Success at Work Challenge Week 2: Plan

1402975075_0edbe00edd_mI’m trying to achieve success at work, and you can too! For the next 6 weeks, I’ll be running a #SuccessAtWork challenge on this blog. Each week’s challenge will follow one of the 7 disciplines I highlight in my new ebook, What the Most Successful People Do at Work. If you’re participating, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter.

Do you know, at the beginning of each workweek, what you’d like to accomplish by the end of it? Do you create time and space to think through what important actions should — to borrow that memorable Billy Ocean lyric — get out of your dreams, and into your car?

Successful people tend to use their limited hours intentionally. One of my favorite stats from the Executive Time Use Project was that the number of hours the CEO works and firm sales are correlated — but this relationship is driven almost entirely by hours spent in planned activities. CEO time is a limited and valuable resource, and planning how it is spent increases the chances that it’s spent on productive things.

Of course, carving out space to plan is easier said than done. Some people, in addition to daily planning, do a weekly review on Sunday night — not a bad idea, so you hit Monday morning knowing what you (and your team) should do. That way you don’t waste energy and willpower deciding. If you don’t like the idea of working on weekends — and Sunday night is a great night for hosting a party — Friday afternoon is also a good time.

But the specific time is less important than getting in the habit of planning — whenever happens to work for you.

That’s what Marcy Ratcliff has been figuring out. Ratcliff is a regular blog reader here, and kept track of her hours as part of the time makeover series I’ve been doing. She is the office manager of a small church, and is the mother of a baby girl. She is allowed to bring her baby to work with her. “As one might expect, compared to being a stay-at-home mom or a typical mom working outside the home, this is pretty much both the best and worst of both worlds,” she notes. The job is officially contracted for 27.5 hours, but she trades a bit. Since she takes time away from the job to nurse or otherwise care for her baby, she often stays there extra hours.

Those hours feature a lot of interacting with people. The church has a preschool, volunteers, ministers, members, and so forth. “One thing this exercise reminded me of is that, some days, there are more interruptions inherent in my job than there are in being the mother of a three-month-old!” Ratcliff told me. “I mean, as babies go, she’s pretty easy; my logs will attest to that… but still.”

Her biggest challenge is finding time to think through the information that’s coming at her, and figure out what to do with it. “I want to spend a lot more time organizing my notes both in my work and personal life,” she says. “In David Allen’s Getting Things Done terms, I’m great at capturing everything, but lousy at processing, and not too great at review.” She explains: “I keep a log of notes every day, but then, theoretically, I copy tasks from it over to a separate to do list, so I don’t have to skim back through my logs all the time to see what needs to be done. Problem is, when I’m working hard on a deadline (which is most of the time right now), I don’t always copy everything I need to over, so I have a backlog of days of notes to process. It sounds like something that’d be really easy and fast to do, but it’s often a little more complicated and takes some thought, especially the notes on ongoing projects. Or worse, the notes on ongoing projects with other notes in earlier days that haven’t been processed, either.”

In other words, Ratcliff needed to spend some more time planning.

She knew this. The more bedeviling question — for this working mom who’s also trying to run and write regularly — was when?

She kept another time log for me after we emailed back and forth about this issue. Her logs showed she was experimenting with lots of different planning times. Some days, she’d do a bit in the morning during a quiet spell. Many days, she’d do a bit of work processing later in the day, around 3:45 before she left. Some days she did a bit after dinner.

No one time is inherently right. I suspect that as she experiments, she’ll start to figure out the best time for her. I’ve been trying to figure out what time slot would be best to supplement my usual planning time, too. I used to think through my to-do list for the week on Sunday nights, but I’ve been trying to move this back to Friday afternoon, just to clear up a bit of mental space over the weekend. My biggest problem lately has been coming up with enough ideas. So I’m thinking of scheduling in a date with my “soon” pile (things I need to tackle in the next week or so) and my “idea” pile (fodder for future articles/posts/books) on Thursday afternoons. That way, the ideas are fresh, and the best ones can be put on the to-do list on Friday for the next week.

This week’s challenge: Give yourself a planning period. Carve out at least a few minutes to think through your goals and ideas, and figure out what you’d like to stick on your priorities list. Then check in when you’ve done it. Or if you’re already a regular planner, tell us about your routine in the comments.

In other news: I have an op-ed in today’s (Monday’s) USA Today called ‘Blended learning’ win win situation.

Photo courtesy flickr user grafixtek



14 Responses to Success at Work Challenge Week 2: Plan


  1. Monica Selby says:

    Hey Laura! I loved this book so much. In the last two months, I’ve transitioned to working from home and taking care of my 5 year old twins. In three weeks, my 7 year old will also come home, and we will begin homeschooling. Obviously, I need to learn some time management skills to make this all work!

    My biggest struggle is planning all the aspects of my day in a realistic way. What can I really expect to do in a given time? But, I also struggle with the idea-generation part of writing. Like you said a few days ago, if something is out of sight (in the bookmark tab or Evernote) I probably won’t think about it again. And I wonder why I don’t blog efficiently!

    Your book and this series comes at a perfect time for me, as I figure so many things out. A lot of it is trial and error, but I’m so grateful for your example, too!

    • Laura says:

      @Monica – thanks so much! I’m glad you’re finding my books helpful. Next week I’m focusing on the importance of limiting the to-do list. There really is only so much you can do in a day…

    • ARC says:

      This is my issue as well, but without the homeschooling part. Being realistic about what I can accomplish with baby/preschooler around is difficult.

      • Laura says:

        @ARC – yep. Next week (challenge #3) will be on limiting the to-do list. The first three are pretty related. By keeping track of your hours, you know how long things take. By planning, you can put them into your days in a reasonable fashion, and making success possible means limiting the amount of stuff you put in a day — so nothing’s overloaded.

  2. Ana says:

    And now I’ll have THAT song in my head all day :)

    • Laura says:

      Sorry!

  3. Jacquie says:

    Hey Laura,
    I just purchased all of your books and am enjoying them. I started with the …before breakfast one… A question: just stumbled across the blog and weekly challenge, which I will start working through–any way I can review week 1?

    • Laura says:

      @Jacquie – thanks so much for downloading the books! I really appreciate it. So the first challenge was just last week – if you scroll back to the next page of the blog you should see it. Basically, I just asked people to keep track of their work hours, and start getting a sense of how long activities take, when they’re most productive, etc. It’s pretty helpful (at least for me!)

  4. Jon says:

    Hi Laura
    Last week was really interesting as well as challenging for me. This week I have a strategy to share though!

    For a couple of months now I’ve been meeting some other folk in a coffee shop at 07:30 to WOYB (work on your business) until 9. I’ve developed a single-page planning sheet and use the first 15 minutes to plan my week, before turning to a blank sheet to plan the day immediately ahead. For the rest of the week, I do the plan for the next day the night before, as that seems to help me sleep (If I wake up in the night I dont turn the coming day over and over in my head). It all works – and with the addition of how much time things actually take (from last week) it’s going to be more accurate from now on too !
    Thanks again…

    • Laura says:

      @Jon- I think you’re on to something with your system. Planning what you’ll do each day the night before not only helps you sleep better (you feel more on top of things) you don’t waste energy in the morning — peak willpower time! — deciding what to do. You can put all that focus straight into whatever task you’ve assigned yourself.

  5. Tiffany says:

    I just read this chapter of your book this morning and have been thinking about my need to incorporate more planning in my schedule. Not just planning out a week, but planning for larger projects, monthly/quarterly plans etc. Thanks for all the practical ideas!

    • Laura says:

      @Tiffany – thanks! Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, a good planning session — where I sketch out my pipeline and then assign times to things — makes me feel much better.

  6. Sam says:

    I have bought some of your books and have enjoyed them. Planning of work means having a daily schedule of tasks by category that I methodically work through, as I complete them I mark them off on my PC. Sometimes I spend a little time on projects, other times maybe more lengthy & sometimes I dont do anything on a project at all but by looking at the schedule I dont miss anything/nothing gets overlooked. This may seem a little OCD but I am a dreadful planner & find it difficult to stick with task that need to be done – so this helps me from jumping around

    • Laura says:

      @Sam – if it works for you, then it’s a good system. Simple as that!