The two core elements of a planning system are your task list and calendar—what you need to do and when you need to be where. Most people leave it at that and do just fine. But the real power of your calendar is unlocked when you start putting tasks on it.
Your schedule is a bucket. Any space you leave open in your schedule will naturally and automatically fill with gravel. The key to being productive is to fill your bucket with big rocks before letting it fill up with gravel.
Big rocks are the important things in your life. Family, friends, church, and community. Exercise, professional development, and organization. They’re the Quadrant 2 activities that will get pushed to the side if you aren’t careful.
Gravel is everything that gets in the way of doing what you want to do. It’s the unimportant things that have to be taken care of anyway.
Daily planning is tactical. What do you need to do today in order to move things forward? You usually have a good idea by now of what you need to do; the question becomes how.
Weekly planning is strategic. It gives you a manageable, natural chunk of time to work with. You can monitor your progress towards longer-term goals and objectives. It gives you more flexibility in making sure that each area of responsibility in your life gets balanced attention in your schedule. Plan your week, then make adjustments as necessary each day.
The first thing to go on your schedule is meetings. These are commitments that you’ve made to other people. The time you have left over is time you spend being productive, relaxing, and sleeping.
Next, start scheduling meetings with yourself. Identify the most important tasks you need to accomplish and put them in your calendar. Treat these meetings with yourself the same as you would treat meetings with someone else.
A word of caution: It’s easy to put too much on the calendar. If what gets scheduled gets done, schedule everything, right? No—that’s a recipe for frustration and burnout. The first viable (as in “this is more important than what you’re working on and you need to change gears”) interruption will destroy your day.
Leave yourself wiggle room. A full day of back-to-back meetings (even meetings with yourself) is no fun—avoid it if you can. Instead of scheduling a big rock for the entire two-hour gap between meetings, schedule a 90-minute block with 15 minutes on each side of it. That will give you a chance to stretch and walk around for a minute after the preceding meeting runs long, and you can spend a few minutes before the next meeting updating your work log or daily record of events, checking email, or preparing for the next meeting.
Don’t forget to give yourself down time, too. Time to relax. Time to read. Time to play with your kids. Recreation can be a great big rock—make sure it gets on your calendar!
Your schedule is a bucket, and you’re going to carry it around with you no matter what, so you may as well fill your bucket with important things, things you love, and things that will help you improve and grow. It’s your bucket—you have the first and final say on what fills it.