Below are our tips for starting a planning process–at any time of year–that will boost productivity and find you more time to spend on the really fun stuff.
Productivity and planning are hot topics. Entire YouTube channels are dedicated to productivity and planning. Advocates tell you to wake up at 5am to be most productive. Erin Condren, the Texas-based planner publishing company, generates more than $23 million in annual revenue. But often the blank page, and the required follow-up, are the hardest parts of planning. The best laid plans for productivity are like New Year’s resolutions–by late January they are long forgotten.
Here at Dogwood we value quality of life, so planning for productivity is key.
Big Picture Planning...for Productivity
This is Big Picture time and we recommend treating it like a brainstorming session:
- Block out a good amount of time where no one will interrupt you. Work away from your electronic devices and where co-workers might co-opt your time.
- Use pens/pencils and paper. This is a workspace. Don’t worry about making it pretty.
- Write down every thought that comes to you. Don’t worry if it’s not a goal or a task. Just get it out of your head.
Whether you plan for just work or work and personal goals is up to you. You may find that while you’re focused on business-related tasks, every now and then a personal one will pop into your head. Write it down!
- What do you need to do this year? (Eg. taxes, find a new mechanic because yours retired, etc.)
- What should you do? (Eg. add e-commerce capabilities to your website, make more sales calls, etc. )
- What do you want to do this year? (Eg. redesign your website, send birthday cards to friends & family)
As you work through this you’ll add wants when you’re thinking of needs, and vice versa. And you’ll think of something you should do, and later determine you need to do it. For example, if your mechanic retired last year, you should find a new one. You may determine you need to find a new one as you don’t want to scramble if your car clunks out on the side of the road one day.
Sort and Schedule
Once you’ve written down everything you can possibly think of, start sorting. You might use different colors to circle and highlight, or at this point you may choose to start working electronically (we like Trello for its ease of use and visual ).
- Make a NEED column/board. Assign deadlines, team members, and any resources the task may require.
- Make your SHOULD column/board. Again, assign deadlines, and note any team members or resources required.
- Your longest list, and the one you should spend the least amount of time on is your WANT column. These are those items that would be nice to do, but nothing negative will result if you don’t. For example, you might want to decorate for Halloween, but if you have to let it slide it won’t have a negative impact. Write down your WANTs, noting the months you’d like to accomplish them. Don’t detail any more than necessary.
Start scheduling those NEEDS and SHOULDS into your calendar. No matter if it’s a physical or electronic format, make sure it’s one that you will use daily. Many of us at Dogwood use both a day planner and our Google calendars–using the day planner for time blocking, notes, and day-to-day tracking of client deliverables, etc.
Once a month, look at your master calendar and your NEED/SHOULD/WANTs. What gets scheduled? What do you start working on for deliverables for upcoming months? What outstanding tasks and goals from the month prior are still relevant? If a task has shuttled across your planner for more than four days without being addressed, maybe you assigned it the wrong weight.
If you find a SHOULD or WANT is no longer has the same weight, make adjustments. You may determine some of your WANTS will get punted to 2022, or, it might be that you determine it’s really a SHOULD.
Of course, you also have tasks, assignments, and jobs that will have come up in your day-to-day work. These also will get sorted out, but on a short-term basis. Just don’t let these “drop in” priorities take over so you can’t accomplish your longer-term goals.
Schedule time each day to address your “deep thought” work. Again, get away from electronic distractions, close your door, turn off email, etc. If you’re able to schedule this for the same time every day, determine when you’re at your best. Block this out on shared calendars so your co-workers and clients know you’re unavailable.
If you don’t have the luxury of blocking out the same time of day for a month (or more), consider taking time Friday afternoons to schedule an hour every work day in the next week when you’re only available to yourself. And if you can only schedule it daily, try to end your day by blocking out time the following day for your “deep” work.
Eliminate Time Wasters
By planning, scheduling, and evaluating your task priorities on an annual/monthly/weekly/daily basis you will become more productive. You’ll be proactive and not as reactionary as you once were. We often hear from clients who are so busy they never have enough time, but then we find they’re spending time on WANT tasks instead of their SHOULD tasks. Want tasks–such as improving a Facebook page–can be fun to work on, but do they help you reach your goals? If not, maybe you shouldn’t be doing them.