As a leadership coach, one of the main things I work on with leaders is their productivity. This is a common problem in many organizations, especially with high-growth companies. The rapid growth of the business and pace of change leave many executives struggling to stay organized and focused, which results in lackluster personal results.
The key to any productivity system is to focus on value, not effort. Executives who focus on checking as many things off their to-do lists as they can each day without thinking about what they put on those lists will get a lot done, but often fail to deliver significant results. Executives who consider what the most important, highest-impact actions are will create long-term value and be exceptionally successful.
One of the best habits that will help you in this pursuit is to develop a personal weekly planning process. By taking the time to plan your week, you can identify the best use of your time and energy and organize yourself for success. Here's how I plan my week on Sunday night so that I can hit the ground running Monday morning with confidence.
1. Do a mind sweep.
The first thing I do anytime I'm thinking about the bigger picture and trying to plan is I do a mind sweep to clear my thoughts. This process walks through a list of prompts in different categories, looking for things I'm trying to remember and commitments I've made (what scientists call cognitive load), and gets them out onto paper. This gets the distractions out of my head so I can focus better on the work at hand.
2. Review the week to come.
My next step is to review the coming week's schedule. I recommend using a Defensible Calendar strategy, which improves your productivity by organizing your schedule into large chunks of time with tasks grouped by importance and urgency. This will make it easier to organize and manage your work.
If my plan is not well organized, I request changes to free up continuous time in my calendar to create focused time and to optimize travel and logistics. This is also the time to identify any prep work or reviews I need to do for the week.
3. Look forward to three to five weeks out.
Once I have this week under control, I look ahead three to five more weeks for anything that requires me to take any kind of action in the next seven days. I look for things like travel arrangements, larger project work, and creative development. Doing this prevents surprises that create fire drills for me or my team.
4. Reflect on the last week.
Once I have a good grasp on the future, I look back at the last week or two and see if there are any open items or actions from previous events that I may have missed. I look for opportunities to write quick thank-you notes and to confirm any actions or plans coming out of previous meetings. I'll also take this time to reflect on what went well and what didn't, and how I can improve my schedule and planning going forward.
5. Check your longer-term goals.
Next I check my quarterly objectives and key results. Based on where I want to be at the end of the quarter, I check to see where I need to make progress and set tasks for the coming week. I'll also reach out to people with whom I need to coordinate or collaborate to schedule time or set up meetings.
6. Sort by urgency and impact.
Once I have my tasks and reminders written down, I begin to sort and organize. I'll make notes on complexity and size and then sort them by two major criteria. First is urgency, which is how critical the task is to this week. Basically, if I push it off to next week, will it cause problems for me or others? The second criteria is impact, which is how much value this task creates for me in the short and long term.
If I've done things correctly, my schedule will be well-structured and I will have a plan for how the week will unfold. I will have several time blocks for focused work, grouping similar tasks so that I can stay in the same mindset and minimize task-switching.
Of course, life happens, and on Monday morning something unexpected could come up and I'll need to replan everything. And that's fine.
The value of planning is not that a plan will execute perfectly. It's that when it doesn't, you'll understand what's on your plate, what your priorities are, and how you want to re-organize things to stay on plan.