In my post on goal setting, I spoke about creating momentum with short term goals, as without momentum you can lose interest, get distracted and then very likely fail at the first hurdle.
Whether you have goals or not, creating momentum to kick start a productive week or the day ahead is just as important.
If you don’t do this, you’ll allow your day to driven by outside influences like email, social media, office chit chat, or just day to day actions that don’t achieve much.
Your first thought might be, this sounds like too much work, I don’t have time for this.
Yes, it does need some time day each day (5-10 minutes max), but the productivity savings you’ll make in time spent working on what you should be working on, rather than wasting time in reacting to less critical tasks or just general distractions, are enormous.
To take control of my week ahead, day to day and make sure I recognise what didn’t go well, I follow these three steps to maximise my productivity.
- Plan my week ahead
- Plan my day, everyday
- Reflect and learn
Creating a week the plan
I have three things I plan into my week every week, but this will differ for everyone. These are when I can exercise, tasks to help me meet my goals and 1-3 things I want to achieve at work that week. To do this, I follow these steps.
Step 1: Open up my work and personal diary alongside each other
Step 2: I look for gaps when I can plan to go to the gym or a run. The reason for having both diaries open is, I look for time slots that are least likely to be impacted by other diary events.
For example, if I have an hour space between 11.30 and 12.30, but there are meetings either side, there is a risk that first meeting might overrun and then I won’t have time to go to the gym.
Step 3: I then look at my goals and their actions and plan when and what I need to do this week to get me closer to those goals.
Again I look for realistic time slots pre and post work, or at work if they’re work-related. Each task is dropped in the diary.
Step 4: Then I pick 1-3 things I want to achieve at work this week. I pick up to three because if I complete one, I want to have another task ready to do.
These are single tasks but are larger work items that I want to keep progressing or complete. I don’t plan these into my diary at this stage but you can if you prefer too.
I like to plan these in when I’m doing the daily planning. I have two approaches for getting this type of work done, plan it daily, or it’s my fall back action if I finish something else early.
Completing the above shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes, but it’s a great way to start the week.
You feel in control before you started and ready to have a really great productive week, rather than worrying about how much you have to get done!
Planning the day
Once I have my week planned out, now I plan the tasks I want to achieve that day. This is either the detail of what you’ve planned in for the week, or just what you need to do at work that day.
Step 1: Planning your day actually starts the day before.
I set a reminder at 5 pm every day to write down up to 10 things I want to complete the next day. I write down the essential tasks that are achievable in a day. I look at my Trello board, unread emails, upcoming meeting etc.… to help me plan.
Step 2: I then put an I for important next to one thing I really must get done, 3-5 M’s for medium tasks and then the rest have an L for Low.
Writing them down at the end of the day helps you finish the working day feeling in control, so you can switch off and relax.
Step 3: The next morning, now you I plan my day. In pencil in case your day plans change, write out half hourly slots for your full working day. First add in any meetings already in your diary.
Then look at your end of day task list and drop them into your free slots. Any other free time, look to plan in time to complete your number one task you would like to complete this week.
Doing these night before and morning planning activities puts you in a controlled state of mind so you can focus on your tasks in hand.
You must repeat the above daily to create the habit and make it more natural behaviour. You’ll soon see your productivity increase, plus the planning aspect of this exercise get quicker.
Reflect and learn
It’s vital that you reflect and learn every week, or even daily if you can. By reflecting, I first mean looking at the above process and taking a moment to see what is and isn’t working.
It could be the time you blocked out to add your end of day tasks keeps getting missed, so ask yourself why and will another time slot be better? Or your day plan looks completely different come the end of the day?
If so ask yourself why this is, where can I take better control of my day to prevent this.
The second part of reflect and learn is picking one key activity of the week to review. This could be an interaction with a colleague or client that didn’t go so well or a meeting you were facilitating that didn’t produce the outcome you were hoping for.
Take a few minutes and follow these steps.
Step 1: Write down the activity you’re reflecting on and what did you hope to get out of it beforehand?
Step 2: Write down the actual outcomes of the activity (no decisions made in a meeting, a grumpy difficult conversation with a co-worker etc….)
Step 3: Now write down what you would do differently if you could do the same activity again to get the outcome you wanted. Could you have prepared better, worded your questions differently, included another co-worker to support you in that meeting, created a clearer agenda etc…?
By completing the above, which as mentioned should only take a few minutes creates a positive mindset rather than leaving that negative activity hanging over you.
You can never change the past, but now you’ve learnt from it, and you’ll get the satisfaction of writing this down and knowing you’ve improved your approach for next time.
Doing lots of these quick self-reflection steps over time will dramatically improve how you work and interact with others, plus increase your productivity.
The simple act of writing it down embeds into your brain and gives you closure, rather than having that nagging negative feeling popping into your head every now and again.
So having a plan means you’re less likely to get distracted by less important tasks, and you’ll naturally get more done.
Linking your daily plan to your weekly plan and then your longer-term goals, helps you achieve significant changes fast.
Additional tips and suggestions
- Turn off notifications. I don’t have any notifications on my laptop or phone, I plan in time when I’m going to check email or WhatsApp. This makes a massive difference to my working day as my concentration levels to complete a task are higher.
- You can add next day items at any time. You don’t need to wait until the end of the day. If it pops into your head I need to X tomorrow, write it down.
- Write your plans in pencil. Plans will change and you need to accept that, so using a pencil supports this
- Planning every day requires you to form a habit, so add reminders to make sure you do it. Or use apps like Streaks as an extra incentive to plan every day. Once you’ve completed an action every day for a month, you’ve formed a habit that you’ll do without thinking.
- Plan your day into different segment types. 30 mins or an hour on just low-level actions like reading and responding to emails and Slack messages. Calling a few people, booking some meetings etc… Or more deep work like planning out a structure for a workshop, focus only on this for that segment.
- Purchase a Moleskine Squared Notebook or something similar as it makes it easier to add in the time slots