Planning to get the most from our time
I have used lots of planning tools over my career. Two key things I’ve noticed is that there is neither a ‘one-tool-fits-all’ from the tool perspective and from the time perspective, different tools are useful at different times.
Here is a strategy I’ve found useful recently. It’s a 90-day plan.
Here is the process if you’d like to try it:
1. Decide how long you want to plan for
I’m currently working on a rough 3 month (or 90 day) / 1 month (30 day) break. Through the year this looks like Sept-Nov on, Dec off, Jan – March on, April off, May – July on, August off. I’m not treating this with strict timing and ‘off’ doesn’t mean not doing any work. What it does mean is a break in the ‘doing’ rhythm and an opportunity to try new things. As someone self employed it’s easy to forget ‘off’ times, so having them allocated at the beginning as part of the rhythm is helpful.
2. Decide what your key objectives / goals / aims are for the period
These could be ‘feeling’ goals. How do you want to feel at the end of the period? Or in the middle? Are there things you want to avoid (for instance feeling totally exhausted and run down at the end of 3 months)?
It could be practical goals.
SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented/achievable, realistic/relevant, timed) (chose the words that best fit for you).
Start with no more than 3. If you achieve these in the first week, set 3 more!
3. Write down the key things you need to do over the time period.
These could be work / chores / pleasure – anything you want to include in the planning system. You may need headers and subtasks. Use this part of the exercise to break down the task in a way that will enable you to realistically set a time alongside it.
4. Put a time alongside each element
Guestimate a time. Shoot from the hip. Ideally put this in hours. If you think it will take 3 days, decide how long the day is and calculate the hours. Some things will be one-off tasks, others will be regular activities which could be weekly or monthly. Even though I’m working on a 3 month basis, I tend to work out timings on a monthly basis.
5. Add up all the timings
Keep the weekly ones separate from the monthly ones. Convert them into the number of days depending on your average day length. Overestimate the time it will take. Underestimate the time you have available. That way you should never be short. For example, I used a 7 hour day, the weekly activities in total are going to take about 19 hours which means they will need 2.7 days across the week.
Now you know how many days you need for weekly activities, how many days for the one-off activities and how many days for the monthly activities.
When I did it, setting my day length at 7 hours, my weekly commitments were 2.7 days a week (which included admin and creative work), 8.5 days a month (2.2 days a week) to cover day projects / miscellaneous work, and 47 hours for one-off projects that would be happening over the 3 month period. I’m currently over the number of hours available during this period which in itself is a useful thing to have found out. Within that I have allocated more time to some things that I don’t want to exceed a certain amount of time, so I know there is some slippage.
Ask yourself, what can I leave until next quarter (if you’re very over the hours). Or can I get someone else to do some of those things? And if you’re under – is there anything you’d like to do that you didn’t realise you had time to do before?!
6. Urgent / important
Using the urgent / important grid (ie things are either: urgent and important, urgent not important, important not urgent, not urgent nor important) allocate when you’re going to do things. The urgent / important will take priority. The not urgent, not important group may be rendered to ‘holiday’ time or ditched.
7. Plan ahead
Look at number 8 … Now you know what you have to do and how much time you have to do it, look at what time you have available in the coming days/week(s) and allocate tasks accordingly.
8. Celebrate and plan/allocate holidays or break times at the beginning!
Put in these times first as it will give you something to work towards. They can also be ring fenced as times that you’re not going to book anything else in.
TIPS TO HELP APPLY THIS
1. Notice what’s going on, how you feel. Adjust this structure to your own patterns.
2. Be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up EVER. Notice counterproductive behaviours and put them in the bin!
3. This system may work well, in part or not at all for you. Observe what you notice and only take forward what is useful.
4. Doing all these exercises with a timer is a good strategy for not getting bogged down in any section. Give yourself, say 3 minutes, to set 3 goals. Add some more minutes if that’s too short. But a timer will help you to keep moving through the process.