Abraham Lincoln famously said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” And I concur with him. Getting things done and being effective all comes down to preparation and planning. This is one of the reasons I always spend quite a bit of time with clients, guiding them towards effective planning. I have however learned over the years, that each person is different and there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to effective planning and scheduling. We need to find the system that works for each of us individually.
In this article, I want to share three different ways to achieve the same thing: scheduling to get things done. I have found these three ways to be very effective, and, depending on your working style, one of these is bound to work for you.
Schedule the Week System
This is my personal planning system, as I prefer to have a look further ahead (a week works well for me).
On a Friday afternoon, I schedule one hour to plan the next week. I will review all the meetings and other commitments already scheduled for the week and determine how much time I have available around those commitments. Next, I allocate time slots for specific tasks (things I have to do every week – like write a blog or deliver a Facebook Live). These are my routine tasks.
The next step is to allocate time slots (or chunks) to specific types of tasks and projects. I review all my current projects and upcoming commitments to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
In this way, I schedule my entire week. I have a rule though: I only schedule 75% of each day. I leave “buffer time” for in case life happens – which it often does!
Schedule the Day System
With this system, you have a master To-Do list from which you work. At the end of each day, you ring-fence 15 minutes to plan the next day. Firstly, have a look at your schedule for tomorrow. What meetings are scheduled? What commitments do I have? Then look at your master To-Do list and “fill in the blanks”.
You may find that you have a total of three hours available between other commitments. Which tasks from your master To-Do list needs to be done first? What are your priorities? Schedule tasks from your master list, into your schedule for tomorrow.
One thing to remember with this system though: Don’t confuse urgent with important. Your master To-Do list may have several tasks classed as urgent, but they are not necessarily important. Focus on important, high-impact tasks.
The Next Chunk System
In some cases this system works very well – particularly if you work in a very reactive environment. If your role requires you to react to incoming “things” all the time, it may be difficult (if not impossible) to plan your week or day ahead. That is where this system comes in handy.
With this system, you plan ahead only for the next two to three hours. Again, you will have a master To-Do list from which to work – very similar to the Schedule the Day system above.
Set aside 5-7 minutes every two to three hours to plan the next Time Chunk. Bear in mind that you may need to leave a large proportion of your Time Chunk for “reactive work”. So, only schedule in enough tasks from your master list to fill in part of your Time Chunk. If you find during your next Time Chunk that you have more available time, you can always grab another task or two from your master list.
The thing to remember with this system is that you might tend to loose focus of the bigger picture. It is important to schedule time to look at your overall goals and plans and not get fixated on small (often less-impactful) tasks.
Whatever you do….
The system you use to plan, schedule and prepare is not important. What is important is this: If it’s not scheduled, it possibly won’t get done – so schedule it.