To be honest, I have never been a big planner. I’m more of a do’er. I thrive in a high production environment and usually feed off getting things done. I think it’s the “stillness” of planning for me. There is nothing to do but sit and think, which to someone who hasn’t reaped the benefits of planning, can just seem like a waste of time!
In the early stages of your career, this method can serve you well. You get simple tasks done that someone above you has clearly assigned for you. They will be thrilled. This can also be referred to as “busy work”. However, as you progress into more strategic and managerial roles, what you are doing is often more important than how much you are doing.
Recently, I’ve had to revisit the necessity for planning in my own life. I have a wife, two boys (four and two), and currently am in the middle of moving. Oh boy! Sometimes, it can be hard to even get the busy work done, much less planning for larger projects and goals. Yet, the work has to be done. Here are some methods I am currently using to make sure I have time to plan.
Reviewing Where Your Time Has Gone
As a consulting firm, we naturally track our time, which helps tremendously in this step. Yet, it can still be hard to force yourself to do it. We have the software in place to easily go back a week, month, or even year to see how our department is spending its time and where it was wasted. The key here is to identify patterns that consistently detract from important projects. You’ll start to notice all sorts of little items that really did not need to be done but may have seemed pressing at the time.
If you do not have a system like this in place at your business, I recommend tracking your time for seven days. I guarantee you will find ways to improve your schedule the following week.
Schedule Time on Your Calendar
In our marketing department, we try to limit meetings as often as possible. When you have several people sitting around brainstorming, it really compounds the time for the client or for ourselves internally. This frees up a lot of time to get things done or to work with only those who are necessary on a certain project.
The downside to this is that you need to have a lot of discipline in terms of your personal calendar. If it is mostly free, well, you can potentially just do what you want to do, and before the end of the week is up, you are wondering where your time went.
If you make a commitment to yourself by scheduling meetings on your calendar to work on specific projects, you are less likely to push them off. You don’t have to fill up every block but start with at least your top three most important projects to make sure there are safe times and spaces to work on them.
Take a 5-Minute Planning Break
This is one of the most helpful things you can do if you are super busy. Everyone has five minutes, and you’d be surprised how much you can get done in that timeframe. To get the most use of your time, quickly write everything down that’s cluttering your brain or that you have been meaning to do down on a piece of paper or in a word doc. In five minutes, it’s important not to do much formatting but just to get everything down. You can always come back to it as needed. By “emptying” your mind in this way, you will be much more productive and focused when you get back to whatever project you were working on. Every week, we have scheduled time as a marketing department to make sure projects and assignments are planned out for each team member. During this time, I go to my “master” lists, usually created in those five-minute intervals, and file the tasks in their corresponding client folder in our project management system, Clickup.
You could use this five minute period in another way as well, organizing your thoughts into the following categories:
- My biggest goal for the week
- My focus for today
- Important items that cannot wait
Defend Your Time
Planning your time is only half the battle. You have to play defense as well as offense. People and things will tend to slip in through the cracks and take away the time you so desperately needed.
During the planned time, close your email tab, make sure social media or television is not easily accessible, etc. Share your calendar with your team so they see when your planned project time is. If your team needs questions answered throughout the day, consider having an open call period an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon where team members can ask their questions. If you are back to working in person, these could be stand up meetings quickly gathered around the break room. Not every meeting has to be 30 minutes or more!
When it seems like you don’t have time to plan, I suggest you try the above tactics and see how much more you can accomplish! The goal is not to find time to do more things but to plan to do the best things.