There seems to be an implicit universal agreement of the week as a single, complete unit of time, but that’s just how the world works. Moreover, we think in terms of weeks, not days or months. Daily planning doesn’t work because it is based around “priorities”, which we know is a fallacy. For more on that, please read my piece on priority.
Planning your week is about stepping back from the daily grind, reflecting on your life, and evaluating so that you can make changes you want in your life. It’s about reflecting on the past so you can live in the present and prepare for the future, one week at a time.
The idea is to plan weekly while adjusting daily because even the best laid-out plans need adjustments. Just because you plan your week doesn’t mean that there won’t be things that come up in the moment, which is fine. Just don’t let that be the default state. You need to spend most of your time doing the essential and as less time as possible doing the important and urgent things. By having some kind of a plan in place, you try and keep the urgent things to a minimum.
So how do you go about planning your week? To begin with, you’ll need a weekly calendar to plan your week. This can be digital or paper. I use BusyCal, though any weekly calendar should suffice. One tip is to use different colors for each calendar. That way, you can easily distinguish the calendar events from each other.
First, set aside an hour every weekend to plan your week. Do it at the same time every week. The weekend is a good time to do this as it allows you to review and reflect on the past week and plan for the following week.
Then, block time for Eat, Move, Sleep. Eating is about scheduling meals. Moving is about exercise. Sleep is about rest. These are non-negotiable. This is part of your physical energy supply. Unless and until you do this well every day, you won’t be able to do other things. This forms the foundation of your personal effectiveness, and when you do this well, the quality of everything else that you do will be much better.
Next, block time for your morning and evening routines. Think of this as bookending your day. A morning routine helps you prepare for your day and for things you need to do in order to be at your best, while an evening routine helps bring closure to your day. When you have these routines, you don’t have to think about what to do first thing in the morning and last thing before going to bed. Having these routines creates order in your life.
Now, this is the key part of the process. Block time for leisure first. Why block time for leisure first? We tend to put “life” on hold thinking that we need to do our work before we can play. The problem with this thinking is that we never find the time for leisure because there will always be more work to do than we can possibly do. At some point, you must put a stake in the ground and define your boundaries between work and play. You won’t find time unless you make time for leisure. Scheduling this time ahead in your calendar guarantees leisure time at the end of the day, so you’ll have something to look forward to each day (more on this below). So, life is not all work and no play because that is simply not sustainable.
Next, block an hour of personal time on your calendar. This needs to be during the middle of the day, not in the early mornings or evenings. This time should be reserved with no agenda for thinking about your life. Think about what is helping you and what is impeding you, and spend some time thinking about your goals and the systems you’ve established to get you there. The problem is that we don’t spend enough time thinking about our lives, and that is why our lives don’t change. Because we’re so involved in the daily grind, we forget to pause and take a step back and reflect. We’re always hugging the trees instead of looking at the forest every now and then. By making space for this personal time every weekday, you’re not leaving this executive thinking to chance.
Next, block time for any other fixed activities such as weekly recurring meetings, your commute, etc. in your calendar.
The reason behind scheduling time for things that don’t change is precisely because they won’t change. Only when you schedule time for things that remain the same can you plan for things to do in your discretionary time. This helps you be realistic about the work that you can accomplish in a given day/week.
Think of your life in terms of relationships and results. Set weekly goals for each role in your life (personal, work, etc.). Think of at least one or two things that you would like to accomplish within each role. Then, schedule time for it.
The final step is to do a “brain dump” of things that have your attention by getting it all out of your head. Use the Explore, Evaluate, Execute process to come up with your list. Look at your list and figure out what you can eliminate, delegate, or defer. Then, figure out the ones you want to do this week and schedule time for them in your calendar. Block time for everything else around those important tasks from your running list. Remember, the small things should never be at the mercy of the big things. Everything in your life is important. If it’s not important, it should not be in your life.
When we fail to plan, we plan to fail. When we plan our time, we’re more intentional about where we choose to put our attention. Planning our week helps us accomplish our long-term goals. We know we can do anything, but not everything. So, we must focus on doing those few things well and put everything else aside. Doing this weekly planning is your thinking time. Think once a week, then spend the week doing those things. See the forest once a week instead of only hugging the trees. Get some perspective. Unless we plan our week, how will we do the things that are important to us?