The best planning (the kind that lets you set the direction for your life) happens from the top down.

  1. The highest-level planning you do is your mission statement. This is a high-level summary of how you do you and what you want to do with your life.
  2. Next, you have vision statements, a description of where you want to take your life over the next five, ten, or twenty years.
  3. Annual goals give you milestones to work towards over the next year. It’s a natural period to plan around, but it’s too much to keep in mind day-to-day and week-to-week.
  4. Quarterly planning focuses your attention on two or three active goals. That’s all you can realistically handle at one time.
  5. Your plan for the week breaks your quarterly plan down into manageable chunks. A regular weekly review will make sure you don’t stall out.
  6. Your daily plan is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you select and schedule specific tasks to make progress towards your goals, vision, and deepest aspirations.

At the higher levels, planning is very strategic. You’re answering the questions why and what. At lower levels, planning becomes more and more tactical, and you start to come up with answers to when and how.

When you’re working day to day, you have your plan in place. You know what you need to be doing. It’s not uncommon to go heads-down for the week, shifting your thinking from effectiveness to efficiency, and working as hard as you can.

You can’t keep every detail of the big picture in mind when you’re working on the details, any more than you can remember every turn of a cross-country trip. At any moment, you only need to know the next turn—the next task to work on—to continue making progress.

But then life happens. You encounter detours and delays. There’s nothing worse than sitting down for a weekly preview after a bustling, highly productive week, only to find out that you’ve drifted off course. Now you have to backtrack, perhaps find another route forward, and adjust for lost time.

This is why I recommend sitting down for a short reality check mid-week. It’s not a full weekly review/preview, just a quick reassessment of how your week is going.

If you’re like me, you front-load your weeks like mad. It’s not intentional. We just get excited about the possibilities and potential we explore during the weekly preview and schedule too much for Monday.

So now it’s Thursday. You have two days left. Are you on track to accomplish your plans for the week? What could you defer? Eliminate in order to protect your highest-value activities? Could you—gasp—actually pull something in from next week? Don’t think of it as moving the goal posts—if you don’t get to it, that’s perfectly fine—but like a bonus round. Can you front-load something from next week? Sometimes we underestimate what we can accomplish.

By checking in with yourself mid-week—maybe Thursday morning?—you give yourself a chance to make adjustments while they’re still small adjustments. If you’re still on course, that’s wonderful! Everything’s going according to plan, so keep going.

If your estimate of what you could accomplish was off, don’t worry about it. A bad estimate (high or low) shouldn’t ruin your week or your sense of accomplishment. Now that you have more information, revise the estimate.

Don’t let your mid-week audit devolve into a full replanning session. Adjust what you need to adjust to make it through the next few days. The major replanning will happen the next time you’re thinking at that level.

Question: What are you going to adjust to keep this week on track? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.