I call it an art. Effective planning is not something easily done. Well the planning is easy but the willpower to really act on your planning is something completely different. But it is necessary if you want things done. First Thing First as Stephen Covey put in his book using his famous time management matrix for setting priorities straight.
Where to start
Personally, I prefer to start the evening before. Actually, it is my last action of the day before I close my laptop. If – for whatever reason – I fail to do that, planning the next day on the same day is asking for trouble.
Before my first cup of tea I have already read my e-mails and checked my updates on social media. Next thing I am answering questions and helping people out. Of course that’s a good thing but as mentioned above: first things first. If you want to help people out it should be on your planning, not because someone is begging for it.
As Covey put it so delicately: avoid the urgent tasks. They could be important but only because you make them important, not depending on somebody elses idea of importance. I used to work at Deloitte and we had this saying on the wall of our typing room: “Bad planning on your part doesn’t mean urgency on our part” or something like that. Probably a bad translation from a Dutch saying.
Anyway, plan your day ahead. Start with the most important task (in many cases the heaviest or less interesting – Eat that frog) and prioritize all day long. Plan also ’emergencies’ and leave 20% open for flexibility. Like this friend who is calling because she broke up with her boyfriend and she needs you now.
If you can plan a day, you can plan a week and even a month. Effective planning is about knowing what you want and what actions you need to fulfil your wanting. Who can help and do you need some specialties for reaching your goals. Such as government approvals or legal statements.
At the end of the day or week, you reflect on your planning. Did you do what you wanted to do? No, maybe you where a little bit too ambitious or distracted. What can you do better next week. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a week and underestimate what we can do in a year.
When you are becoming an expert in effective planning, then it’s time to loosen up. Letting go. It’s the same as cooking. First you need a written recipe with all the ingredients and amounts. After a while you don’t need it. You have made it your own.
Letting go of your effective planning is quite as powerful as sticking to it. Sometimes the weather is great and you want to go out or you’re just not having ‘your day’. Whatever reason, you feel much more relaxed when you can sometimes skip your planning and take some time off.
If your planning is really effective, you can always catch up later. Life is not only about reaching goals and thriving al the time.
Be happy and enjoy!