“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”Leonard Bernstein
Planning really is THE most important and the BEST thing you can do when you want to make a real difference in what you can achieve. Plus a realistic grasp on how much time is available to you to get the stuff done!
Why should you plan?
Start with a plan. It’s as simple as that. A great plan..
- Helps you stay focused on your priority.
- Stops you from fire-fighting.
- Makes you more proactive, so you get more done.
- Prevents time-wasting and procrastinating.
- Set clear daily actions.
In this post, I will be sharing my favourite planning tips to help you get more done quickly & easily.
Be realistic with your time
We have a bad habit of trying to squeeze too much into the day. We often underestimate how long tasks take to do and don’t factor in disruptions or other things that “just happen”.
Good planning starts with knowing exactly how long something will really take you to do. Start by writing down how long a task will take you to complete (include preparation time & the end “fiddling around” time) and remember to add a time cushion for disruptions. Then work out if you can fit the task into the time you have available. If you don’t know how long tasks take you, use a Time Tracker such as Toggl. You might be surprised!
There’s a lot of advice about putting “this ideal number” of tasks on a to-do list every day. But you must set the number – some tasks take longer, we all work at a different speed and we all have different amounts of time available. Whatever fits into the time you have available. And if a task is too big to fit into the time you have available to work on it, break it down into smaller chunks.
Write a better to-do list
When there’s so much to do, it’s tempting to try and do it all at once. But you are setting yourself up to fail by putting too much on your to-do list. If you add too many things to your to-do list you are at risk of feeling overwhelmed or frustrated that you didn’t complete them all.
Start by creating a master list of everything you need to do and also a “wish list” of things you’d like to do. Do a brain dump and put everything on it. Write everything down in one place, be it electronic or paper – just not in multiple notepads!
Then create a broad month or week plan, where you sketch out what project or task you want to work on, when. Be sure to focus on one thing at a time. The key next is to make daily short and achievable to-do lists, pulling out things from the master to-do list. And whatever tasks that get added should be very specific so that you can quickly get working on them.
Now how do you know which tasks to take from the master to-do list and add to the daily one?
Work to your priority & delegate the rest
Priorities is actually a fallacy.
Not all your to-dos are equal.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about how the original word was singular – priority, it means the first. It’s our modern age that has turned the word into a plural.
So when you are planning your day or week, work out what your priority is. What do you need to do first before anything else? It should align with your bigger goals and plans, so you’ll feel more intentional when doing it. You will also feel more accomplished and fulfilled upon completing it. What will make you feel that you’ve nailed the day!?
It’s crucial that you be realistic with the time you have & be clear on what you want to focus on. Check-in with yourself periodically and ask yourself “Is this the most important use of my time?”
And keep in mind if there’s too much other stuff left to do that is never a priority but still needs to be done, think about outsourcing it. This could be admin or business tasks that a Virtual Assistant, like me, could do. Or maybe chores around the house that another family member could do.
Keep yourself accountable
I think this is a fairly common problem faced by people working for themselves. We aren’t always good at holding ourselves accountable to get things done and not let distractions or procrastination creep upon us.
One way to keep yourself accountable is to add times & dates to the tasks and projects you need to complete. This will also prevent you from falling foul to Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. If you don’t set a deadline to get something completed, it will just keep growing and filling up your time.
Another way to be kept accountable is to find an accountability partner. This is also something I can provide in my role as a Virtual Assistant.
Set space & time boundaries
Setting boundaries is particularly important if you are working from home and “work-time/space” and “life-time/space” begins to merge into one.
We all have our own work/life balance ideal and our preferred times to work and play. So I’m not going to tell you the “correct” balance, but I do encourage you to put in your own boundaries to steady the scales.
A few boundaries to include in your planning:
Have a dedicated working space either in a specific area or where you can tidy things away after you’ve finished working. You need to signify the end of the working day. Keep “working hours”. They don’t have to be regular office hours, but just know when it’s time to start and stop working.
Take regular breaks. Plan it into the day even if it’s just a 5-minute pause to stretch, drink some water, get some fresh air. Take a proper lunch break!
You can’t work on high-intensity tasks all day, so include some low-intensity ones you can switch to, so your brain gets a bit of a rest and recharge. Try and sync this with your energy ebbs and flows, if you know when they are.
Think about batching or grouping similar tasks together to help you save time and prevent your brain from jumping about too much throughout the day. There are so many tasks you could batch such as creating and scheduling social media, making images in Canva, writing blog posts, meetings, sending or chasing up invoices.
Alongside batching utilise online tools that will help you automate repetitive tasks such as social media scheduling and calendar management. You can download a list of my favourite tools and how best to use them to maximise you productivity here.
Use processes & workflows
Spend time reviewing or putting processes in place especially for repetitive tasks. Not only does this help you be more productive but if you’re planning on outsourcing work in the future (or if you suddenly find yourself needing urgent help), it will make the onboarding process smoother.
I’d encourage you to use a project/task management tool such as Trello or Asana to document your workflows. You can create templates for tasks such as writing and scheduling social media, writing blog posts or emails, onboarding clients etc. You can also set tasks to repeat every week/month so that you don’t have to keep manually adding them to a to-do list. This saves so much time & memory space!
If you want to learn more about using processes & documenting workflows, I wrote a post about it that you can read here – why & how to document your processes.
Take time to review
The final part of good planning is to take the time to review and revise your method regularly. For example, every Sunday I take just 5-10 minutes and document in a spreadsheet: what went well, what didn’t go so well and what did I learn (so I can make any adjustments).
I hope you found my planning tips helpful and can see ways to implement them into your life – whether for business or personal.
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