If you want to work efficiently and slowly make progress toward your goals, the best thing you can do for yourself both personally and professionally is to sit down on Sunday night and decide exactly how you are going to tackle the week ahead.
Coming up with a weekly plan for your various tasks and responsibilities is pretty simple, once you get the hang of it. Here is a step-by-step guide to creating a carefully laid-out plan that will help you reach your goals without burning yourself out in the process.
Step 1: Look closely at last week
Before you can flip to the next page and start looking at the week ahead, you should take some time to reflect on the week you have just finished out.
In particular, look at both what you did and did not manage to accomplish throughout the previous week. Celebrate the things you did accomplish, like submitting that proposal or finally answering all those unread emails.
Also look at what you did not accomplish, and identify why you think those tasks or goals were not finished or met. Were there barriers you could have prevented, but didn’t? Did external factors out of your control play a role? What can you do differently this week to make sure those same roadblocks don’t send you on a detour?
Once you have taken some time to reflect on the week you’ve just closed out, you can use what you have learned to help you start to plan ahead.
Step 2: Have a few major goals in mind
Before your week begins, come up with a few major goals you want to accomplish before this week ends. Look at the big picture as much as you can. Do you want to finally get started on that side project you’ve been putting off for months? Finish reading that book you started last month? Keep your inbox clutter-free?
Choose larger goals that you can then break down into smaller tasks that you can spread throughout the week. For example, if your goal is to keep your inbox clutter-free, set aside 15 to 20 minutes every day, Monday through Friday, to go through your inbox, sort and answer emails.
Write down your goals at the very top of this week’s page in your planner or wherever you are keeping track of what you need to accomplish that week. That way you will be able to see them every time you look at your to-do list and are much more likely to continue working toward accomplishing them as the week goes on.
Step 3: Prioritize, putting the “must-do” items first
As you begin to break down your goals into tasks and break your larger tasks into smaller ones to distribute throughout your week, it is essential to prioritize those tasks. If you do not put the most important tasks first, and make sure those get done above all else, you might end up wasting a lot of time without meaning to.
Within your to-do list, you should have a “must-do” list—a list of items, ordered by deadline, you cannot finish out your week without crossing off. Make sure those come first, so that even if you do not end up accomplishing everything you planned on accomplishing, at least those things will be taken care of.
Put the must-do tasks you are least looking forward to first. Often times we procrastinate or waste valuable time because we save those things we are dreading for last. Get them out of the way. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. Just do it.
Step 4: Schedule everything out
Time is a tricky obstacle. It moves slowly when we don’t have a lot to do and too quickly when our plates are filled to capacity with responsibilities and deadlines. The best way to manage your time, and make the most of it, is to spend 20-30 minutes before your week begins blocking out time for every single task ahead of you.
As Scott Dinsmore will tell you, everyone has enough time, and everything you do will end up taking longer than you expect. Block out more time than you think you will need to complete a task, and give yourself a little “buffer time” in case an unexpected event, such as an urgent phone call, knocks you off course.
Make sure the tasks on your “must-do” list appear more toward the beginning of your week and that you are spending the majority of your time on those tasks. You most likely know from experience how much harder it is to get things done on Thursday than it is on Tuesday. Schedule more tasks the first half of the week and give yourself a little wiggle room the last half.
Step 5: Take things one day at a time
By now you should have your entire week planned out, Monday through Friday. Now it’s time to start getting things done. Probably the most important thing to remember is that you need to pace yourself. Work efficiently enough that you are getting Monday’s tasks done in a timely manner, but don’t force yourself into overdrive even if you’re “on a roll.”
Try not to fall behind (if you do, that’s okay – but only to a certain point) and definitely do not work ahead. It might be tempting to start on something from tomorrow’s list, but when we do that, we cut into our rest time, which is not a good idea.
Keep up a steady workflow each day that goes by. If you scheduled out your tasks smartly, you will probably spend more of the last half of the week answering emails and completing less pressing, time-consuming tasks. Take advantage of that. Work hard, but don’t overdo it. If you plan carefully, this will be the easiest part of all.
By following these steps, seeing how they work for you and adjusting accordingly, you won’t have any problem getting things done from week to week. Exceeding deadlines, reducing stress levels and actually starting to enjoy your work are just a few of the positive side effects you will experience along the way.