It’s Monday morning. You’re at your desk, opening your computer. A cup of coffee is on the table, and you breathe in, before immersing yourself into work.
Wait. What’s wrong with this picture?
What are you getting yourself into?
As I mentioned in this post, it’s very easy to waste the day away, answering to emails and prompt requests. And just as Celestine Chua, a Personal Excellence blogger, mentions here on Lifehack.org, you might think that minor request takes only 5 minutes to solve. But then comes another. And another. And by the time you notice, a few hours have passed just answering. Reacting.
How can you proactively plan your week ahead?
First, do this exercise on Sunday evening, or latest Monday morning, before you open your computer.
1. What are 2 major projects/tasks I’m going to work on this week?
I found that one single project may help you focus, but seldom do we work on ONE single important project. Most of us have three or even more.
Look at your long term plan and see what projects are top priority this week. They may be things that will take place three weeks from now (such as events that need to be organized), but you need to start ahead. That’s where having a bigger picture helps.
2. What are the outcomes I expect out of these tasks?
Defining the outcome is one thing that most people forget to do, and then wonder why they’re so immersed in work. If you don’t define the finish line, how do you know when you’ve completed the race?
Be precise and establish realistic outcomes.
3. What needs to happen in order for these outcomes to be achieved?
If you define “completed business plan, budget and team for Project X”, don’t forget about, for example, checking the foreign exchange rate for the budget. Or asking team members when they planned their vacations. Splitting the bigger action into smaller chunks not only helps you see exactly what needs to be done, but also makes the huge, fuzzy project bite-size and crispy-clear.
4. Which part of the above depends on me alone?
Make sure that you’re setting goals for yourself, not for others. If you plan to “sell 5 batches of product Z” by the end of the week, what happens if your main customer will be out of town?
In this case, an outcome of “meet with 5 interested customers” might prove more accessible.
5. What specific actions do I need to take?
In order to have the meetings take place, maybe you need to call 10 potential clients. Who would those be? Do you have their numbers? Does someone else need to call them on your behalf?
6. How much time do I estimate each action to last?
Be careful here and make a balanced estimate. You’ll see, once you break down the big elephant into bite-size pieces, each action in itself will seem simpler and shorter.
7. When do I want to take these actions?
Another pitfall I’ve seen many people fall into (myself included) is they define the action, define how long it might take…and then put it on the to do list. If you’re really committed to do your part of the project, one sure way of blocking it is to put a time in your calendar. The more clear-set it is, the more chances you have of actually getting to do it. Otherwise, you’ll keep postponing it in the face of other “more urgent” requests.
8. Who are the people I need to engage for the outcomes?
Once you’re done defining your part of the work, think about resources – other people that might be able to help, or who are in your team and should be briefed on the project. You might realize you just forgot to inform your partner that he’s supposed to give a speech at the beginning of the event you’re organizing.
9. What do I need to brief them on?
Be clear on what you take them through. If you’re asking your assistant to make a phonecall on your behalf, no need to explain the whole strategy to her. But if you want her to help with a data research for a Powerpoint presentation, maybe a 15 minutes brief on the project, data needed and deadline would help her be more effective, too.
10. When do I need to talk to them?
If you need the data in the example above by Tuesday morning, you might want to make this the first item on your to do list on Monday morning. Incorporate in your plan also the possibility that your people resources might have other priorities.
When you’re done, make a final check on the task list, and you’re ready to go!
If you’re more of a pen-and-paper person, download the excel sheet I prepared for you, print it out and post it on your desk for the remainder of the week. This way, you’ll have permanent overview on the priorities you set to accomplish.
Even if this exercise might seem cumbersome, I guarantee that half an hour of planning on Monday morning will save you at least 2 hours of fumbling around through to-do lists in the rest of the week. Not to mention, you’re also going to set the right expectations and priorities for the people you work with.
Enjoy your week!