of paper where they can be objectively evaluated. Star or otherwise highlight those tasks that you believe are truly critical.
Part Two: Reconnect with the Big Picture.
Effective time management is about accomplishing what you really want, not accomplishing more. Doing more for more’s sake is a recipe for burnout and an existential crisis. That is why it is absolutely essential to take a step back once a week to ensure your real priorities are front-and-center. Start with the roles you play, making sure to get beyond just your profession/job to include all the parts of your life that make you feel energized and whole. For example, my key roles are: mom, wife, count-on friend/sister, and chief dreamer of GetButtonedUp.com. Once you have listed your roles, ask yourself, “What is important for me to accomplish in this role this week?” The first time you do this, you might be surprised at how lopsided that original laundry list of to-do’s you jotted down was, especially if you work full-time. If you have time to spare, take a moment or two to look at some of the goals you said you wanted to accomplish at the outset of the year. How do they factor in? If you haven’t made any progress, consider adding them in as additional “roles.”
Part Three: Map Out Your Priorities & Set Them in Stone.
Now it’s time to fit the tasks into your schedule. Grab the starred items from your laundry list and the key tasks you identified for each of your roles and starting scheduling time on your calendar to complete them during the week ahead. If you find you don’t have enough hours in the week to do everything (and attend meetings, commute, etc), identify which tasks can be delegated and to whom they can be delegated. In addition, re-evaluate which items have the highest priority and re-organize your time as needed.
Once you are done, take a step back. Have you left enough wiggle room in your schedule for unforeseen emergencies and interruptions? If not, take one more pass at your schedule, eliminating the items that are not absolutely mission-critical. Use the free weekly strategy printable worksheet we’ve created to organize your thoughts.