Any navigation system is based on two pieces of information: a correct understanding of where you are, and a clear vision of where you’re going. The tools have varied over the years—compass, astrolabe, sextant, GPS—but the tools are just a means of executing on the plan: get from point A to point B.
Once you know where you are and where you’re going, you can put together a plan to get there. This is true for navigation, getting out of debt, getting into shape, and getting things done.
The week is a very natural unit to plan around. It provides a good bridge between daily planning and your long-term goals. With a weekly review as part of your planning process, you’ll keep track of the commitments you’ve made, make consistent progress towards achieving your goals, and be more relaxed along the way.
Find a time and place where you can work uninterrupted. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Friday morning, Monday morning, or somewhere in between. I usually plan my week on Sunday afternoons at home and Monday morning at work.
The first couple weekly reviews you do will take a little longer—set aside at least an hour, if not more. (You might need to plan time to circle back and get things in order for next time.) As you get the rhythm of it and keep things organized through the week, it won’t take as much time.
Put on some light music. I usually put on some classical guitar or some piano solos, courtesy of Pandora or Focus@Will. Choose music without words. Turn it down so it’s soft enough that you’re only half aware of it.
Collect all the loose papers scattered around. Lose notes on your desk. The receipts you’ve slipped into your wallet. The mail. Have your calendar handy.
First, get current on what you actually did this week. (Yes, it’s been another week already.)
Close any open loops. The week builds up cruft and clutter, and the weekly review is a good time to reset things to Zero. Empty your inbox. Clear off your desktop, both on your computer and around it. Toss lose papers. Scan and throw out receipts that you’ve stuck in your wallet.
As you go over what you did for the week, be sure to check off any tasks you completed without checking off at the time. (You earned that dopamine—enjoy it!) You can even write down things you did without a task and check it off immediately; it helps to fill in gaps in the log you’re creating as you go.
What about the tasks you meant to get to this week, but didn’t? Three options:
- Delete it. You didn’t do it this week. Or last week. Are you sure this is a priority for you, and not someone else’s agenda? Let it expire.
- Unschedule it. If you still want to do it, but missed the window to get it done this week, send it back to your Someday/Maybe list. Unflag it. Clear the start date. You’ll see the task again.
- Roll it over. Sometimes, things you don’t get to need to stay on the short list. If you roll a task over to do it next week, see that it gets done. If you keep rolling it over, that’s probably a sign that it’s not important to you. Consider deleting it.
Take a few minutes to journal.
This is where the fun begins. You’re still assessing where you stand today, but now you’re looking forward.
Reconnect with your ideal life. Review your personal mission statement and your roles. Remember why you’re doing all this. What matters most to you? Bring that vision of who you want to be into focus. You’ll weigh everything against it from here on.
- Review your active projects. Go over each active project you have going. You’re looking for three things:
- What has developed into a Quadrant 1 crisis that must be completed this week?
- What Quadrant 2 activities would put me in a better position seven days from now than I am today?
- What is no longer important to me, and can be deleted?
Scan upcoming events. Make sure all your commitments to be with someone else at a certain time and place are there. What meetings and events will you need to prepare something for? This will create more Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 actions for you.
Pick something to move the chains. To reach your goals, you don’t have to score a touchdown every week. You just need to keep getting first downs. Keep moving the chains. Identify one task that you will do this week that will move you closer to your goals.
Now create your plan for the week.
Everything won’t go according to plan, but your week will go better if you have a plan. Even if you never look at your plan again, the act of planning will set you off in the right direction. Life won’t pull you off course as much when you have a plan.
Grab your calendar. Schedule the big rocks in the following order:
Meeting prep work. Block out time before meetings to get ready for them, as necessary. Don’t forget to allow for travel time.
Quadrant 1 crises. Plan for the fires you need to put out. If it’s smoldering or has a deadline, figure out when you’re going to take care of it.
Quadrant 2 opportunities. If it’s going to move the chains, make sure you set aside time for it. These are the actions that will achieve your goals faster than you realize.
Those are the tasks that need to have time on your calendar. Now see what you can do with the time that you have left. Pick other tasks you’d like to get done, but won’t have serious consequences if you don’t get to them. These will largely come from Quadrants 2 and 3.
Don’t overload yourself. Leave room for the unexpected to happen. How much you leave is up to you. The more your job is determined by interruptions, the more room you’ll want to leave.
One last thing before you put your calendar away: schedule time for fun. Without regular rest and recreation (re-creation), a Quadrant 2 activity, you’ll start fighting your plan and retreating into Quadrant 4 looking for a break. With a proper plan in place, you can have fun with a clear conscience. It’s not procrastination at that point.
So You Have a Plan. Now What?
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. (more…)
—Dwight D. Eisenhower
Now go to work. Each night, create a list of things you’re going to do the next day. Give your subconscious time to work on it overnight. Let it take a running start on the day.
When you have a plan for your day, you can hit the ground running. You walk into the office, and you’re ready to go. You won’t lose the first hour of the day getting your bearings, figuring out what you should do. You can talk to coworkers before they’re out on vacation. You are prepared. You are impressive.
Make no mistake: the unexpected will happen. You’ll get blown off course. You’ll get drawn into others’ emergencies. You will be asked to help bail others out. With a plan, you know where this fits into your schedule, and what will need rescheduled and be delayed. (A personal mission statement can help you respond to those requests with integrity, too.)
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Covey describes two types of people: managers and leaders. Managers see that work is done quickly and efficiently. Leaders regularly climb to a higher vantage point and make sure the right work is being done.
As CEO of You, Inc., you wear both those hats—you’re a manager and a leader. You spend most of your time focusing on getting work done. You create lists and check things off. You’re good at it. But you need to regularly set aside time to step back and make sure you’re doing the right work.