We need to plan well because we need to be ready to change the plan.
We can’t map out the whole day. We need to be flexible and responsive. We need to get the most important things done.
Last week I shared my recipe for a successful day. The last ingredient was “time to plan” and I ended with key to planning effectively:
Only organize and plan the most important things in your life. Let the rest organize themselves.
To do this we need to quickly sort our high priority tasks from the rest. I find I need to do this every day because so many things come my way over the course of the day. I dump the physical stuff in a pile and write down the thoughts, requests from others, and ideas on a white-board.
I learned much from Getting Things Done, but the advice to handle every paper once has really tripped me up. I’ve discovered I make better decisions about less important things when I have a few day’s or week’s perspective. Plus, it’s easier to batch process less important things at one time.
The Quick Daily Sort
I quickly sort everything into one of three piles: high priority, mid-priority, and lower priority. When planning for tomorrow, only the high priority stuff gets my attention.
It helps to think of tasks in terms of their positive and negative consequences. What kind of positive impact would I see if I complete this? What might be the unwanted consequences I don’t do this?
This perspective helps me get rid of things like coupons for shoes that expire soon. Really, if I don’t act then nothing bad happens. My time is better spent on something else.
The lovely thing about this system is that it self-eliminates many tasks that aren’t that important. At some point I’ll go through the “lower-consequences” pile and toss half because they are no longer relevant (like that shoe offer).
I feel no guilt because I know I’ve been working on what really matters and I realize that these little things that I thought I cared about, I don’t actually care about at all.
(It helps me to know I’ll be doing a quick sort on the mid-priority tasks every week so nothing will slip through the cracks, but weekly planning is another post!)
Plan your day the night before
Weekly and monthly planning are hugely beneficial, but to keep sane, daily planning is all that’s necessary.
Each night after the kids are in bed I do my quick daily sort of all incoming bits and pieces I might want to do something about.
After that I have a clean white-board, a clear desk, and a small pile of high-priority items. It feels great!
Next I look at my previously scheduled commitments, like my calendar, and sketch the day out.
Now I further sort my “high-priority” times until I have a maximum of three top-priority tasks. I’ll do these tasks in my “time to work” slot I discussed in my last post. These are high-impact tasks that usually aren’t urgent but are very important.
Next I pick a five to ten “up next” tasks that would be good to if and when I have time throughout the day.
All I see on my schedule are my appointments, my top-three tasks and my next 5-10. The other stuff is on separate lists I’ll look at in the evening when I plan again. I don’t like to be overwhelmed with a never-ending to-do list!
Most of our days as parents are unpredictable. We must be ready to go with the flow and deal with emergencies. I leave lots of breathing room in our schedule so I can still be a happy camper when the unexpected happens.
Knowing I completed my top priority tasks gives me a sense of accomplishment for the whole day. No matter what happens after that at least I moved forward a bit!
Sometimes I do have a little extra time and can get to my “next 5-10” tasks. Most days I’m surprised by how much work I can get in as opportunity and inspiration present themselves.
Some days are still horrible, like today. I couldn’t get this post written in my working time. I tried to finish in the mid-morning break. I ditched the 1,200 word monster and tried again while my husband fed the kids for lunch, and now I’m trying again after I sent the kids out of the house because they “lost the privilege” of being inside.
Still, because I’d set myself up so well due to last night’s planning, I was able to finish up the preparations for our new homeschool routine and we got most of it done today.
One thing going wrong doesn’t have to mess up the whole day if we’re properly prepared!
Rest is number one on my list of ingredients for a successful day, but planning is worth staying up a little later for. Sadly, it still takes me 30 minutes or more, but It’s worth every moment ten times over.
If I don’t know what’s on my plate it does no good to run around trying to eat things faster.
The less time I have to plan the more important it is to plan. No one can afford to spend time on what doesn’t really matter in the end!
There is SO much more to planning, but I’ve struggled long enough trying to formulate the basics. Let me know where you’re struggling and I can share more details.