Planning Basics: Weekly Planning for Daily Peace


Daily planning will take less time if we take some time each week to zoom out and look ahead at what’s coming our way.

I’ve struggled with what exactly is important in a weekly review because it always seems to take so much time and I’m often still stressed at the end of it.

In this post I’ll share what’s working for me at the moment.

First, it’s important to realize that the piles of papers, the incoming email, the requests from others, and the interruptions are not the most important things for us to be working on.

Some of it is very important, but the most important stuff will never come as an email or as an ad or as a reminder, except perhaps as a flash of guilt when we’re already feeling overwhelmed.

We have to take the time to think about our deepest values and remind ourselves of what’s most important while at the same time keeping all the other balls more or less in the air.

That’s what weekly planning is for.

Most of the tasks we do each week are routine. Even if you’ve never thought much about your routines, most of the actions humans take are done almost without thinking.

However orderly or scattered we are somehow we get things done the way our lives are structured right now. Don’t try to change all that all at once. You’re doing okay the way you are!

Weekly planning is for those things that are weighing on your mind and that you won’t be reminded of during the week. It’s great to have a cleaning routine, but if you don’t, don’t put all your cleaning tasks on your weekly planning lists. The dirty floors will remind you that you’d like to vacuum.

The reason for this is that if I have a weekly list that requires me to do more than five tasks a day I feel overwhelmed. There actually is more time in the day than for just five tasks, but when the list is too long things get lost in the pile and I want to throw in the towel.

That said, a great task to put on your weekly to do list is to brainstorm better routines that fit your lifestyle – just don’t try to make more than one major change a week!

My Weekly Planning Checklist

1. Start a Mind Dump list with three columns for high, middle, and lower priority. Anything related to the most important people and projects in your life go on the high-priority list as well as anything important that’s due this week.

2. Review the week you just had: your journal, your calendar, and your daily schedule, if you have it. While you review ask yourself what worked and what didn’t so you can answer the next question:

3. What do I want for the coming week? What’s most important? Jot some notes down and keep it in mind as you . . .

4. Quickly sort through your papers and incoming stuff into one of three piles according to priority: high, middle, and lower.  Be sure to sort through your “mid-priority” pile that you made earlier in the week or from your planning session last week.  Remember, you’ll be looking at the mid-priority pile again next week, so everything that can wait a week is safe here, even if it is important for later.

5. Look at the next two weeks on your calendar and visualize what you will need in order to be prepared for each day. Write down any task that is best done more than a day in advance on your “high priority” Mind Dump list.

For example, if guests are coming in 10 days I like to know what I’m cooking in time for my weekly shopping trip, so I’ll write “decide meal for Smith visit” as something that should be done this week. Little things like this save a great deal of stress!

6. Break larger tasks into smaller bits.  Look at your high-priority pile and Mind Dump list.  For every larger or unclear item, decide on just the next step or two and write those down on your high-priority Mind Dump list.

After these six steps you now have a prioritized to-do list and a few piles and lists that can wait another week. Congratulations! Most of the great stack of things waiting for you to do something about should now be neatly piled up in stacks that can be tucked away and off your mind for all of this week!

If you’re like me, however, the high-priority list is still overwhelming. At this point I often find it helpful to take a break and get some perspective before deciding which of my high-priority tasks I will commit to tackling this week.

Roughly Schedule the Week

1. Review your high-priority to do list and mark with a left-arrow those tasks which would best be done this week. Be selective – you want to set yourself up for success!

2. Divide the number of marked tasks by 5: this is the number you must do each day. Is it overwhelming? Can you narrow it down? I find that 3-5 is a good number.

3. Roughly plan which tasks you’ll do on which day.  Write the letter day next to the arrow you made (Monday through Friday and keeping your calendar schedule in mind). This way you don’t have rewrite the list but can easily see which tasks are up for the day. Most tasks don’t have to be done a certain day, but this way you know you’ll get to them all and don’t have to stare at the whole list the whole week. If you get more time one day (haha) you can look up more tasks, but in reality we know that each day has enough going on. If we just manage to do these three or so tasks each day we will be ahead for the week.

Now when you do your daily planning you can look at your weekly to-do list and check which ones you scheduled for that day. I re-write these tasks on my daily schedule for two reasons.

1. It reaffirms my commitment to these tasks even if they don’t seem so urgent at the moment – they are what I need to complete in the week to give me peace in the next.

2. I can check them off twice! First when I complete them during the day, and secondly when I review my weekly to-do list when I plan the next day. “Oh look! I did that already!” It feels good. And really, those yucky tasks deserve two checks when they’re done, right?

This takes me more time than I’d like to admit, but if I avoid the temptation of walking away from an overwhelming to-do list and push through to make it feel doable, then I go to bed on Sunday feeling ready for the week.

(On the weeks that I shove my list aside and just hope I’ll survive . . . you can guess what happens.)

Most of the time we don’t know what’s coming our way in the week. Most of life is lived as it comes and I think that’s a beautiful thing. We want to be able to handle the unexpected with grace and joy all the while knowing that we are prepared for what we know is coming.

Some weeks we need to throw out the schedule. This week was just such a week for me. We all got sick and that was just the start. The morning after I’d spend the whole night throwing up and caring for sick kids I cried out to God and he gave me my task for the day: breathe.

It sounds simple, but it’s hard to breathe when you’re trying to sing the morning hymn while you’re close to tears. It’s hard to breathe when the kids whine and complain and you want to snap.

“My job is to breathe” was my mantra for the day and that was work enough. I knew what was on my lists and I knew they could wait. We got through the day better than expected and though I felt behind and overwhelmed in my weekly planning session yesterday I powered through in culling and prioritizing until I found peace.

I wish you all the best in your planning and in your living this week!

See the other posts in this series: how I keep sane, daily planning, and E-mail.

3 thoughts on “Planning Basics: Weekly Planning for Daily Peace”

  1. I want to thank you for something you said last week that I have tried for a whole week now! You said it is important to clear your desk every evening, even if you are tired. The evening before I read that I had decided to clear my desk once per WEEK! You made me wonder if I could feel that good every night. It works! Planning for the next day/week is essential, but it takes only a few more minutes to start with a clear desk.

    1. Happy to hear it! You all inspire me, too. Writing up what I do shows me just how often I fail to do it, too. I’m sure consistancy would help me but life always has a way of throwing us off. Still, it’s nice to have an ideal to guide us. Thanks for your comment!

  2. You make a good point–ideals help us even though we won’t perfectly get there. If I aim for every day but can only do it every other day, I am still making progress toward the goal.

    My devotion this morning quoted a football coach, Nick Saban. (I do not follow sports at all, but I can learn from anyone!) “Don’t worry about winning. Just focus on doing your job at the highest level, every single play, and the wins will follow.”

    We need to have big goals but focus on the small steps. And, as you say, encourage one another! Celebrate our small, imperfect steps. I loved your “just breathe” story.

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