Plan tight, then plan light

Over the years, I have become a Friday planning evangelist. Every Friday, I sit down with my calendar and my “planner” (a notebook from Target, but hey…). I think about my goals for the upcoming week. I look at what is already on my calendar. I make a plan, note (and ideally solve) any logistical challenges, and figure out roughly when I will be doing what.

Of course, stuff always comes up. Bad stuff, good stuff, a bit of both. One cannot know on Friday everything that will need to happen before the next Friday. One can know a fair amount, just not everything.

So my solution to this challenge is to plan tight, then plan light.

Here’s what I mean. I aim to schedule anything difficult or speculative, or anything I view as a top-but-not-time-bound priority for Monday. That increases the chances that it gets done before stuff comes up. Since there are inevitably some meetings or calls on Monday too, that means Monday needs to be planned fairly tightly. Tuesday often is too, since anything that won’t fit on Monday tends to go there.

But then, as the week goes on, my plans get a little lighter. I don’t allocate many of the known priorities for Wednesday or Thursday — in order to leave space for the inevitable new stuff. I try not to plan anything for Fridays so it can be a mop up day.

This works fairly well for me because much of Monday’s landscape can be known by the Friday before. The next Friday’s landscape, though, is naturally going to be a bit hazier.

By planning big stuff early in the week, I increase the chances that I get to it before the emergencies arise. This doesn’t always work. This Monday, for instance, I wound up spending a big chunk of the afternoon at the dentist’s office (again!) getting a broken tooth/filling repaired. I broke the tooth on a lentil. A lentil! How sad is that? But as long as there is enough slack later in the week, stuff can generally get moved around.

How do you plan your weeks?

Photo: Planner and calendar, with a pleasingly open week in May.

8 thoughts on “Plan tight, then plan light

  1. I have found that if I plan too much for Monday, Sunday afternoon and evening get filled with work things, (either actual tasks, or spending mental energy )to feel like I’m ready for Monday.
    Curious if that happens for you, or how you handle that?

    1. @Marie – I try to do most of that stuff on Friday when I plan my weeks. The upside of doing Friday is that it still is work time (even if I am sliding into weekend mode…) whereas Sunday night is supposed to still be “off.” But I guess your mileage may vary!!

  2. Thanks Laura, that’s really useful. Just out of interest, when on the Friday do you do your planning? By the evening I’m done for the week, and really don’t feel like thinking about the next week!

    1. @Rich – usually in the late morning or afternoon on Friday. I do it during the work day – I’m planning the work week as well as my personal life so I certainly consider it work. I put it on my work day to-do list for Friday.

  3. I do my work planning the same as you, but for different reasons.

    To answer a previous comment, I plan at lunch on a Friday or a little later if a meeting has popped up.

    I weight my goals for the following week heavier towards the beginning as I see it as eating the frog over the week. By end of Tuesday I like most of my goals to be done. Inevitably, more things crop up, as you say, that I was not aware of by the time I made that weekly list.

  4. The planning for my day job is done on Friday afternoon. I also keep a running to-do list. I’m an instructional coach at a school, and things crop up unexpectedly on a regular basis. So, I start with appointments/meetings/deadlines first and fill in with tasks on my to-do list (tasks that need to get done but can be moved if something new takes precedence).

    I plan either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning (mostly) for what I’ll be doing after 3pm and the weekends. I put my weekly commitments on the calendar first. Then, I add any new commitment or event. From there, I include when I’ll get my weekly chores done (try to keep on the same day since I prefer routine). I look for pockets of time where I can add in some fun stuff like hobbies, friends/family time, extra reading, etc. I have been managing my time like this since the end of January shortly after doing your time-tracking challenge, and it is working really well for me.

    1. @Katherine – glad to hear it is working well for you! I combine the work and personal planning into one spot, but I understand that if people have a fairly strict separation in life (like you will not having a meeting after 3 p.m., and if you have to be on site you probably won’t do anything personal before 3 p.m.) then the two planning spots could make more sense.

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