This is an off-topic post for me (i.e. not Power BI), but again, who doesn't want to be more productive, right? I am a very process driven person and I like to organize and plan my days, weeks and months so that I can be as productive as possible. I wasn't always good at managing my work effort, at least until I read the book «The 10 natural laws of successful life and time management"By Hyrum Smith. I highly recommend this book (and also the Franklin planner by Covey Corporation if you like paper planning tools.)
The benefits I get from my planning approach
My approach to planning works because it is a combination of process and a tool to support the process (almost). The benefits I get from using this process include:
- Nothing escapes through the cracks.
- I'm not overwhelmed by a lot of "noise" from a very long to-do list. I just focus on what I need to work on now and give myself space not to think about everything else.
- I plan my week to make sure I get the most important things done.
- I plan my day to make sure I "just do it."
The key principles I use for good planning
There are some key principles that I learned from the above resources that I still use in my personal productive planning, specifically:
- It is not enough to simply plan each day; you need a longer planning horizon if you want to get things done right.
Focus your time on what is important and what is urgent. Urgent and important tasks are easy, not urgent, and important tasks are much more difficult (for most people).
- You need 1 to-do list for the day; do not try to manage personal tasks on a different list than your work tasks.
- Don't let your email inbox control your day (or worse, week, month, year, or life).
- Once you know what to do, make a plan for the next week. Let me be clear here: plan for the whole week, not just 1 day.
- Once you have a weekly plan, review it daily and schedule the work each day to get done.
I used Franklin Planner hand tools for planning for many years, then switched to an electronic version of the same tool while it was available. I don't think this software is available yet, but I have given it up anyway due to some other issues that I faced.
Microsoft ToDo To The Rescue - Almost!
Actually, Microsoft ToDo has quite a few limitations in my opinion at the time of writing this article. The most notable is that you can't plan your week, you can only plan your day. What's worse, you can't plan your day for “tomorrow”, you can only plan your day starting at 12:01 am on the day. Now don't say the "there is an expiration date" feature in Microsoft ToDo, I know. But a deadline and a work plan are not the same. I have to receive my taxes at the end of the quarter, but I plan to do most of the work during the week from the 15thth Of the month. Due dates and job scheduling are two completely different things.
There are also limitations with Microsoft ToDo in the ability to share lists with family members (something that was very easy with Wunderlist, the product Microsoft bought to create ToDo).
Despite these limitations, I have added my own processes to the tool so that I can successfully use Microsoft ToDo to plan my work and life.
Here are my standard lists
I have a series of standard lists set up and grouped as shown below.
In my copy of Microsoft ToDo, the daily review group (top left) is above the weekly / monthly review group (top right).
I'll explain what I do with each list below. They all have a purpose as part of my planning process.
Annual planning process
I'm not going to go into all the background to the book I mentioned earlier, but in short, you should set yourself some goals for the year. These may be your work goals, but also hopefully some personal goals.
Create a list of everything you want to do and add it to a list. I put all my annual plans in my:
- Personal monthly checklist
- Monthly Business Checklist
In addition to this structured annual planning, I create new tasks for myself throughout the day. These are automatically added to the "Tasks" list in Microsoft ToDo. I schedule these new items into my plans as part of my daily review process covered later in this article.
Dividing my business and personal tasks into two lists helps me find what I'm looking for more easily.
Monthly planning process
Every month on the first Monday of the month, I review each task on these two monthly lists.
- I decide "I'll do it this month" or "I won't do it this month."
- If I decide to do so, I move the task from the Monthly Review List to my Weekly Review List (either personal or business).
- I do this without fail on the first Monday of the new month.
Note: This means that I have to be careful with tasks that are due on the 6th of the month, as some months I will not review this list until the 7th of the month (the latest possible review date if I always do it on Monday). You can also do it on the first business day of the month, if you wish.
As long as the process continues, nothing will leak through the cracks. Note: In fact, I also have a "Maybe Someday" list. Sometimes a task loses priority when I know I am not going to do it soon. I delete it immediately or sometimes move it to my "Maybe Someday" list (which I check irregularly).
Weekly review process
Part 1: What will I focus on this week?
I have 2 weekly checklists
- Weekly personal checklist
- Weekly Business Checklist
Every week on Monday, I review each of the tasks on these two lists.
- I decide "I'll do it this week" or "I won't do it this week."
- If I decide to do so, I move the task from the weekly checklist to my daily checklist (either personal or business).
- I do this without fail every Monday morning.
- Sometimes I decide to "downgrade" a task from my weekly checklist to my monthly checklist. Usually these are things that I thought I would do at some point, but now it doesn't seem that important. Moving it from weekly review to monthly review clears my head and gives me permission to "never think about it again" until early next month.
Again, as long as you follow the process, nothing will slip through the cracks.
Part 2: Plan my week
The second part of the weekly planning process is planning my current week. I do the following:
See everything on the 2 daily lists
- Daily business review
- Daily personal review
I decide if I am going to do (or attempt to do) each item this week.
- If yes, I can select a day that I want to work on that item; I just move it to the corresponding day list (Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri). Or I can leave it on the daily checklist.
- If not, I move it back to the weekly checklist, that way I don't have to worry about it again until next Monday, once again giving myself permission not to have to think about it again until next week.
After this process is complete, the entire "Daily Review" section contains only the things I want to do this week. I don't have to worry about anything I need to do next week, or next month; instead, I can clear my mind of worrying about those things and instead focus on this week. As long as you follow the weekly and monthly review process, nothing will escape.
Daily review process
In fact, I keep a list of my daily review process at the top of my daily review list (as shown below).
The daily review process is as follows.
Daily run - do it!
Throughout the day I will usually have meetings booked on my calendar, ad hoc phone calls, new emails (urgent or not), etc. I spend all my time working on the “My day” list in To-dos in the first place. I try to go back to my inbox several times throughout the day to capture anything that needs my attention. If I can reply in 1-2 minutes, I can do it immediately If it's longer, I make it a task, delete it from my inbox, and schedule it with my other job.
If you get easily distracted, you can close your email and set an alarm / appointment on your phone to check in later in the day.
My planning process just works
And that's it, it just works. Give it a try and see how it goes. Let me know if it helps you to be more productive and / or if you have any advice on how I can improve my process.