How to Plan Your Week: 7 Steps to Focus on What’s Important
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Do you ever feel like there simply is not enough time in the week to get everything that you want to do accomplished?
You may think to yourself on Sunday night that you have an entire week ahead of you to work on your projects, meet up with an old friend, get a proposal submitted, in addition to all types of things around the house that are just waiting to be done.
But somehow–and this never fails–you blink, and it’s Friday.
I’m and so often telling myself and other people that I simply don’t have time to do XYZ–and I get stressed out regarding the little amount of sleep that I get because I have to stay up to finish up everyday things.
This makes me wonder how people who have even more things on their plate than I do even function.
Recently, I’ve started to be more objective in my weekly scheduling to reduce the short amounts of time that become wasted that add up in the end. I have become strictly organized with my schedule and I’ve found that I can now get through the week feeling more accomplished than I ever have before.
In this article, I will go through 7 steps that will show you how to plan your week in a way that will help you focus on what’s important so you can be more efficient and effective with your time.
What You Will Learn
- 7 Steps to Plan Your Week
- Final Thoughts on How to Plan Your Week
Let’s get to it.
7 Steps to Plan Your Week
1. Look at the big picture.
Time Recommended: 1 Hour
On Sunday night before your week starts (or whenever is the most convenient time for you), look at your entire week laid out on one page, whether you keep your schedule in a journal-type planner or in an app.
What events stick out this week that are not routine? Do you have any big deadlines that have to be met? What are your priorities? Where do you have some room to add in something unplanned that could come up?
Also look to see if there is anything that makes this week unique from any other. Maybe you have to travel for business or prepare for guests to come to your house over the weekend. Or maybe you have a doctor’s appointment right in the middle of your Wednesday. Just look at the big picture to get an idea of anything that is not typical.
Finally, consider your goals for the week. Whether these are personal or professional goals, look at your visual representation of the upcoming week to see where you can spend some time working toward these goals. You don’t need to set that time in stone just yet, but keep these goals in mind as you continue to plan your week.
2. Mark off your recurring events.
Time Recommended: 10 Minutes
Mark off your reoccuring time blocks, which are the things that you make time to do every week. This could be a weekly staff meeting or something else that has to do with work, but it is important to remember the personal recurring events that you value as well.
Maybe you go to the gym for an hour every day or you spend a half hour at night reading to or playing games with your child. Whatever you prioritize in your life outside of your career or your everyday obligations, block off time for that first.
Treat these time blocks as you would any other appointment and keep them set in stone. Why? Because you can’t revolve your personal life around your work schedule. Sure, you probably stick to a reasonably routine work schedule each week, but during the time that is meant to be used spending time with your family or engaging in hobbies that you enjoy, those things can’t take a backseat.
In fact, Forbes notes that the #1 regret that people have at the end of their lives is working so much at the expense of their family. Further, In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, she talks about her experiences working in palliative care and how her patients often voiced their regrets of spending so much of their time and energy on work instead of the things that truly mattered to them.
Make time for yourself, your health, and your family–and stick to it.
3. Plan around your large commitments.
Time Recommended: 20 Minutes
Have you heard of the Rock, Pebbles, and Sand analogy for time management? This analogy alludes to the fact that when you fill a jar with rocks, the jar becomes full. Then, if you add in some pebbles that are able to make their way around the rocks to fill in the gaps, the jar is still full. Finally, if you add sand to the jar to fill in the even smaller gaps, the jar is still full. However, if you remove the sand and pebbles, you’re still left with a jar that one would consider to be full.
The rocks in this analogy represent the most important things in your life. This could be a big project you’re working on, your family, your health–anything that is a main focus on your life and really gives it meaning.
The pebbles represent the things in your life that add meaning, but come and go. These are things such as friends, hobbies, and house projects.
The sand represents small tasks that you do, such as running errands or even watching television. Your life would still have meaning if the sand was taken out of your jar (i.e. if you didn’t get to the dry cleaners today, your life will not lose its meaning).
You want to plan your week around your rocks. In addition to spending time with your family and doing things that are valuable to you such as exercising or practicing your spirituality, you have to consider the big tasks that are relevant to what you’re doing in life right now. For example, if you’re a student, blocking off time to study is going to be a rock in your schedule because doing so is critical in allowing you to reach a long-term goal.
4. Fill in the gaps.
Time Recommended: 20 Minutes
Remember in step one when you took a few minutes to think about some of your goals for the week? This is where they come into play. It could be as simple as making a big grocery trip because you’re out of a lot of essentials, getting your oil changed, or finally tending to that broken [fill in the blank] that has been driving you crazy for weeks.
After doing this, you will hopefully have every time slot in your schedule for the week full. This is not to say that you will be actively busy during every second of every day, as you can also block off time for breaks or to read a book for pleasure, it simply means that your entire week is organized in a way that will help you effectively make progress toward your goals and maintain meaning in your life. Your week is planned with structure.
You can (and should) also plan in some buffer times to account for possible delays like traffic or a meeting that runs too long. Spread your obligations out a bit so they don’t end up becoming all scrunched together toward the end of the day. Having this outline of how you will spend your week will help you approach it with a plan of attack.
5. Handle things that come up unexpectedly right away–before they get out of control.
Time Recommended: As much as it requires
After making this strict schedule for yourself, things will inevitably come up that will throw you off. If it is something that you can delegate to someone else or you can truly set aside for another time, then do so. However, if it is something that may seem minor at the time, but could turn into a catastrophic event for you and your family if you leave it unattended, take the time to deal with it right away.
For example, let’s say you’re experiencing chest pain, you get a letter from the Department of Taxation, your child’s teacher calls with some concerns, or a good friend calls you in the middle of the night with some deeply personal issues.
These scenarios may seem like they could be put off for just a few days, especially if you don’t have time to deal with them right now. However, all of these instances could quickly snowball into a disaster that is going to make the everyday tasks that you chose to make a priority when the event initially came up seem rather insignificant.
If an issue such as those listed above arises, ask yourself a few questions before deciding to ignore it. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I save it for a later day to address? How could the situation negatively affect my family or friends? What less important tasks do I have on my schedule for today that I can push aside? What simple things can I do to address this today? If there is absolutely nothing I can do about this today, when can I address it?
While these scenarios may not be convenient and may disrupt your day, taking care of them right away can save you time and stress in the long run. As time passes and your motivation declines, so will your progress–so take action as soon as you can.
Similar to this, but possibly less earth-shattering, is completing any quick task that needs to be done right away. The idea here is that if you ignore small things that come your way, thinking that they are not important or you can just get to it later, they will all pile up and end up being a large burden.
For example, you finish breakfast and toss your dish in the sink to deal with later. However, once “later” comes and you have done this 20 times, you have to set aside a significant amount of time to do your dishes. If something arises that will take you under two minutes to complete, just take the time to do it right then. Doing this consistently will prevent you from ending up with a long list of menial tasks that need to be finished.
6. Do a daily review.
Time Recommended: 5-10 minutes, twice a day
Each morning, take a look at your day. Consider the tasks that are set for a specific time and go over a quick mental plan of how long it will take you to get there and therefore what time you need to leave one place to get to another. Then think about anything that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, such as emergency emails, a quick call to a loved one on their birthday, or making a doctor’s appointment.
Then, for the blocks of time that you have set aside for your “rocks”, what specific tasks can you do in order to make efficient use of your time? So you’re taking your larger chunks of time and making them more specific with detailed goals.
Look at anything that could possibly take longer than expected and how it would impact the rest of your day. Do you have any wiggle room or is there something that you could tentatively put off until tomorrow if this were to happen?
Look at your 80/20 tasks as well as the things you have on your schedule for the day that you are basically dreading. You want to get these things done as soon as possible. This will help you spend your time effectively working toward your goals and help prevent you from putting something off that has to be finished.
First, you want to get the maximum results from the least amount of effort, which is where the 80/20 rule comes into play. After you can pinpoint which 20% of your tasks lead to 80% of your results, focus on those critical tasks. You need to spend time doing this every day in order to be efficient with your time.
Second, if there are some tasks you simply cannot avoid, get them crossed off your list first so you don’t keep pushing them off. These dreaded tasks could be personal or professional. You have to return a phone call from a disgruntled client? Do it first thing in the morning. Call your mother-in-law to say Happy Birthday? Just do it. Get it off of your list and off of your mind so you can focus on the things you want to focus on.
Then you are going to repeat this review period once your day is finished. What did you get accomplished? What is still pending? What were some obstacles that you may be able to avoid tomorrow? Did anything happen today that is going to impact your plan for tomorrow?
You have to treat your weekly plan as a living document, so you may have to rework the pieces of the puzzle several times throughout the week. A very helpful tool that you can use when trying to rework your schedule, especially if it seems to be getting overly full, is the Eisenhower Matrix. This tool will help you identify your urgent and important tasks all the way down to the tasks that you could potentially eliminate.
To improve planning your week, here are some free weekly planer templates to help you organize better.
7. Stay consistent.
Keep on top of your schedule. If you’re going to spend the time planning your week to be productive and ultimately succeed at meeting your goals, you can’t start to let things slide. Not only will this tempt you to throw the whole thing out of the window and start being unproductive with your time, it will also impact your ability to function moving forward.
If you stay consistent while you’re planning out your week and sticking to your schedule, you will find that you have more motivation and you will start to be able to get more tasks accomplished than you ever believed that you could. This sense of direction and structure will give you a sense of peace because you will have laid out a time and a place for all of your obligations. If you start to get behind, your whole week can become thrown off–and this is when you will start to tell yourself that you don’t have time to get anything done.
Final Thoughts on How to Plan Your Week
If you consistently get to Friday afternoon and wonder where the week went, try this method of creating a plan. Doing so will help you ultimately focus on the things in your life that are truly important rather than wasting time on small, insignificant tasks that have unnecessarily turned into big things.
Start broad when planning your week and then get into the specifics. Be willing to be flexible and learn how to prioritize your tasks in a way that will allow you to have the time to focus on whatever is most important to you. Looking at your schedule in this more “technical” way will reduce the amount of time that you’re spending aimlessly “working” throughout the week.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.