What planning looks like

In my most recent weekly newsletter (“A week’s worth” — do you subscribe?) I argued that a weekly planning session doesn’t need to take much time. When I suggest planning on Friday afternoons, people sometimes note that they are too tired to do much then. Which leads me to believe that we have different visions of planning, because mine is relatively low key. I’m making some decisions, but not a ton of decisions — I’m more looking at what is in motion, and should stay in motion, or start, or stop.

Here’s what happens. I flip to a new page in my “planner” (a notebook from Target). I write the week at the top like this “March 22-26 + 27/28.” I open my weekly At-A-Glance calendar to that week. I see what is already there that is worth noting, and I also think about steps I’d like to take toward my long term projects. What would I like to do with my time? What would make for a good week? I’m usually not brainstorming huge life direction changes during this time — it’s more of, “hey, the tulips will be blooming so we should go to a botanical garden” or that I’d like to call a certain friend or “I should chat with so-and-so about future projects we could do together.”

Then I start writing the week’s priorities in my planner. I put career stuff on the left. I put family and personal priorities on the right. These lists usually take about 30-40 percent of the page (I put daily task lists on the bottom half of the page — drawing from the lists at the top).

This week’s professional priorities include the category of “BB” (Before Breakfast), in which I nudged myself to write and record 10 episodes instead of the usual 5. That’s because next week is spring break and I’d like to have a limited workload for it. I’m constantly coming up with ideas for this podcast, so I look to make sure the master schedule spreadsheet has ideas for the week and if not I come up with some or make a note to do this later.

The next category is often “Promotion.” I list any media appearances/interviews in there, plus newsletters or social media stuff, plus any professional networking I’m planning to do. If I don’t have anything on my calendar for the week, this is a nudge to come up with something.

If it’s a BOBW week (we batch, so we don’t record every week) I’ll list what I need to do there. If I’ve got booked speeches, I’ll make a category for them (including practicing, or tech checks).

Every week gets a TBT category — what I’m doing to write Tranquility by Tuesday. Right now I’m monitoring the survey and doing some free writing, about 1000 words a week. That will increase after I’ve got all the raw material to work with.

I also do “LVK” — this blog. I list any post ideas I’d like to write about in the next week. Usually I’ve already got some percolating, and have lists I’ve kept various places, so I am not spending much time brainstorming.

Those are my main categories right now, though in the past I had NCO (The New Corner Office podcast) and Medium (where I was writing a weekly column). I realized there were too many categories on the left side of the page and I needed to devote more time to some of them (e.g. TBT!) so others had to go.

On the right side of the page, I figure out what’s going on in my personal life. These days there is almost always a “house” category as I manage this renovation project. This week the priorities include meeting with the interior designer to figure out what furniture makes the move from one house to the other, along with general construction availability.

We’re getting the baby baptized, so that was an entry, with notes about contacting the church to confirm details, figuring out what he’s wearing (his original baptism outfit from last March doesn’t fit…) and coordinating with relatives who are coming (our church is requiring registration to limit capacity right now).

I had some kid stuff— namely that they started full time school, so I was managing that return. Plus karate belt testing, and one kid’s Reading Olympics competition. Basic sports practices/games don’t go on here so much as I just deal with that in daily scheduling and they tend to be recurring on the same days, or else they’re weekend calendar entries. If the next weekend’s sports schedule is looking particularly crazy I might put a note about thinking through logistics on some day during the week. With the kids, I spend a little time thinking about whether there’s something that should be pro-actively addressed, or if one kid is having a tough time and needs some extra attention, I’ll put a note to make time for that during the week.

I’ll be recording Easter service music, so that’s on there, and this doozy: “PLAN SPRING BREAK.” We’re just taking some day trips around the area, though, so this is mostly a reminder to have a conversation with my husband about which days and places from our list we’ll do. We already have Gettysburg reservations, so that’s done.

And finally, I noted that Thursday is International Waffle Day, which needs to be celebrated.

Sometimes I’ll plan out Monday’s to-do list and schedule, and sometimes Tuesday too if lots of stuff needs to be allocated to particular days. But a lot of my projects right now are already set in motion, so this planning exercise is about making sure that the plates are still spinning at the right pace. If there are things I’d like to add, I’ll put them down on the list too. Then, during the week, I will find a spot for them, since my goal is to end the week with everything crossed off the list. That’s why I aim for fewer tasks than I might theoretically be able to do — plus, stuff will come up, and I want to leave space for it. Usually in 15 minutes or so, I have the week mapped out.

I  then flip back to the current week’s page and make a quick-and-dirty weekend schedule (end-of-day Friday to Sunday night, drawing from any weekend priorities on that list plus the calendar entries) and email it to my husband (this is a 5-10 minute process). He can theoretically respond with input and ideas, but my experience is that as long as he gets at least one run or trip to the gym on the weekend schedule he is up for anything.

There are a few things that I know some people include in planning that I don’t. For instance, I don’t meal plan. We use Sunbasket meal kits two days per week, have breakfast for dinner on Wednesdays, and make-your-own pizza night on Fridays and everything else we just figure out. My husband generally buys the same stuff when he grocery shops, and we always have enough in the fridge + freezers to make a meal. I also don’t plan workouts. I run most days, but I’m not training for anything. Each day I just figure out when I can run based on the day’s schedule. And I run the amount I feel like running.

I’m curious if anyone else’s weekly planning routine looks like this or if it looks like something else entirely!

18 thoughts on “What planning looks like

  1. I am super interested in the details of this process – would you consider doing a few more detailed posts with close-up photos of your planner pages??

    1. I agree, I’d be interested in hearing/seeing more about this.
      Also, I love that it is International Waffle Day. I thought that was only a thing in Sweden! (In Sweden, Annunciation was mispronounced to the extent that it became “Waffle”. Sweden has several “candy holidays”, haha.)

      1. @Maggie – I’m pretty sure it’s not widely celebrated. But these days I look for all available occasions for bits of fun!

    2. I would be really interested to see a close up with more details, too! This is really helpful and makes planning seem less intense than I fear it might be. Thank you.

    3. I agree, I’d be really interested too. I current use a weekly family planner that has appointments on one side and a dashboard of tasks on the other. Then work is a notebook but my weekly planning ends up being random lists, it needs a system!

  2. I do something similar on Friday afternoons. I look at my outlook calendar and my monthly to do list in my monthly planner and figure out what my meetings are (and any preparation) and write my key projects and tasks within those. Looking at the monthly list is a good opportunity to make sure nothing has fallen off my radar. I use a daily planner pad, repurposed as a weekly, since my day doesn’t (and shouldn’t) involve as many items as there are lines for. I’ve also been trying to cycle more miles per week, so make little boxes for each mile so I can have the satisfaction of checking them bigoff.
    I also make a list for the weekend (for both me and my husband), household and garden tasks I want to do, anything fun, and a rough sketch of a grocery list.

  3. I do my personal planning on Thursday mornings at 8 am. I am in charge of meals for the weekend so this allows me enough time to do a grocery order if needed. It also gives me time to think through the weekend. I plan my priorities for the following week and do some loose meal planning. I also look at the upcoming evenings and try to have an idea of an evening project/task/activity/fun thing to fill the time between dinner and bedtime. I do my work planning on Friday afternoons as a weekly review based on GTD methodology and find it extremely helpful.
    I found it helpful to see a photo of your notebook having heard you talk about this process on BOBW and for some reason I visualized a smaller notebook.

    1. @Alissa- nope it is a full sized notebook like one might use for a school subject. I like the idea of planning a mindfully chosen activity for the evening. I think this is often an overlooked spot, but definitely one that can be used for fun!

  4. Thanks for sharing this, mine is similar with personal/ family on the left and professional on the right. I also cross reference with the Google calendar I share with my husband and a very basic 3 month plan. That enables me to see quickly the beginning and end of the months and stops me over optimistically booking out 5/6 weekends in a row.

  5. This was great to read, and definitely very different from SHU’s system! You seem to have a gift for streamlining things that is really at the core of all your time-management recommendations.

    My planning is similar to yours, although I use a weekly planner pad rather than a notebook (I find that having only a few lines per day helps me be realistic). I have the days on one side and space to list to-dos on the other. I populate it from my google calendar first (for hard commitments) and then from my various to-do repos. Weekly planning is also when I consolidate those systems, and frequently I will also use this time to do longer-term planning and research. So I do sometimes spend a lot of time on this task – but when I need to, I can consolidate it to less than half an hour. Knowing how long this sort of thing *actually* takes makes it a lot less daunting.

  6. The part of weekly planning that seems exhausting/insurmountable to me is going through the hundreds of emails I received that week, identifying the tasks that weren’t accomplished, and trying to think through when I might do them, while also knowing that I will get hundreds of more emails next week bringing new tasks for me to do. What’s striking to me is how much you have control over your to do items, the priorities you set, and, I suspect, how little they change over the next week. I had a lot more predictability in my schedule and my tasks before I became a manager in my office. My weekly planning used to look more like what you do, but it just doesn’t work anymore.

    Somewhat related, my life feels out of control in precisely the way Cal Newport talks about in his newest book. I’d been looking forward to it with the hopes that it would help, but I realized after listening to a few of his interviews that his ideas are more academic than practical for a low level manager who doesn’t have the power to change the culture of their organization.

    1. I’m with you there Alyce. I’m a real estate transactional lawyer in England as well as a manager and have multiple files at different stages with multiple things that need doing. The idea of a to do list with three items on it always makes me laugh. Unless it is 1. Deal with all emails received from clients and other lawyers. 2. Progress all files needing to complete this month. 3 respond to and deal with all management issues that arise during the day that I can’t delegate. Which is about as much use as a chocolate teapot! Good luck with your challenge.

  7. That looks a lot like the way I plan now. It’s a bit of a mashup between GTD and Bullet Journaling. I create a “Future Tasks” lists for long range goals and a “Monthly Tasks” list for day to day items I need to accomplish each month. I make up my Daily lists from items on those lists. Like you, Laura, I use a simple spiral bound notebook from Staples. I struggled with the idea of a Bullet Journal until I realized I didn’t need a fancy journal with colored pens and markers to illustrate the pages! But I swear this has changed my life. I’ve been reading about time management since Alan Lakein’s “How To Get Control of Your Time and Your Life” in the ‘80s and I’ve never used any method that works as well as this one. I do try to review on Friday afternoons but sometimes it’s done on Sunday afternoon. As long as I’m good to go on Monday morning it’s ok.

  8. I’ve done something similar for years (also on Fridays) and even have a fun name for it: Friday Focus! The alliterative nature of that seemed to fit with several of your names for events/processes (BB/TBT/etc.) so I thought I’d share:-) Happy Friday Focusing!

  9. Thank you for the Friday-evening planning tip–I’ve been using it for the last month or so.

    My Target-bought At-A-Glance calendar does something similar. I too separate my tasks and goals by personal (self care) and professional (most of it is on my online office calendar, but important reminders go here :).

    I will say I separate family to-dos from home to-dos (the first is more emotional and nurturing and the latter more chore-like) and I color code, so I can check how I’m spreading my time visually. Kind of looks like this:

    Happy belated waffle day! We use this calendar for impromptu celebrations:

  10. I started planning for next week on Friday afternoons a while ago thanks to a BB recommendation. My Mondays are so much more productive and less painful, since I don’t have to spend mental energy remembering where I left off. I definitely recoup the time I spend Friday afternoon with greater productivity the following week.

  11. This is such a fantastic way to plan, I am definitely going to give this a try. Thank you, Laura – can’t wait for Tranquility by Tuesday!

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