Plan your work, work your plan.
No doubt you’ve heard this saying before. All too often though, this step is missing. Perhaps you’ve got a family calendar where you add kids activities, medical and hair appointments, and maybe even dinner ideas for the week. And maybe you have a to do list for work you want to do for your business. Your to do list lives on scrap pieces of paper and the calendar is clipped to the fridge. Or maybe you’re that Pinterest mom who has the home organization center and uses two professional planners, one for personal and one for business. Either way, these two vastly different approaches often share one common problem.
They don’t actually plan their work.
You see, planning your day on your planner (whether you work well with time blocking or do better running from a to-do list, it doesn’t matter, these next steps are crucial to working your plan successfully) is only half the story. You must then set yourself up for success. Here are my top tips for executing even the best planned out days.
Design Your Environment
Designing your environment to support your plan sets you up for better success. Distractions can create chaos for some while they are a welcome way of life for others. Some of us need noise or like music, while others need quiet. Room temperature, clothing you are wearing (I tend to get more done when I’m showered, dressed nice, and am wearing shoes). Know how you work best.
Timing is part of your environment. And it’s crucial to any plan for a productive day. You know as well as I do though that this will only work if you’ve planned appropriately. It won’t work for you to go hide in a closet or close your office door if your two-year-old then has the run of the house. So plan your work for appropriate times that fit into what life is really like for you. Yes, this may mean getting up a bit earlier or staying up a bit later (if you know me though, I’m the queen of promoting adequate sleep though, so do not compromise on that). It may mean enlisting help from family or friends. Creating a quiet environment might look like swapping child care with a friend or family member. This way you can each get some things done in peace without adding to your expenses.
Here are some ideas my clients have found helpful when planning their productive days:
- If you can’t focus unless it’s quiet and nobody else is in the room, then close your office door, work in a closet if you have to, and use noise-canceling headphones.
- Knock out a quick email in the bathroom if you have to (zero judgment). I think the key to success for brains that need quiet to work is sometimes found in being flexible about our standards.
- If you’ve suddenly found yourself working from home with littles running around, your best work might happen at mealtimes when they’re strapped into booster chairs.
- When your kids simply want to hear your voice, talk through what you’re typing or doing as though you were dictating a memo, they may be too young to understand, but they’ll be soothed by the sound of your voice.
- If your brain thrives off novelty, working in an area where you can shift your focus frequently can help you get a lot of short action items completed.
- Set a time limit or challenge yourself to get something done before your timer goes off or before the barista finishes serving the next customer (or before your two-year-old asks you to read her another story).
Break Your Work Into One Step Actions
Nothing is more frustrating than setting down to get something done and realizing that you haven’t finished the 6 other steps necessary (“I can’t send this email until I have my graphics completed” or “The post for my group needs the sales page link before it will be ready to post”). So be sure you have done the work to break each item on your to do list down into ONE step actions. Think of it this way, if an action item on your to do list has more than one component or part, it’s a project and not really an action item and doesn’t belong on your to do list. Instead, the parts that make up that project can go on your to-do list.
For example, I see people put “create lead magnet” on a to-do list all the time. But when you think about it, creating a lead magnet has no fewer than 5 or 6 action items like deciding on what it will be, creating the content, building it out, creating the graphics/designing it, determining where it will live, uploading it so you have a link, creating a signup form, etc.
Prepare Your Work
This is really the point of this post. How frustrating is it to finally have the house quiet and a rare 30+ minutes to yourself to work and when you sit down at your desk, what do you find but scattered notes and you’re not sure where that email went. You then spend the full 30 minutes gathering what you need and getting your thoughts together. And then the kids are back knocking on your office door or your lunch hour is over and you have to get back to your day job. What is it I’m telling you here? Have systems you use regularly so you know where things are and what things mean.
Some examples to inspire you while planning your productive day:
- Emails: only open and read when you have time.
- Filing system: Make sure your file naming makes sense to you and is consistent throughout.
- Notes/thought journal/post-its: Use these to keep track of ideas you don’t want to lose. Just be sure to have a place to put the post-its and notes where you regularly go through and organize/file.
Plan Time to Plan A Productive Day
Creating space for everything we’ve talked about is also necessary. So make sure you leave room on your calendar for planning and preparing yourself. Maybe you do this on Sunday evenings so you feel set and ready for the week. Or maybe you take time on Friday afternoons to ready yourself for the following week. This will help you enter your weekend with a freer mind. Whether it takes you 15 minutes or an hour and 15 minutes to get yourself ready to work, it needs to have a space on your calendar. You may also want to do this on a daily basis. There is no right or wrong. Do what feels best to you.
Everyone loves a good bonus!
One bonus tip: Pull out the files from your filing system that you will need for the next day. Don’t use paper files? No problem. Just make sure you have ready access to electronic files that you will need for each task. I teach my clients to only have three priority tasks each day, so your desk shouldn’t be overflowing with papers. If you prefer to work from a clear desk, have a file in your system marked “Today” or “Next”. Then place the files you need for the next day in that folder. The idea is to place them where they are easily accessible. This is especially important if you typically find yourself looking for excuses or dislike the task at hand.
Don’t forget to download your free “Make Every Minute Count” ebook to help you figure out how you can make every minute of your workday count!
What are your best tips that have helped you to plan out your work and work through your plan?