Below is an edited extract from Doug Stewart's What’s Time to a Pig? The material is taken from Chapter 9.
Planning is something that we all wished we had more time to do. It gives us that feeling of control that comes from knowing where we want to go and how we are going to get there.
Without a plan there is no clarity and we leave ourselves vulnerable to those demands made upon us by other situations and other people. I know from my experience that people who are organized and take the time to plan are less likely to say “yes” to everything asked of them. Because they know what they want and need to do, and how this links to their goals. They feel more confident to push back and say no, when it is appropriate.
Planning is the one key element that moves us from the reactive to the proactive. It allows us the luxury of standing back, withdrawing from fighting fires for even a short time, and think in a more strategic way.
Even when we decide to book time in our calendar for planning we give it away to the first person that demands some of our time. We put planning at the bottom of the priority list and end up never getting to it, even when it is scheduled.
The one thing that time and time again people admit to me is that when they plan they feel good, get more done, experience much less stress, and yet we typically don’t do it! This is always surprising to me.
There was an article written by Albert E.N. Gray (1992-Business Systems Solutions of Oklahoma) called “The Secrets of Success”. The author was in insurance sales and wanted to determine what made one person more successful than another. After studying this, his conclusion was:
“Successful men are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods and are inclined to be satisfied with such results as can be obtained by doing things they like to do.”
Ultimately the successful person focuses on the end result and regardless of the pain and anguish brought on by the activities required to achieve the results, the successful person does them. The unsuccessful low performers are not focused on results and avoid doing those activities that cause pain.
Let's apply this to planning. What if we agreed that if we want to achieve our goals we have to invest in planning and just do it even if it makes us uncomfortable in some way. Like exercising, once we get started it becomes easier, and when we complete it we know that we have done the right thing, and we feel good about it.
Recently while coaching an executive I suggested that he start planning weekly, on Friday mornings, first thing. A month later we met and he told me that I had given him the gift of “guilt-free weekends”. He plays hockey and he has two young sons who also play. Until he learned to plan weekly, he was the only parent at the arena with his laptop, working through every weekend. Now he rarely takes his laptop home on the weekends.
We know that the urgent always takes precedence over the things that we are trying to work on that are linked to our objectives. Everyone I work with, in organizations in almost every industry, says that they spend most of their time fighting fires.
Often we go home at the end of the day or even at the end of the week feeling like we have accomplished nothing that we started out to do. This gives us a low sense of achievement and can affect our morale which in turn can contribute to low productivity and higher stress, and possibly lead to depression.
Getting the right work done in a fire fighting workplace is a matter of making choices, and then negotiating with ourselves and those around us, to enforce those choices.
To clarify what choices we need to make can be very effectively advanced through better planning and specifically weekly planning. Let’s define what I mean by this. Weekly planning is a ritual that we should make part of our habits, ideally on a weekly basis, at the same time, on the same day. Now for some of us this is not necessarily possible so we need to determine what works for us and stick with it.
Weekly means planning once a week, but it also means planning for the upcoming week. The focus is on the week, but at the same time we need to look farther down the road to see what is coming up, two weeks or even a month or two from now. Like a chess game, we need to plan more than one move ahead. The great chess players plan four or five moves ahead. Then when the opponent moves, and the situation changes, they plan four or five moves ahead again, and so on. They don’t give up on the planning, just because they didn’t anticipate the opponent’s next move.
We need to know if any preparation will need to be done next week for something that is happening or even might happen in the future. We also need to make sure that we have everything that we know is going to happen, booked in our calendars, or that we want to make happen, as far in advance as possible. So many people lose the opportunity to take vacation when they want to, or go to a conference they wanted to attend, because it wasn’t in their calendar and some other event took over.
During the weekly planning session is the time to book deadline dates for projects or follow ups we need to remind ourselves of. When you do your weekly planning it is a time to review all of your systems. Look at your active files, project plans, in-box, in-tray, calendar, pending items, last to do list, upcoming meetings and so on. Not only is this the time to review what is upcoming from these systems, it is also a time to put things in order. If your systems require maintenance, now is the time to do it, once a week, before they fall apart and require a major investment of your time.
As you review your systems, make a master to do list for the upcoming week (or two). Preparing a daily to do list is good and generally helps us focus on what we want to get done today, but it usually only has the urgent, last minute tasks on it, and is usually much too ambitious and unrealistic relative to what we will be able to get done that day.
The weekly master to do list helps inject some of the long term, more strategic, objective related tasks into our plans.
When you should plan weekly
The best time to do your weekly planning varies from individual to individual, depending on your role and your style. There is however a clear advantage to booking your weekly planning time with yourself (as a recurring appointment in your calendar), the first thing Friday morning. This is when the person I mentioned earlier who said “you have given me a guilt free weekend”, learned to do his weekly planning.
Friday afternoons are a common time to plan as well. This would be my second choice. However, if you are like me, I am a bit burned out by this time and wishing I was on the golf course, so if you want to plan Friday afternoon, do it early, not at 4pm.
One last thing about weekly planning. It is the easiest time to give away. Almost everyone that I coach struggles with protecting and retaining this time for themselves. When people need to see us we all tend to look at those appointments we have made with ourselves as give-aways. Especially, it seems, the planning time. So book it and negotiate around it, as much as you can.
Weekly planning is the fulcrum to any good time management system that allows you to leverage your time and be more productive and effective. It will generate satisfaction and fulfillment in life like no other tool that I know.
Doug Stewart is an Effectiveness Coach and facilitator and is President and owner of Vantic Consulting Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org